'So darn cute:' Indigenous artists and memers embrace Star Wars series' Baby Yoda

What happens when Indigenous people across Canada and the United States adopt Baby Yoda as one of their own?

He gets placed in a cradleboard. Maybe wearing a ribbon skirt. He gets a pair of beaded earrings. He might even become a pair of beaded earrings. 

Since a new television instalment to the Star Wars franchise, The Mandalorian, premiered on Nov. 12, the Baby Yoda character has been taking social media by storm.

The series on the new Disney+ streaming service follows a Mandalorian bounty hunter, five years after the events of the Return of the Jedi film, so the actual identity of the character dubbed Baby Yoda by fans is the subject of debate. But there's no debate that the character is "darn cute."

Twyla Barker, president of Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College in Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in central North Dakota, said there's something about Star Wars that hits home for her. 

"There's this huge allegory between the Force and Indigenous belief systems," she said. 

"It's almost relatable. We kind of have this affinity for the Force because there's a lot of relationships or ties between Indigenous mindsets and that whole storytelling arc." 

She said Baby Yoda has added to this connection with Star Wars.

"And of course we're going to welcome something that's so darn cute," Baker said. 

"We just really like to have fun. There's a lot of stuff heavy stuff that we have to deal with day to day, and the way we do that is through humour."

Victoria Ransom created an image of Baby Yoda wearing a Mohawk-style Haudenosaunee headdress, or kastowa, sitting in a splint basket traditionally made from the black ash tree.

She made it in memory of her uncle, Joe Barnes, who was also an artist and the biggest Star Wars fan she ever knew. One of his last pieces was of Yoda wearing a kastowa

After he died in May 2018, Ransom drew her first Yoda in memory of him.

Jana Schmieding

She studied fine arts at the University of Ottawa and has been living in her home community of Akwesasne, at the Ontario/Quebec/U.S. border near Cornwall, Ont., for the last seven years learning traditional teachings from her elders and knowledge teachers.

"I incorporate that into my drawings and then every once in a while I'll do something that's just fun and has a pop culture thing to it, like Yoda," she said. 

Dani Lanouette, who runs the Instagram account TheBandOffice, says when she first noticed the Baby Yoda images floating around she immediately thought he looked like a little kid from the reserve. 

Lanouette is Anishinaabe and Algonquin with family from Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation in Ontario and Algonquins of Barriere Lake First Nation in Quebec. 

She bases her Baby Yoda memes on her own life experience. Even though she grew up in Ottawa, she was immersed in her culture and tradition and said she "definitely grew up as a rez kid in the city." 

Victoria Ransom

"It's just so easy to put this little character into any situation and make it into a Native meme."

She is in a group chat with Indigenous youth across the world who share memes and jokes with each other. 

"We're like, 'Yeah, the Native community has definitely adopted Baby Yoda as a rez baby and we love it.'"

Submitted by Dani Lanouette

Jana Schmieding, a Lakota Sioux writer, performer, activist and education consultant currently living and working in Los Angeles, said the affection for Baby Yoda reflects a reverence for children. 

"I believe that our adoption of Baby Yoda actually comes from the ways which we Native people on Turtle Island really value and deeply, deeply revere not only our elders but our children," she said. 

"We genuinely recognize our younger generations are going to heal our people and they're going to heal the land and that they possess this magic to do all of that power." 

On Nov. 23, Schmieding took to Twitter to ask if she needed to bead baby Yoda, and after getting over 651 likes she endeavoured to create a pair of beaded Baby Yoda earrings. 

She said she likes working on fun little projects that feature pop culture but also give a nod to her culture. 

"I think that Native people have always had a pulse on pop culture but pop culture has never had a pulse on Native people," said Schmieding.

"The meme-ing of Baby Yoda and the meme-ing in general that Native people are doing is actually a really important digital movement moment for non-Natives to get to know Native culture, rez culture, philosophies and ways of thinking, ways of being."