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"Rutherford Falls" Season 2 finds Jana Schmieding back in the writers' room and beading circle

Tyler Golden
Reagan Wells (played by Jana Schmieding, left) and Nathan Rutherford (played by Ed Helms, right) confer over a coffee run.

The Peacock show, “Rutherford Falls” stars Jana Schmieding, a Native American (Mniconjou and Sicangu Lakota) who grew up in Canby and graduated from the University of Oregon.

The series launches eight new episodes of Season 2 Thursday.

Schmieding plays Reagan Wells, a member of the fictitious Minishonka Tribe, and friend to Nathan Rutherford, heir to the town’s colonial legacy which includes a tall statue called “Big Larry” a towering figure canonizing town founder Lawrence Rutherford.

That legacy – and Reagan and Nathan’s friendship- was tested last season, but the Season 2 trailer suggests Big Larry still stands where Rutherford Falls was founded, and the childhood buds are on to new misadventures.

Rutherford Falls | New Season | Official Trailer | Peacock Original

Schmieding told KLCC that with the world-building of “Rutherford Falls” largely established in Season 1, the writers cut loose with Season 2.

“It’s a very comedy-forward season,” said Schmieding. “We have things like a Halloween episode, we are doing some goofy stuff. Reagan decides that she wants to apply for a plot of land on her rez, so we see tribal bureaucracy this season. We have a 'pretendian' episode.” (“Pretendians” are people who aren’t actual Indians, but like to pretend that they are.)

“Rutherford Falls” has won praise for its portrayal of Native Americans, due to its team of Indigenous writers, which includes Schmieding.

Greg Gayne
Nelson (played by Dallas Goldtooth, left) joins Reagan Wells (right) as co-curator of the Minishonka Cultural Center.

**Web extra: Highlights of KLCC’s interview with Jana Schmieding**

Brian Bull: Welcome back, and congrats on Season 2!  When we last left Nathan, he was on the road trying to resolve his identity crisis as a D’Angelo vs. a Rutherford, Reagan was on the outs with NPR podcaster Josh, and a new Minishonka Cultural Center was being developed, with mixed feelings from Nathan. Are we going to see some key developments with these story threads?

Jana Schmieding: We will absolutely see key developments. Everybody has sort of landed. Whether they've landed comfortably or not, is to be seen. But yeah, we are going to see these characters moving forward with their lives, and we see Nathan starting to own his identity crisis and he's starting to own some of the blind spots that he may have had in the first season. And that's a clumsy journey for him, as it is for many people, to start to see your blind spots and and move forward as a better community member and a better friend to his native friends, Reagan and Terry.

And Reagan is clumsily stumbling into her power. She's seen some success, the cultural center is being developed and built on her traditional homelands. And meanwhile, she's set up shop in Nathan's museum. And I'm not going to give away any spoilers as to how they sort of come together in the in the first episode, but yeah, they've been helping each other out. Their friendship has survived this crisis and they continue to support each other.

And there's a new love interest on the rise as well. So we will see a different player in Reagan's romantic world.

Bull:You are joined by Native comedian and activist Dallas Goldtooth this season.  Many know him from the Standing Rock demonstrations and also his work with the Native comedy troupe, The 1491s. Please share his role in the series.

Schmieding: Well, he plays Reagan's love interest! And he plays a curator at the museum. So she hires him. He plays this sort of know-it-all, Native cultural expert, and she's really put off with him and annoyed with him at first. When he interviews for the job he sort of tries to, “big chest” her (LAUGHS). They're a little bit combative in the beginning, but a friendship and a romance evolves between them.

Bull: The new AMC series, “Dark Winds” also premieres this month, and I’ve heard “Reservation Dogs” is also coming back. So are we still riding this crest of authentic and captivating Native voices in popular media? 

Schmieding: Yes, I think we are. And I think that we’re going to start seeing more content and more diverse content. We're gonna see Native humor, we're gonna see drama, we're gonna see sci-fi. I think that the doors have been sort of kicked down. And the public is interested in seeing stories told by Native people. And so we have endless amounts of stories to tell because we haven't gotten an opportunity to tell them yet. So now is the time and Native folks are sort of assuming leadership positions in the industry. I think that's sort of what's making this tide swell.

Bull: The trailer for Season 2 shows that Big Larry is still standing, so he apparently survived the wave of countless statue topplings that happened all over the U.S. in recent years. Is historical revisitation still a part of Rutherford Falls’ storyline?

Schmieding: In a different way, yes. I think Reagan's entire being is fueled by making sure that the Minishonka history is centered in her community. But this season, we've moved a lot more toward focusing on the individual players and delving into their lives a little bit more. It’s a very “comedy forward” season. And for that reason, we have things like a Halloween episode. We have a “pretendian” episode. We are doing some goofy stuff. Reagan, in this season, decides that she wants to apply for a plot of land on her rez and goes through sort of the bureaucracy of that whole challenge. So we see tribal bureaucracy this season. We set the world up in Season 1 and Season 2, we're really playing with it.

Elizabeth Morris
Bobbie Yang (Jesse Leigh) and Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) gaze aghast in this scene from Episode 205, "Adirondack."

Bull: That sounds awesome. I don’t know where the "pretendian" thing goes, but I hope that at some point, if not this season, that you get a chance to nail some of the New Age “Twinkies” or plastic/crystal shamans out there.  

Schmieding: (LAUGHS) We have yet to clown on the crystal shaman but that's great pitch for Season 3. Brian,

Bull: Word has it that you’re working on a movie script, Jana.  Any hints as to what it’s about?

