When Karissa Valencia (Santa Ynez Chumash) first envisioned her new animated children’s show, spirit rangerspremiering on Netflix today, on Indigenous Peoples Day, I wanted to create a show for kids who hadn’t yet seen people like them or heard their stories on TV.
“It’s the show I always wanted to have as a kid,” Valencia tells Yahoo’s In The Know. “It’s very special to hear from my team, and also from the people who have been able to watch the show, that she is healing her inner child.”
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spirit rangers tells the story of three Native American brothers (Kodi, Summer, and Eddy Skycedar) from the West Coast Chumash and Cowlitz tribes who have a secret. They are spirit rangers who can transform into different animals to help protect the national park where they live with their ranger parents.
The voice actors who play the children (Wačíŋyeya Iwáš’aka Yracheta, Isis Celilo Rogers and Talon Proc Alford) are native, and audiences will also hear familiar indigenous voices such as Wes Studi (Cherokee), Tantoo Cardinal (Cree/Métis) and Devery Jacobs (Kanien’kehá:ka).
Not only that, but Valencia hired a native writers room and over 100 native crew members for the show.
Valencia credits executive producer Chris Nee (Dr. toys), with whom he worked on animated series Vampirinaand Netflix for making it possible.
“They supported me every step of the way because there were going to be a lot of challenges,” she says. “We had to indigenize this production. We had to get the blessing of the tribes.”
This meant reaching out to Valencia’s tribe, the Santa Ynez Chumash, as well as consulting producer Joey Clift’s Cowlitz tribe. Valencia wanted to be respectful in telling these tribal stories and make sure she had permission from the tribes themselves.
“If there was ever a story I wanted to tell, I wanted to pass it on [the tribes] and make sure it was okay. Because sometimes they would tell me no,” he adds. “They would say, ‘That’s a creation story, that’s really sacred. We don’t want that to exist on Netflix. Here is this other story. Why don’t you do this character instead?’ And the show is all the better for it, because we have their signature and their approval, and we’re approaching our culture in a respectful way.”
Some of the stories in the series include explanations of natural events, such as the story of the condor, which flew too close to the sun and darkened its wings, or how the sun fell asleep and forgot to set on the summer solstice (also known as the day longest of the year). These are stories that many native children grew up hearing from their elders and their families.
And though tradition is closely woven into the show, spirit rangers it also celebrates modern native families that are not bound to exist only in the past.
“We just wanted some kind of acknowledgment that we still exist,” Valencia says of her team of native writers. “We have iPhones, we dress in modern clothes. So having the family exist in a modern space, as park rangers using modern science and technology, but also their traditional ecological knowledge, that was the first step for me, was seeing them exist today.”
In fact, Valencia shares how much it meant to her to see her young characters dressed in modern attire.
“I still remember when the designs for [the main characters] Kodi, Summer and Eddy, what they were going to look like, and they were like cute little junior ranger outfits and hiking boots and hats. And I got so excited, because I had never seen that before. It was always like in the past tense, in a kind of textbook setting, compared to a child who thrives today.”
Scheduling the show’s premiere on Indigenous Peoples’ Day has increased the general enthusiasm of Valencia and her team.
“I’m so glad we have that as our launch day,” she says. “That is a day that has been [acknowledging] the genocide of our people for so many years, and I am so glad that a show is coming out that day that celebrates native youth.”
Celebrating the fact that indigenous people are still here and sharing that knowledge with others has been crucial for Valencia.
“And as we’ve been saying, we’re still here, but it’s also a way for non-native families to celebrate us,” he adds. “If you’re looking for ways to learn more about native culture, you’re not Googling Christopher Columbus. They are looking for contemporary artists who are doing good work here, like Prey Y Rutherford Falls. It’s an exciting time.”
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‘Spirit Rangers’ creator Karissa Valencia pushes Indigenous representation with a Netflix series that first appeared on In The Know.
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