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"Smallville's" Super-Indians

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  • Rob <robschmidt@compuserve.com>
    Indian Comics Irregular #90 For the third time in a row, skinwalkers are in the news. First there was the Skinwalkers PBS movie, then the SKINWALKER comic
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 12, 2003
      Indian Comics Irregular #90

      For the third time in a row, skinwalkers are in the news. First
      there was the "Skinwalkers" PBS movie, then the SKINWALKER comic
      book, and now an episode of "Smallville" titled "Skinwalkers."

      The WB TV show "Smallville" relates the adventures of Clark Kent
      (Superman) when he was a teen. The 11/26 episode featured a Native
      storyline. A grandfather protested construction on a sacred site,
      his granddaughter discovered underground paintings of a visitor
      from the sky, and a human in wolf form (guess who?) terrorized the

      Unfortunately, "Skinwalkers" was riddled with flaws and stereotypes.
      Let's take a look:

      The good: Seeing a Native theme on mainstream television is still a
      rare treat. The sacred-site topic has been done often but is still
      worth exploring. Joseph Willowbrook (Gordon Tootoosis) and Kyla
      (Tamara Feldman) didn't have stereotypical names, speech patterns, or
      holier-than-thou attitudes.

      The bad: Kyla was an exotic princess type a la Pocahontas. When
      she wasn't imitating Lara Croft, she dressed in Indian chic: leather
      accessories and silver turquoise jewelry. The whole
      grandfather/grandchild relationship was a cliché. (Whatever
      happened to middle-aged Indians?) Radioactive green meteorites
      supposedly changed the Indians into shapeshifters centuries ago, but
      Superman's planet Krypton, the source of the meteorites, exploded
      only a decade ago. The idea of someone's turning into a white wolf,
      complete with muted colors showing the animal's point of view, was a
      direct steal from last season's "Wolf Lake."

      The ugly: There's no such tribe as the Kawatche ("skinwalkers") in
      Kansas. But there is the Kansa or Kaw tribe, whose name means "wind
      people." So "Smallville" replaced the noble-sounding people of
      the wind with the nasty-sounding skinwalkers.

      That a Midwest tribe would call itself skinwalkers--after the evil
      Navajo spirits found in the Southwest--strains credulity. Many
      Natives consider them taboo and won't even mention them, much less
      adopt their name. But "Smallville" showed no awareness that
      skinwalkers are considered unholy figures.

      To script and fiction writers, I suggest giving the skinwalker
      concept a rest. Creators have used it so much it's becoming another
      cliché. Find a fresh Indian legend to exploit--I mean use.

      For more on the show, visit

      End-of-Year Notes

      With five entries in the Stereotype of the Month contest, "Bizarro"
      was the worst newspaper cartoon in 2002. It beat out "Herman,"
      "Family Circus," and "Zippy the Pinhead," which had two entries
      each. That doesn't count the continuing stereotypes in the
      Native-themed comic strip "Redeye." To see the "winners," go to

      Led by "The Fast Runner" and "The Business of Fancydancing," Native-
      themed movies did well last year. For a roundup of the articles I
      wrote for Victor Rocha's Pechanga.Net in 2002, including reports
      on "Christmas in the Clouds" and "Skins," go to

      For my article summing up the "State of the Native Art(s)," go to

      The Winged Tiger Flies Again

      Issue #12 of WINGED TIGER, Phil Yeh's comic book about creativity, is
      out. It features a cameo appearance by Billy and Drew of PEACE PARTY
      (drawn by Theo Tso, Navajo/Southern Paiute). Check it out at

      Rob Schmidt
      Blue Corn Comics
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