Is Baby Yoda indigenous? Character captures the hearts of Alaska Native artists

Gatgyedm Hana’ax Karla Booth (Ts’msyen) shows off a beading project and sketches she made in preparation to make a Baby Yoda Christmas tree ornament that she gifted. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KNBA)

Indigenous fans have taken to adopting “Baby Yoda,” declaring the character is Native.

One look at Baby Yoda and you can see why he’s captured the hearts and minds of indigenous people — he’s cute, tiny, with big ears and big round eyes that reflect the world around him. And he tries really hard to help sometimes. But he’s also still playful, like a baby experiencing the world for the first time.

The hashtag #NativeBabyYoda shows memes of him wearing a Pendleton coat, in a traditional backboard, even playing the band A Tribe Called Red in a spaceship.

Tristan Agnauraq Morgan says the Baby Yoda memes captured her attention and the Inupiaq artist created a small painting of Baby Yoda for a friend. 

“I’ve been so excited about the Baby Yoda memes and kind of us kind of claiming Baby Yoda as Native, which is really kind of ironic because you don’t have that representation in pop culture,” Morgan said.

Tristan Agnauraq Morgan (Inupiaq) painted a Baby Yoda as a gift to a friend. (Photo courtesy Tristan Agnauraq Morgan)

Morgan says that previous indigenous representation included a lot of stereotypes — and didn’t really show what it was like to be Native in modern society.

“It was always something that was like in a Western film or refer to us as being in the past so by bringing us into kind of the future even, you know, way into the future where it’s ‘Star Wars,’” Morgan said. “It’s been a lot of fun kind of claiming this and adopting Baby Yoda as a Native baby.”

“The Mandalorian” — a Disney+ original series — features an intergalactic bounty hunter. He travels around space and rescues an alien creature that resembles a baby-version of Yoda — a wise old Jedi featured in the “Star Wars” movie franchise. 

Oglala Lakota and Chicano writer Simon Moya-Smith penned an opinion article for NBC. The gist of the article: We may never know what Baby Yoda actually is, but he’s definitely indigenous.

“We see ourselves or we see the little tiny tot at powwows or protests or ceremony as Baby Yoda, you know, learning the way,” Moya-Smith said. “At the end of the day, he’s the indigenous kid that we were or that we see today.”

Moya-Smith says indigenous artists have incorporated popular culture — from Superman to Batman, even “Star Wars” — into Native designs before. But something about Baby Yoda, he says, took off. 

Sunny Guerin — who is Gwich’in Athabascan — is crocheting tiny Baby Yoda dolls for her kids. The dolls are small enough to cradle in an adult’s hands. Guerin was introduced to the character when her kids made her watch an episode of “Mandalorian.”

“I noticed the kids really liking him because he’s got like these little super-powers,” Guerin said. “But he’s quiet and he’s really reserved and just kind of floats around in this little carriage, I guess. But he doesn’t use any of these powers until it’s necessary and so it’s really kind of interesting to see us as it develops a little character in there that he has these super awesome Jedi powers. So I think there’s a portion of that that we’re all little superheroes.”

For Inupiaq artist Tristan Morgan, Baby Yoda is an opportunity for Native people to be a part of community that may not necessarily have intended to include them.

Sunny Guerin (Gwich’in) made this and other tiny crochet Baby Yoda dolls for her children’s Christmas gifts. (Photo courtesy Sunny Guerin)

“I think it’s really important for people to know that indigenous people exist in modern times and we have modern interests,” Morgan said. “We bring traditional values into our everyday lives. But it doesn’t mean that we’re all going to be traditional. It’s really cool to be in spaces that don’t necessarily have indigenous people in them and then bring indigenous people in.”

So for the foreseeable future — #NativeBabyYoda and all the memes are sticking around. And while there may be some debate on whether the character is Inupiaq or Ho-Chunk or Oglala Lakota — one thing we know is that he’s definitely indigenous.

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