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Juneau Lingít artist’s beadwork featured on Native comedy series ‘Reservation Dogs’

Sep 10, 2021

Two beaded medallions, a pickle and a microphone, made by Kaasteen Jill Meserve for the show “Reservation Dogs.” (Photo by Jill Meserve)

There’s a new show out called “Reservation Dogs.” It follows four teenagers on a reservation in Oklahoma.

Even though there are only a handful of episodes out right now, this show is the talk of the Native community. It features distinctly Native humor, but in a way that anyone can understand. 

A pickle medallion featured in the show is from Juneau. Kaasteen Jill Meserve beaded it. She is a Lingít artist of the Chookaneidí clan. 

The path to her beadwork being on the show started when the Native comedy group 1491s came to Juneau in 2019 for a show. 

A portrait of Lingít artist Kaasteen Jill Meserve in Juneau, Alaska taken by Konrad Frank. (Photo by Jill Meserve)

“I like to say that I fangirled too hard because they must have remembered me and they, like, called me out by name in the show,” Meserve said.

Since that show, she kept in touch with Sterlin Harjo and Bobby Wilson of the 1491s. 

Then in 2020, Meserve started sharing her beadwork to Instagram. Both Harjo and Wilson bought pieces from her.

Her beadwork often has some humor to it and she finds inspiration for her projects everywhere. For example, one of her projects was a pair of slides with a flower design she saw on toilet paper. 

She also loves to bead things from her favorite TV shows. She beaded a lotus tile from “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” Pickle Rick from “Rick and Morty” and the Central Perk logo from “Friends.”

Meserve has been beading since she was a kid living in Hoonah. Before last year, her beading was mostly fun projects that she wanted to do. But she did not share these projects online often.

That shifted during the pandemic. She started beading a lot more, posting her work and making it more of a business. 

Lingít artist Kaasteen Jill Meserve in the process of making a pickle medallion that is featured in the show “Reservation Dogs.” (Photo by Jill Meserve)

“Once COVID hit, I, for some reason, I really focused in on beading and that really became like my, almost my coping mechanism for COVID and to get through it. And it’s taken off since then,” Meserve said.

Sterlin Harjo is a co-creator and executive producer for “Reservation Dogs.” During the production of the show, he reached out to Meserve to make two medallions. 

And those medallions are in the fourth episode of the show. The episode is called “What About Your Dad.” 

One of them is that shiny pickle.

“The other one is a phallic-shaped microphone. That’s probably the best way that I can put it,” Meserve said. “And a lot of people who haven’t, like, seen the show, I think don’t really get the joke. They’re all like, ‘Wow that microphone looks kinda ‘sus’ there.’”

And what is it like to have her work featured on the show? 

“Ah man, it’s still kind of surreal honestly,” Meserve said.

Online, it’s sparking conversations about Native identity and who is included in Native representation. 

Not all Tribes are the same, after all. Alaska Native people are different from Native American people, and there is so much diversity within Alaska Native Tribes too. 

Often, Native people are all grouped into one. But Meserve thinks this show will spur more individualized representation of Native Tribes. 

She said that, while all Tribes are different, the show also draws on elements of being Native that all Native people can relate to. 

And the show is just funny. The show is inspiring a lot of Native memes. Rotten Tomatoes also gave it a 100% rating. 

Meserve is a huge fan. And growing up in Hoonah, she can relate to a lot of the show. 

She said that everyone needs to watch this show not only because it’s funny or has good ratings, but because of the impact it has. 

“In not just, like you know, in our Native communities but like for Hollywood and what it means to be really truly represented in media and on screens. It’s very monumental,” Meserve said. 

It’s one of the first shows made for Native people, by Native people. Every writer, director and regular actor is Indigenous. And Meserve thinks this is just the beginning of an era of Native television.

Want to know more about the show? Watch it on FX on Hulu