May 15th, 2021 Last Updated on: August 17th, 2021
Rutherford Falls,” Peacock TV‘s binge-worthy new show, manages to do something few ever have: bring multi-dimensional indigenous characters into an American sitcom.
While Native Americans have historically been portrayed as monolithic in American film and TV, “Rutherford Falls” breaks the mold, taking Native Americans out of the box they're so often forced into. But beyond that, the show's just downright brilliant.
Created by Michael Schur (“The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “Brooklyn Nine Nine”), Ed Helms, and Sierra Teller Ornelas (Navajo-Mexican), “Rutherford Falls” is equal parts clever and heartwarming and provides two unique perspectives of the Native American experience.
Recently Paul sat down with Jana Schmieding to learn more about her and the show.
Jana Schmieding is a Mniconjou and Sicangu Lakota actor, writer and comedian known for her work on Rutherford Falls. Formerly a public school teacher in New York City, Jana moved to Los Angeles to further pursue a career in television. Jana was born and raised in rural Oregon, studied theater arts at the University of Oregon and got her Masters in Teaching from Mercy College in New York. She cut her teeth in the improv and sketch comedy scene in New York City where she wrote, performed and directed regularly.
Speaker 1 (00:05):
Welcome to Pow Wow Live podcast from PowWows.com, connecting you with Native culture since 1996. Here's your host, Paul Gowder.
Paul Gowder (00:17):
Welcome to Pow Wow Life podcast. I'm Paul Gowder from PowWows.com. Thank you all for being here. I am super excited to share with you this interview from Jana Schmieding from Rutherford Falls. If you haven't listened, or if you haven't watched Rutherford Falls yet, it's a show on Peacock full of great Native humor, good writing from Native writers, and Native actors. It is a fantastic show, but Jana will tell you more about that in the interview.
Paul Gowder (00:47):
So I want to thank you all for being back for another episode of the Pow Wow Life podcast. Thank you all for your support and watching the show. Let me ask you first off, if you can, please go out and share this with your friends, share it on social media, and leave us a review on Apple podcast. That really does help the show grow. And each week, we'll draw somebody out of all the reviews on Apple podcast to get one of our free mystery packs of stickers and we'll ship that to you. That includes 10 stickers of our Pow Wow stickers, which we have bustles and fans and outfits and all kinds of stuff. So leave us a review on Apple podcast and you'll be entered to win that.
Paul Gowder (01:26):
Also want to say that we are still celebrating our 25th anniversary here at PowWows.com. Started it in 1996 and we have been growing strong for these last 25 years, thanks to you, our community. And to say thank you, we're having a big giveaway. Twenty-five Pendleton blankets. Yes, 25 Pendleton blankets we're giving away in just a couple of months. You can enter the win those at www.PowWows.com/25. The numbers two five. Www.PowWows.com/25. That'll get you over to the contest where you can enter and enter daily. It is a random drawing, but you can earn extra entries by completing tasks and checking on it daily. Also, look for bonus codes. I've put them in emails and live videos and on the website, so look for those bonus codes in various places. I'll even give you one after the episode today and after you hear from Jana.
Paul Gowder (02:18):
Again, we put these episodes out every Tuesday. Thank you so much. And we record the interviews live on Facebook, so if you want to interact with the guests and talk to them while they're being interviewed, join us over on our Facebook or YouTube page Thursday nights at 9:00 Eastern, would love to see you there. Thanks so much everybody, and I hope you enjoy today's episode with Jana Schmieding from Rutherford Falls.
Paul Gowder (02:40):
I am super excited to... I'm kind of fanboying out tonight. We've got a star with us tonight. I'm so excited to have her, and for her to take the time. Recently, a new show came out on Peacock, Rutherford Falls. If you haven't seen it, you got to go check it out. Kelly and I, we binge watched it all in one weekend. We squeezed it in while we were streaming Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, so in between our breaks, and anytime we got a break, we were back down on the couch checking it out. So Jana Schmieding is here with us, and I'm so excited to have you here. Thank you for taking the time to be here tonight.
Jana Schmieding (03:13):
Oh my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me. I am a huge follower and fan of PowWows.com, especially during the pandemic. I've been tuning in to get my ... watching old videos of Pow Wows just to get my fix.
Paul Gowder (03:29):
That's awesome. All right. I got to tell you, it was kind of cool, because we're watching the show and I'm like, "I've got to go look up some of these people." I'd interviewed Bobby Wilson a few years ago, so I knew who he was. So I'm looking at everybody else and a cool, cool moment when I went to your Instagram, I was like, "Kelly, Kelly, she already follows me. This is a cool thing. It says follow back." That was awesome. That was really cool.
