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

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

So there’s this 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, the show is the talk of the Native community. It features distinctly Native humor, but in a way that anyone can understand. 

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

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

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

“And 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.

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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 in Southeast Alaska. Before last year, her beading was mostly fun projects that she wanted to do. But she did not share the projects online often.

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

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

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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 featured in the show’s fourth episode 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.’”

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

And what’s 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. 

Also, the show is just funny. It’s inspiring a lot of Native memes. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 100% rating. 

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

She thinks everyone should watch it, not just because its funny or because of its 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,” she said. 

“Reservation Dogs” is one of the first shows made for Native people, by Native people. Every writer, director and regular actor is Indigenous. Meserve thinks this is just the beginning of an era of Native television.

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

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