Elegant gowns and suits, compelling acceptance speeches and polished gold statuettes are all elements one expects to find time and again when tuning into the annual Primetime Emmy Awards.
For this Sunday’s 73rd edition, the Hollywood television ceremony will include a fresh and long-overdue Onkwehón:we representation.
“It’s the first time that there will be Indigenous storytellers who will be part of their programming,” said Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs. “I feel like we’re in the golden age of television.”
On Monday, September 13, news came out that the Kahnawa’kehró:non would be among the roster of celebrities presenting the much-anticipated awards.
The announcement, much like the overwhelming triumph of the show Reservation Dogs which Jacobs stars in, left the actress astonished.
“The show has been so successful and we’ve managed to do so well with it – something which none of us really expected,” said Jacobs. “But it did! So much so that they invited us to all present together at the Emmy Awards.”
It’s with this invitation that fans of the internationally recognized award show will bear witness to not one but five Indigenous presenters.
Jacobs explained that she will be accompanied on stage by Rez Dogs co-stars D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai (Oji-Cree First Nation), Paulina Alexis (Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation) and Lane Factor (Caddo and Seminole Creek), as well as showrunner and co-creator Sterlin Harjo (Seminole Nation).
“There haven’t been many Indigenous folks at awards shows, but when we have been there, it’s caused quite a stir,” she said, letting out a candid laugh.
Among the trailblazers to have left a mark on the industry is notably Apache actress Sacheen Littlefeather, notes Jacobs. “I’ve always looked up to her.”
In 1973, Marlon Brando sent Littlefeather to decline an award at the Oscars ceremony on his behalf. When the actor was invited onstage for winning the best actor category celebrating his performance in The Godfather, Littlefeather stepped into the spotlight and delivered a speech.
“He (Brando) very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry, on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”
Littlefeather’s speech, and sheer presence, led to a massive uproar.
“The stance that she took and the message she delivered, and how beautifully she delivered it, it was all so inspiring to me,” said Jacobs. “I’m grateful to now be able to contribute to that and myself be a part of award shows.”
Although the 28-year-old actress admitted to being a devoted Emmys aficionado, she simultaneously acknowledged the industry is in dire need of a larger reckoning with its exclusionary history.
“Sometimes festivals and awards are predominantly white, and not necessarily inclusive, which is definitely something I’ve kept in mind,” she said.
As grateful and eager Jacobs is to appear on millions of screens this Sunday, the Kanien’kehá:ka actress remains unequivocal about the need for media to create the space Onkwehón:we stories and talent deserve to shine through.
“I want to see Indigenous superheroes, Two-Spirit and queer Native rom-coms, stories and horror films based on legends – there are countless films and television stories that I want to see around our communities,” she said.
“We have so many stories to tell and so many different communities who have yet to share their stories. And I want to see all of them.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door