Paul Gowder (03:56):
And so let's start there. You said you were watching some old videos, so where have you been? What Pow Wows have you been to? What are some of your favorites? What have you missed during this COVID time?
Jana Schmieding (04:08):
Oh my gosh. Well, where have I been? That's a great question. I grew up in Oregon, so I was a frequenter of the Grand Rohn annual Pow Wows, select folks hosted. I grew up in Eugene. I grew up in a small town in Canby in Clackamas county, but there was a small native community that was pretty popping, like a thriving native community in the Eugene area because it was a college town. And so the U of O had a mother's day Pow Wow every year. I think that the native American student union is putting on the mother's day Pow Wow remotely this year. So we were very much Pacific Northwest Pow Wow trail people. I've never been to Gathering of Nations, but it's on my life's vision board. I probably won't go as a dancer, but I would go as a viewer,
Paul Gowder (05:24):
Yeah, it's one of the things you have to come to at some point. Yeah.
Jana Schmieding (05:27):
Yes. I can't believe I haven't been yet. But yeah, I was a young, fancy shawl dancer and I'm very much, much more a women's traditional now in my life. So yes.
Paul Gowder (05:45):
Yeah. I started at a straight dancer and people told me when I started, man, you're starting with the old man's dance. You're not supposed to start there. Well, I mean, I was looking at some of your old videos and of your content out there, and you've had a long journey to get to Rutherford Falls. Tell us about your background and how we got here to, to writing for the show and for starring in it.
Jana Schmieding (06:09):
Well, I've always been interested in the performing arts, and I went to the University of Oregon and I studied theater arts. And gosh, from there, it just snowballed into a stronger interest in being involved in comedy. So I always just found my place in comedy. And when I left the University of Oregon, I moved immediately to New York City to pursue dreams of being a part of a comedy community, and just fine tune my skills in comedy, and become a better performer.
Jana Schmieding (06:55):
And so, yeah, I got involved with an improv comedy theater in New York City called the Magnet Theater and just started taking classes and then performing consistently. And then eventually, that led to me wanting to direct comedy, and coach other people, and eventually got to the point where I was interested in writing professionally. The balance of my professional career in education. I was a teacher at the time. And the balance had shifted that my interest and the time and energy spent was leaning a lot more toward comedy than my teaching career. And so I said, "I just, I have to pursue it."
Jana Schmieding (07:50):
So I did the thing that they tell you not to do. And I quit my teaching job and I moved to Los Angeles to try and find out how to enter the film and television industry in LA. And I'm a person who just always has three or five different creative projects going at one time. And so I started teaching myself how to write TV pilots and wrote a few different TV pilots, and all of them were about myself and all of them were about native women and centered the native narrative.
Jana Schmieding (08:37):
And I was having a lot of difficulty getting reception of on my writing. I just didn't necessarily feel like the industry was embracing what I was offering. And I knew from all of my lived experience, that native visibility is a real issue in media. And it got to the point where I was about to throw in the towel and move back to Oregon with my parents because I didn't really know what my next step would be. And then I met Sierra Teller Ornelas who is the co-executive producer, co-creator of Rutherford Falls. I met her when I invited her to be a guest on my podcast. And so that was our introduction to each other, and she asked if I had any writing samples, and I happened to have some writing samples to show her, and the rest is Rutherford.
Paul Gowder (09:43):
That's awesome. And you're talking about watching things during the pandemic. It's great to me that with podcasting and streaming and everything else, we've got some great creators out there in Indian country. And some of these stories are finally getting told. And so for me, it was really exciting to see Peacock embrace it. So that was really cool.
Jana Schmieding (10:05):
Paul Gowder (10:06):
You mentioned teaching and improv. What was harder? Teaching or standing up in front of those kids, because I couldn't imagine doing that or improv, and what's the tougher audience there?
Jana Schmieding (10:18):
Teaching. Come on, Paul.
Paul Gowder (10:21):
What grade were you teaching?
Jana Schmieding (10:23):
I started in middle school, so I was teaching seventh and eighth graders, and then I moved to high school and I was teaching ninth and 10th graders. Yeah, it was hard. It was hard work. And I did it for 10 years in a very a high need area of New York City. It was the poorest congressional school district in the United States. One of them. The south Bronx. And so I have worked only in underfunded schools and under resourced schools and with amazing kids. Amazing, amazing children who have overcome incredible obstacles in their life to go to access their own learning and their own education.
Jana Schmieding (11:16):
And I learned so much from that experience about not only how to be a performer, but how to be a professional and how to communicate with different kinds of people. And none of that was a waste of time for me professionally. I carry all of those experiences into my current work. And not only that, the love of teaching, but also a real love for social justice and for equity and making sure that not only students in New York or large urban centers, students of color have access to all of the same things that white kids have access to.
