The creator of “Spirit Rangers” created an animated show for Native Americans
Keeping its culture alive and helping other Native Americans break into Hollywood is what fuels Karissa Valencia, creator and showrunner of the Netflix animated series “Spirit Rangers.”
The fantasy adventure preschool series is all about celebrating community, nature, and the legacy of Native American storytelling. It’s also the kind of show that Valence would have liked to have had as a child.
“Growing up on and off the reservation, when I was at home, it was always so meaningful to me that my family and my tribe did all they could to keep our culture alive and would always share our traditional stories. of our land and our place,” Valencia, who is half Mexican and half Chumash, told TODAY via Zoom. “So I grew up hearing stories of coyote tricksters and how the condor got its black feathers.”
As a youngster, however, she had a “feeling of being invisible” in pop culture and screens. After stepping foot in the door in Hollywood and working with “Doc McStuffins” creator Chris Nee, executive producer of “Spirit Rangers,” Valencia decided to create a series for his community.
“I feel like this show is now healing my inner child of feeling so misrecognized that I existed these days just because I didn’t look like it did in the history textbooks,” she said. “So it was really great to give these traditional stories a home to live in and take on a life of their own.”
“Spirit Rangers” follows siblings Chumash/Cowlitz Kodi (Wačíŋyeya Iwáš’aka Yracheta), Summer (Isis Celilo Rogers), and Eddy Skycedar (Talon Proc Alford) as they help protect the land and spirits of their park California national. The three children transform into “spirit rangers”, becoming a grizzly bear cub, a red-tailed hawk and a turtle to complete their missions.
The production has an all-native writers room, which was essential for Valencia as it made its dream show a reality.
“The Writers’ Room is the heart of the show. This is where you build the world, the characters, create all the magic and I didn’t want my point of view to be the only point of view,” she said. “To make this family feel truly real, you had to bring in multiple perspectives.”
This also extended to the show’s other departments, from composers, animators, editors, and voice actors, among others.
“Although I’m the showrunner, I always wanted to have an Indigenous perspective at least every step of the way. There are so many departments that make a TV series, so at least there’s an Indigenous voice in the room,” said she explained, adding that it’s been an “amazing process of bringing in people who’ve never worked in animation or never worked in entertainment and giving them their first shot, and feeling that genre energy, they want to prove themselves, they want to create Indigenous characters.
With the help of Netflix, they scouted the talent they needed, then matched new professionals with seasoned pros.
But before jumping into the show, Valencia also made sure to get the blessing of the Chumash and Cowlitz tribes.
“My goal was to indigenize this production and that came with some hurdles, like getting the blessings of the tribes we wanted to base the family on,” she said. “We took the time to go to the tribes and get their blessings and do everything right so that we could move forward with their partnership and collaboration.”
She added, “So doing things like that was really important to me, just to make sure there’s an Indigenous voice every step of the way.”
Valencia calls himself an “animation nerd” and thought an animated series might be the perfect space to tell his tribal stories. “In animation you can do anything, you can be anything,” she said. “There is so much freedom with the medium.”
She also felt the tribal stories resemble Grimm’s fairy tales and fables with universal lessons that are “perfect for preschoolers.” They take the responsibility of being part of a child’s early childhood very seriously.
“A lot of the characters we grew up with are our first friends or the first people we look up to, so I was really excited that ‘Spirit Rangers’ would show Indigenous kids as heroes – like those friends you want to be or be like. , she said. “It’s so cool to think of the non-indigenous children who look at us in this way, and also the indigenous children who see themselves and who hopefully feel a sense of pride and recognition that we are still there.”
“Spirit Rangers” will premiere on Netflix on Indigenous Peoples Day, October 10.