Tribal Television: Viewing Native People in Sitcoms

Tribal Television: Viewing Native People in Sitcoms

Tribal Television: Viewing Native People in Sitcoms

Tribal Television: Viewing Native People in Sitcoms


Native Americans have been a constant fixture on television, from the dawn of broadcasting, when the iconic Indian head test pattern was frequently used during station sign-ons and sign-offs, to the present. In this first comprehensive history of indigenous people in television sitcoms, Dustin Tahmahkera examines the way Native people have been represented in the genre. Analyzing dozens of television comedies from the United States and Canada, Tahmahkera questions assumptions that Native representations on TV are inherently stereotypical and escapist. From The Andy Griffith Show and F-Troop to The Brady Bunch, King of the Hill, and the Native-produced sitcom, Mixed Blessings, Tahmahkera argues that sitcoms not only represent Native people as objects of humor but also provide a forum for social and political commentary on indigenous-settler relations and competing visions of America.

Considering indigenous people as actors, producers, and viewers of sitcoms as well as subjects of comedic portrayals, Tribal Television underscores the complexity of Indian representations, showing that sitcoms are critical contributors to the formation of contemporary indigenous identities and relationships between Native and non-Native people.


Nu nahnia tsa Dustin Tahmahkera, suku Taiboo tupunitu yu yumuhku usu nu tebuuni kutu. My name is Dustin Tahmahkera, and I am a recovering colonized viewer of American television.

I grew up on American sitcoms. I positioned myself from a very young age into half-hour blocks of comedic escapism and entered sitcom worlds seemingly free of real-life violence and chaos and devoid of social and political relevance. I watched reruns of sitcoms like I Love Lucy, The Beverly Hillbillies, Three’s Company, Dennis the Menace, Happy Days, and The Brady Bunch. I tuned in the 1985 premiere of Nick at Nite, whose early promotional ad greeted viewers from a concocted site of televisuality (“Hello, out there, from tv land!”), and saw its airing of sitcom reruns such as The Donna Reed Show, Mister Ed, and My Three Sons. I remember, too, newer sitcoms like Alf, Perfect Strangers, The Cosby Show, and Full House, all of which could later be seen on Nick at Nite. I remember once even sketching out a twenty-four-hour lineup of sitcoms for an all-rerun channel, long before the Nick at Nite spin-off network tv Land swiped my idea in the mid-1990s. But I especially remember, above all else, the definitive 1960s sitcom representative of small-town America: The Andy Griffith Show.

Each weekday Ted Turner’s superstation, tbs, would air back-to-back episodes of The Andy Griffith Show at 5:05 and 5:35 p.m., Comanche Country time zone, unless an Atlanta Braves baseball game was on with #3 Dale Murphy or #47 Tom Glavine playing before tomahawk-chopping fans. It was not long before I had seen and reseen all 159 black-and-white episodes. (Do the last 90 post–Don Knotts color episodes really count?) As a cable-subscribing citizen of what Derek Kompare calls the “Rerun Nation,” I repeatedly saw Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife attempt to . . .

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