Jana Schmieding (12:05):
But I think a lot about our own native communities and our own native youth and, and the ways in which our youth are coming up in a time where access has been denied for them their entire lives. And I hope that my work, whatever work that I do, is pushing doors open for them and making the world a little bit easier for them to exist in.
Paul Gowder (12:32):
That's awesome. And that's something we so desperately need. I saw a video today, it was Steve Harvey and he was talking about barriers. And if you put a flea in a jar, it can only jump so far, even though that flea can probably jump two feet. And so then his kids and his descendants, they only can jump that high, because we've put a barrier in their face and they don't know that they can exceed that.
Paul Gowder (12:57):
So when we start removing those barriers and getting things out of the way, when we let these kids really soar, yeah. That's awesome. So thank you for all that teaching that you did. I think it's super important.
Jana Schmieding (13:08):
Oh gosh, yes.
Paul Gowder (13:10):
Yeah. And so I saw a quote today that, and I thought this was a really cool that you said, that this show for you broke a mold that wasn't even there before as a native person, as a woman, as a Woman of Size, as your podcast was called, these are all barriers that we don't see displayed in mainstream media. So can you tell us what that meant to finally hit a role that incorporated all of that together?
Jana Schmieding (13:40):
You know, I attribute a lot of the availability of this role to Sierra. It took a native woman to see me. It took a another native woman who understood me and understood my voice and understood my comedy to lift me up. And it speaks to the power of having native people in leadership positions, specifically in this industry. And when I said I feel like I'm breaking a mold that wasn't there, it's because as native women, I don't think we're really seeing any of us on screen to a substantial degree. And when we are portrayed on screen, we are props for a white man's conquest. We are often killed off in film and TV shows. We're not centered. And so I don't even think that there's a mold to be broken yet. I really don't think.
Jana Schmieding (14:41):
And I hope that there isn't a mold. I hope that we can bring our own diversity to the screen as it is in real life. And I think that that's how I feel about this experience, this entire experience, is that I'm just bringing myself to the work and I am the way I am, and I exist in the world the way that I exist, and the way that I look, and it's extremely rewarding. But there are also just, I look to my left and to my right, and I see so much native talent around me. There is so much talent in this industry and beyond, and the fact that we are so largely untapped in all of our industries and all of our skill sets.
Jana Schmieding (15:37):
I mean, we did our best on this show to bring in as many native designers and musicians. And we just like wanted the world to feel like we feel in our native world. And so we did our best to try and write these characters as we live and exist now. And I think that what audiences are seeing is themselves in the work and that's delightful because there were five native writers in the room. And so that also speaks to the importance of, in terms of television and film, how important it is that native people have a voice on the writing side and on the producing side of projects.
Paul Gowder (16:31):
Yes. Yes. So I have to wonder though, during those early table reads and those early writing sessions, what was it like for all the native people in the room. Were you having to educate and get everybody up to speed on some of these native little references and Indian humor? Because it's different. Not everybody's used to it
Jana Schmieding (16:52):
Not everybody's used to it. And yeah, and I'll say that it was a delight to not have to do that as much as it would have if there were only one of us. We're really used to being the only native in a space of white people or non native people. And so it relies on the one person to have to explain why aunties are a thing, and what it means to sell your bead work or not, all of these very nuanced conversations.
Jana Schmieding (17:26):
It was great because all of the native writers, we are also a very diverse group. We have just all different people from all over the nation in our writer's room, and coming from different experiences. And so I think that that was really helpful, and yeah, it was a delight to explain to Mike Shore and Ed Helms why we should tell the joke this way or why it's not that mean when native people are making fun of each other. We're not internalizing it. It's not below the belt.
Jana Schmieding (18:06):
And it also was great because Sierra really encouraged us to not hold back, to not be afraid that we were above white people's heads. She was like, "No, let's just go for it. Let's put these jokes in, native people understand it, and this is a show for native viewers as much as it is for non native viewers. So let's give jokes to us too."
Paul Gowder (18:30):
Yeah, that's great. And there were some really good ones that were ... Talking about snagging. There was a reference to Miss Indian World. Because that was the weekend we were streaming the Gathering of Nations, so I was texting with the organizers of Miss Indian World, like, "Oh my God, the show just referenced y'all." So that was really cool. And even, I know one time I turned to my wife, or my wife actually turned to me, and she's like, "Did they just say that," when he makes a reference to that's why I'm not friends with white people. Awesome. This is awesome. Those are just things you don't hear in regular TV. So it was [crosstalk 00:19:03]. What's the reaction been, from fans and viewers of the show? What has been the reaction from natives and non-natives to this kind of humor and these storylines?