Schmieding:  Yes, I'm currently developing a feature that I would act in and it's a broad comedy, and it's a comedy that centers around an auntie.

Bull: Aunties are amazing.

Schmieding:  Yes they are! (LAUGHS)

Bull: And I read in the New York Times that you’ve been listening to a lot of Fleetwood Mac lately.

Schmieding: Yeah, I have this vision for a movie that I want to cover a bunch of Fleetwood Mac songs as pow-wow songs. So I’ve been listening to the albums, not only just a vibe inspiration while I’m writing, but I like to – in my creative process – immerse myself in the vibe of what I’m writing. So Fleetwood Mac is the vibe that is driving this script right now.

Bull:  Do you often listen to music while you’re writing?

Schmieding: Not very often. It's hard for me because I have a hard time focusing when I'm listening. I need to like sort of create a quiet space for myself. But I listen to music to like, put myself in a mood. It's very helpful when sitting down if I'm jammin’ on a couple songs, and then I can sit down and sort of turn my music off and go to town.

Bull: And if this movie gets green-lighted, can we expect to see Fleetwood Mac prominently featured in the soundtrack?

Schmieding: I hope so! I hope I can afford them (LAUGHS)

Bull:  Well, you know “Stranger Things" did Kate Bush a huge favor I guess.

Schmieding: They sure did! I don't know if the Mac needs any help. They seem to be doing fine. But, Native people, we've kind of adopted Fleetwood Mac. I think a lot of Native people resonate with Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks has -I said in the New York Times article- she has witchy vibes, but she also has auntie vibes. She's this sort of adult woman who is liberated in many ways and she sort of moves through the world. She's pursuing her own thing. And doing so, you know, in collaborations with other people and she has lovers, but she doesn't hold on to them. Just a very fun and artistic and creative woman. And that's what I’m trying to center in my storytelling right now.

Bull:  She has a limitless energy to her.

Schmieding: Yeah, yeah. She’s still putting out music and putting on shows, it's awesome.

Bull: So what are some of the topics or issues that you would like to see get more attention in major film and TV projects that are very important to Native people?

Schmieding: Something I'm really I'm putting some work into on my end - but also am very interested to see from other people- is a discussion about Native food sovereignty and our access to Indigenous foods. And sort of the wellspring of Native chefs and people. Tribal nations who are starting community gardens and growing independently and the way in which our reclamation of food sovereignty has ties with a lot of our land rights and water rights movements. And also with our traditional ways, our medicine ways, and our language. I'm really interested and also I just want to eat my traditional foods all the time. I want have access to them. I love food and I want our food to be available to us. And so I'm so interested in a travel show or a food show.

Bull: One thing I really like about “Rutherford Falls” is that you and other actors feature Native crafts, from jewelry to clothing and other things like that, and that you also do beadwork yourself. So I assume that moving forward to Season 2, we're still going to see some handicrafts here and there.

Schmieding: Absolutely. We did the same thing that we did in Season 1 where the costume department and I reached out to Native jewelers. We prominently feature Native artists on the show this season. We have an artist who is a native Oregonian, Natalie Ball, who is on an episode this season and her artwork -we made sure to safely ship her sculpture art down to Universal Studios to make sure that she is sort of celebrated in the world of Rutherford Falls as a well-known native artist. And so, yeah! We're really reaching back into the community and pulling people with us along in terms of the fashion and the design that you're gonna see this season. And it's even more than the first season because people were all, “Oh my gosh, they’re wearing this person's stuff!” and “I wonder if I can reach out to them, you know?” People have sent me DMs on Instagram and be like, “Can I send you a pair of earrings?” And I'm like, “Absolutely!” So it's been a really fun time. I think as a beader myself, it's been a really fun time to have the quill workers and bead workers featured on the show.

Bull: Alright, so I hear that you besides beading, that you also unwind with podcasts. “Radio Rental” being one that I had never heard of before until I read your Times interview. So I gave out a listen and it's kind of really hard-hitting creepy stuff and the fact that it's based on true events, I mean, it just really drives it home.

Schmieding: I know it's terrifying. Did you get scared?

Bull: I was listening to the first episode which began with the “shoe bomber” incident in 2001, the man on the flight they captured. And I never had heard exactly a first-hand account of what happened. And so when they were describing this man with long hair and people were pulling on it and binding him with belts and anything they could, and he was trying to ignite the explosives in his shoes, it just really made it all the more real as opposed to the more journalistic accounts which were very straightforward and devoid of that first-person witness kind of thing.

Schmieding: Yes, oh my gosh, I forgot about that episode. But yeah, it's not just creepy ghost stuff. It's also like terrifying experiences that people have had like firsthand accounts. It's so interesting.

Bull: Another one in that vein is “Odd Trails”…

Schmieding:  Oh, I listen to “Odd Trails”, Brian! Another great one is from that podcast’s co-host, called “Let’s Not Meet Again.

Bull: It's fun because I know that when I travel to different places, I'll meet Native people from urban areas like Minneapolis or Seattle, and I'll meet people on reservation communities, like the Dakotas or in Oregon here.  And trying to strike up a conversation between these different groups can be tough at times, but almost every great icebreaker I've come across involves asking them to describe something totally strange or creepy that has happened to them. Everyone has a story to share.

Schmieding: Yes, our love for spooky things is the great equalizer! (LAUGHS)

Bull: And everyone experiences something, it’s just really wild.

Schmieding: Yep.

Bull: Well, Jana, it's been wonderful talking to you, and I'm very excited for the second season. I'm gonna keep my fingers crossed for a Season 3 and many more after that.

Schmieding: You too, Brian, thank you.

Copyright @2022, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (19 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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