This Friday, at 8 PM on CBS, an episode of the series Undercover Boss will feature former Mohegan Tribal Council chairman Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum and the Mohegan Sun resort and casino. CBS called and asked if I would be interested in inviting a few Native urbanite souls to the network's Radford lot in Studio City, California, for a preview, and I agreed. I happen to be a fan of the show because I believe it is about the only feel-good family show on television. After gorging on some finger food, about 20 of us Natives settled in to watch the show. The formula of the show did not disappoint us, as we watched intently and waited for some unexpected punchline to slap us in the face, but it never came.
The show delivered as was advertised, and after it ended our very discerning and critical crowd let out a surprising steady and appreciative round of applause. The episode was formulaic to a T, and Mr. Bozsum did a great job navigating that formula and seemed quite at ease with it. We applauded for a few reasons , but most important was that we had experienced a rare occurrence in Hollywood: a feel-good Native storyline and portrayal. We are so accustomed to seeing our people playing the stereotypical villain or second banana to a masked man, that we are awed by any depiction that breaks that mold.
This portrayal was truly welcomed. Oh, I know some who see it will be quick to criticize, or complain that the depiction was hokey, or this or that wasn't right, but I happen to think it was a very positive portrayal of Bozsum as a modern businessman and tribal leader. It was also diverse in nature, in that it dealt with people who weren't Tribal members or Native.
Shows like this are finally understanding that it's good business to show the tapestry of colors that exists in true everyday life, and diversity movements have brought that about. It is definitely not a coincidence that people of color are appearing on television programs, and I hope I have had an impact on that reality.
My hope is that our Native people will realize the importance and the power of these mediums, in this instance television. I would hope that they would come away with the realization of what one show, one person, one subject, can do to change a perception. We need to understand that as Native people. We are still experiencing an identity issue from the image that was created by the Hollywood Western, we really have not overcome that perception.
Generations have passed and attitudes have changed, discriminatory laws have been changed and the digital age is upon us — but the visual perception of who we are as American Indians still remains the same. Most people don't expect us to show up in loin cloth and feathers any more, because for the most part they don't even expect us to show up at all — because to them, we are non-existent. We do not have a millennial image, because we have not established one yet.
I am not saying that the Bruce Bozsum image in Undercover Boss, is an image for all Indians to aspire to; all I'm saying is we need to establish an image. It is my hope that in the not too distant future, my grandchildren are not subjected to being defined by a mascot, or some other demeaning image. I and others are presently committed to denying just that to the NFL and learned institutions, and we have been successful in doing so.
That is why it is so important that we utilize these mediums, to change or infuse a new image of our people. We need to leverage the iconic value of yesterday's Native American into the image of tomorrow's Native American, and these mediums are tools we can use to accomplish that. Undercover Boss and CBS television are to be applauded for their willingness to showcase the Native people of America and provide insight to viewers. We encourage them to do more of it in the future. It is good business; profit margins prove that. So, check out this episode of Undercover Boss on CBS and think about what a positive beginning it could prove to be for our people. Aho.