The Red Road

A Review by: Larry P. MaddenRed Road tv show

Last July I was introduced to some of the Ramapough people of the Lenape Nation at the national gathering on the Mohican reserve, and so I was intrigued when my cousin recommended I check out Aaron Guzikowski’s series, The Red Road, which is set in their backyard. Its two season run originally aired on SundanceTV from 2014-2015, and it intertwined current issues that are well-known to many Native people such as federal recognition, blood quantum, drug abuse, incarceration, and police conflict—not to mention that age old problem conflict with whitey.

The show focuses on the prejudices a recently incarcerated tribal member, Phillip Kopus (Jason Momoa of the Lemke Nation), faces when he returns home. Both his community and the police persecute him and he’s forced to take some unfortunate steps to protect his life and street credibility. The show has some of the juicy trappings of a Native soap series, as the antagonist (Martin Henderson) is a local policeman married to Phillip’s ex-lover. Say nothing of the frequent twists involving the mysterious death from their characters’common past, which helps to keep a viewer engaged in the goings on of these flawed individuals.

For those unfamiliar, the Ramapough Mountain Indians (also spelled Ramapo) are a group of approximately 5,000 people living around the Ramapo Mountains of Bergen and Passaic counties in northern New Jersey and Rockland County in southern New York, about 25 miles (40 km) from New York City. They were recognized in 1980 by the State of New Jersey as the Ramapough Lenape Nation but have not gained federal recognition. So the very fact that the dilemmas portrayed on the silver screen are being told, even the darker elements, have a silver lining in my book, because the fact that the series is depicting the truth of this unrecognized community means that someone is finally bringing light to what’s been a long ignored struggle. Yet the problems that are presented by the show are common in many Indian communities—the Brothertown Indians of Wisconsin battle the recognition fight after having government to government dealings long after the Civil War.

Personally, I found The Red Road to be typical barebones entertainment with an Indian twist, allowing some Indian grievances to reach ears normally deaf to our wants and needs. Yet the show wasn’t preachy, and it had enough action and cliffhangers to keep me watching—missing college student, undiagnosed mental illness, and good old fashion manhunts. It’s a shame it was canceled after the game-changing season two finale, but that doesn’t mean it should be discarded. I suggest future viewers enjoy the story as a mini-series, because what the show said during its short run is more than conversation-worthy.

I didn’t get a chance to hear what my Ramapough friends thought about the series, but from what I gather from them, and all other overlooked Native Nations, is that America can’t help fix the problems imposed upon Native people unless more people know about them. The Red Road is a series that can help them take notice.

Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area. A recent graduate of CMN, he enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road.