Jana Schmieding (19:13):
I think that non-natives are so excited about a new story. I think that the show has really tried to speak to the highest intelligence of our country and to our culture. And I think that, yeah, people are overwhelmingly delighted to see this new narrative happening and these new kinds of jokes. I mean, as a comedy person, it's always a joy to see new kinds of jokes enter the sphere of comedy. It's not even entering, but for the spotlight to turn to a new joke. And I think that also as native people, our issues are universal. I just think that because we don't have enough visibility and we are often not centered in our own narratives, we're not given the autonomy to really understand that yeah, these are issues that every family faces and that every human goes through in some way or another.
Jana Schmieding (20:27):
But I do think that the reaction that native people are having to the show is specifically very meaningful to us and very meaningful to me. I'm getting a lot of feedback that people are like, "Oh my God, this is me. Or I am Regan." Or a lot of people just being like, "This is how my dad was." And that feedback is overwhelming. And it really changes the term fan for me. I don't necessarily feel like I have fans or I have ... I want people to feel like they have ownership in this show. I want people to feel like they are a part of this world. And I think that folks do. I think folks are feeling like, "Wow, yeah, this totally resonates."
Paul Gowder (21:21):
Yeah. Yeah. And even though PowWows.com is centered, Pow Wows is our focus and other parts exploring native culture, but it wasn't a conscious choice though not to set any of this in what we normally see. The Pow Wows and the ceremonies or the stoic ... Was that conscious? Because I noticed it and for me, it was refreshing.
Jana Schmieding (21:46):
Yes, it was. It was conscious, because we know that the non-native lens wants to see us as culturally specific. They want to see those things. And for a long time, I think we've given them that, and we've showed them anytime there's an important event that is hosted by native people, we have fancy dancers, which is not bad. I'm not knocking it. I've been a part of those things too. And it is a great illustration of the people that we are, and our beauty, and our talents.
Jana Schmieding (22:22):
But we were really focused on telling the stories of these people and keeping the world very specific to these characters. Because when you build a show around human beings, around characters and not necessarily, this is how all natives are. This is what it looks like. I think the more specific that you can get, the further you can travel with those characters. So knock on wood, if we get a season two, as you have seen from the show, there's so many different directions that it could go with all of the characters, native and non-native. And that's because we really tried to tell a story about people and not about a place, or an environment, or a situation.
Paul Gowder (23:13):
Yeah. Like I said, it was very forever refreshing for me, even though I do appreciate a good Pow Wow scene, but yeah, it was cool that we're showing real authentic life. So that was really cool. All right. And I think I saw on Instagram today that you did some bead work for one of the people on the show? Was that your beadwork you were doing?
Jana Schmieding (23:42):
I did a lot of bead work on the show. Yeah. I wear a lot of my own beadwork on the show. I beaded the emojis that Maya brings to Regan in the museum, the Mohawk emojis. And I beaded the clouds on the poster. If you look closely on the key art for the show, it's Nathan and Regan sitting, and then there was some clouds above there, and I'd beaded those clouds. But we also brought in Jamie Okuma and Bethany Yellowtail, and I was very specific that on each episode I wanted Regan to wear a new beader's jewelry. So in every episode there is a different ... I wear a lot of my own, but in every episode, there's a different bead artist on her ears. So yeah. We just made sure to celebrate our art.
Paul Gowder (24:43):
That's really cool. And that's, again, noticeable that you were seeing some of these things. And that was one of the first things I saw when I saw the poster. It's like, "That's beadwork on the poster. That's totally different. That's really cool."
Jana Schmieding (24:56):
Paul Gowder (24:57):
Yeah. So you're talking about a lot of representation in the media and all that. So as you know, I've got some young people that are watching or inspiring people, I guess what are you hoping the show is going to do to open doors? And what are you telling folks that are trying to follow this path? Any advice for them?
Jana Schmieding (25:18):
Oh, gosh. There's so much to say about that. The show, I just hope that it can have many seasons. I hope that people continue to watch and talk to each other about the show. I hope that it gives native journalists an opportunity to write about the show. I hope that it gives native podcasters an opportunity to podcast about the show. I just really hope that people can find a connection to the show, native folks specifically, and to have conversations about it. And that we get to continue to make it, because of course the more viewers appreciate the work, the more work ... Work begets work.
