Sundance TV has put out a lot of great television shows over the past couple of years. Choosing shorter seasons which normally consist of six to ten episodes, Sundance TV has chosen some unique but vastly interesting topics to explore. Whether the subject is the psychological damage of a man who is newly freed from Death Row after almost 20 years in Rectify, or life among the criminal element in New Zealand in The Top of the Lake, Sundance TV has not chosen well-worn topics to present to its viewers. One standout from the channel is The Red Road. Focusing on the struggles of the Lenape tribe in the Ramapo Mountains of northern New Jersey, the show provides a look into the often-forgotten struggles of Native Americans in present-day society, and Season 2 proves to be an artistic and topical success.
The second season of The Red Road begins with new challenges for the Lenape tribe, which is about to be recognized as an independent nation by the federal government (they are already recognized by New Jersey). This recognition may seem like a positive step forward for the Lenape tribe, but independence has challenges of its own for the relatively small group of people. Their federally-recognized independence means their own police force, which brings its own set of issues. Their officers are poorly-trained and lack the organization that the local Walpole Police Department has.
The Lenape’s federally recognized tribal status also gives them the power to build a casino on their reservation. This newfound power brings in Chief Levi Gall (Wes Studi) from Connecticut, who is interested in building a casino for profit. Chief Gall has the appearance of a clean-cut business man, and stands in stark contrast when compared to the Lenape Chief, Mac (Gary Farmer). Chief Mac wants to preserve the Lenape way of life, and views building the casino as the tarnishing of the Lenape way of life. However, Chief Gall holds a lot of power and refuses to let Chief Mac stand in the way of nearly guaranteed profit. Therefore, Chief Gall has some of his underlings murder Chief Sky in order to pave the way for a casino. Without completely spoiling season two of The Red Road, the murder of Chief Sky sets the stage for major drama for main character Phillip Kopus (Jason Momoa) and his younger, half-brother Junior (Kiowa Gordon), as Junior is very close to Chief Mac, but is the son of Chief Gall.
Not only does the Sundance TV show satisfy artistically, but its subject matter is very topical. An important matter addressed in Season 2 of The Red Road is the contamination of Native American lands, which leads to deadly diseases. In the show, many members of the Lenape tribe are getting cancer as a result of drinking poisonous water. The water is poisoned as a result of toxic waste being dumped into the Ramapo Mountains. The poisoning of Native Americans as the result of toxic water is a real issue in America, which is reflected in the show. Jeff Gerritsen writes in his article, Uranium Mining Poisons Native Americans, how Native Americans of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were getting radiation poisoning as a result of the contamination of the Cheyenne River. In both cases, Native Americans fell victim to water contamination and reckless practices.
The struggles of minorities is a very relevant topic in America, and it should be. However, the struggles of the respective Native American tribes seems forgotten at some points. The Red Road does a good job of outlining some of these issues, and educating its viewers on some unique struggles of which they may be unaware. Many are oblivious to the fact that federally recognized independence could pave the way for organized crime to thrive due to opportunity and a sometimes ill-equipped, or corrupt, police force. Also, the water contamination of Native American tribes is a frightening issue which needs to be heard.
Viewers who initially tune into The Red Road may do so because it is a quality crime drama, and it delivers in that area one hundred percent. The characters are believable, the acting is great, and the storyline is interesting and feels true to life. However, viewers will also be given a glimpse into the unique struggles that Native Americans face in today’s world, making Season 2 an artistic and topical success.
Opinion by Alex Waller
imdb.com: The Red Road
Culture Change: Uranium Mining Poisons Native Americans
“Sterling Forest by Rail” Courtesy of Atomische * Tom Giebel’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License