Jana Schmieding (26:04):
So that means that we'll be able to employ more native talent, be in front of the camera and behind the camera. And I would say that that is the message that I would tell any young folks out there who are interested in working in the performing arts or in film and television, that I went into this experience with one goal and it was to write on the show, and I didn't realize how much I would be involved on various elements of the show.
Jana Schmieding (26:40):
And so I really feel like this industry specifically, it's hard to get here. It's really hard to get here, and you have to have stamina and you really have to try. But once you make it to this place, there are so many different ways that you can plug into this industry. I mean, there's room for makeup artists and hair artists. There's room for designers and architects and builders. And there's space for people who want to learn how to be photographers and camera operators and directors. And acting isn't the one thing. And writers, we need native writers, we need storytellers in this industry really badly.
Jana Schmieding (27:33):
And so I just hope that young native folks feel encouraged to tell your story however you can tell it. I did it through comedy for many years, and then I tried podcasting, and this is just one iteration of my lifelong project of telling my own stories. And I really hope that younger native folks can see that your stories are valuable and there is a space for them. You just have to carve it out for yourself.
Paul Gowder (28:00):
Yes, yes. I love that. All right. So now going forward, and we're all crossing our fingers for season two. But until we're waiting for that, where else can we see you? What other projects do you have coming out? Anything you can announce yet?
Jana Schmieding (28:13):
Nothing I can announce yet, but if you're interested in a podcast about bodies, especially specifically women's bodies and weight stigma, you can check out my podcast, Woman of Size. Of course you can follow me on the socials. Just right now doing a ton of press for the show and trying to get people to watch it. So, yeah, just enjoy the content and spread the word.
Paul Gowder (28:44):
Awesome. Well, again, thank you so much for taking some time. Hopefully I'm going to see you at a gathering or some other Pow Wows soon.
Jana Schmieding (28:49):
I know. I hope so.
Paul Gowder (28:51):
I hope we can all get back together to Pow Wow soon. All right. Well, thank you so much again and good luck on the show. And like I said, I'm crossing my fingers. I'm ready for season two.
Jana Schmieding (29:01):
Yes. Thank you, Paul. Thanks everyone.
Paul Gowder (29:03):
Thanks. All right, cool. That was great. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for doing that. I really appreciate it.
Jana Schmieding (29:10):
Paul Gowder (29:11):
It's so cool to see something like this out there. I actually did an interview. A show interviewed me yesterday, and one of the things he said was that as a young teen growing up on the reservation that just seeing people, seeing other natives spotlighted on the internet or on a message board, that that really meant a lot to him as having that role model he could look up to. So now with this kind of exposure, it's going to open so many doors.
Jana Schmieding (29:42):
I know. It's so overwhelming. It just means so much. And I hope that ... I'm just really honored. I'm honored to be a part of it. And I'm honored that people are watching and enjoying it. It's so cool.
Paul Gowder (29:58):
Yeah. With streaming, do they do ratings or anything?
Jana Schmieding (30:04):
Well, usually they analyze the data of stream binges, re-binges, downloads, the app downloads. How many people have subscribed to Peacock. So there's a bunch of different analytics that go into it. And usually I've heard that the wait time is 60 days after the launch to hear about a season two. But I don't know. I'm hoping that we'll hear sooner than that.
Paul Gowder (30:36):
Awesome. Like I said, we binged it in two days, and that with sitting in front of this computer for hours at a time doing the webcast.
Jana Schmieding (30:46):
Paul Gowder (30:48):
Well, thank you. Have a good evening. I appreciate you doing it.
Jana Schmieding (30:51):
Paul Gowder (30:52):
Jana Schmieding (30:52):
Yes, take care.
Paul Gowder (30:54):
Paul Gowder (30:55):
Thank you for listening today to the interview with Jana Schmieding from Rutherford Falls, and thank you Jana for being with us. I'm so excited to see that Rutherford Falls has already been picked up for a second season. Man, we binged it in one weekend, the first season. So I cannot wait for the second season and to see where these characters go.
Paul Gowder (31:13):
All right. As promised, I've got a bonus code for you for the Pendleton blanket giveaway. Go over to www.powwows.com/25, and enter bonus code ... ready for it? 3653. 3653 is your bonus code for a special entry into the Pendleton blanket giveaway that only you guys listening on this podcast will get. Again, I'm Paul Gowder with PowWows.com. Thank you for being a part of the podcast. And remember go leave us a review on Apple podcast. We really appreciate that. Thank you all. And we'll see you on the next episode.
Speaker 1 (31:54):
Thanks for listening to the Pow Wow Life podcast from PowWows.com. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get notified of our next episode. Find a Pow Wow near you by visiting www.PowWows.com/calendar. Support PowWows.com by visiting www.PowWowNation.com.
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