Indian Country Today
Chumash tribal citizen Karissa Valencia and executive producer Chris Nee have joined efforts to create, “Spirit Rangers,” an animated preschool series for youth.
Nee, creator of the popular animated series “Doc McStuffins,” is a Peabody, Emmy, and Humanitas Prize-winning children’s television screenwriter and producer who announced the upcoming Netflix series created by Valencia.
Valencia expressed her excitement in the announcement.
“I am so proud that ‘Spirit Rangers’ has found its home at ‘Laughing Wild.’ I’ve had the opportunity to learn from Chris Nee since I was a coordinator on ‘Vampirina.’ Looking back, I now realize I was in an unofficial showrunner boot camp the whole time,” she said. “From coordinator to staff writer, to showrunner, she's been my mentor from day one. I was able to witness firsthand the groundbreaking preschool shows she would lead and now I strive to do the same.” Laughing Wild is Nee’s production company.
Besides the storyline being about Indigenous stories, it is also led by Indigenous minds.
“‘Spirit Rangers’ is Native-led by a team of Native writers, Native artists, Native actors, and Native composers. As a Native storyteller, I've rarely come across the opportunity to tell my own story. I am forever grateful to be given the chance at Laughing Wild and can’t wait for everyone to meet our funny modern Native family in ‘Spirit Rangers,’” Valencia said.
Valencia told Indian Country Today that the series title says “just about everything she wanted to say about the show” which is directed at preschool-aged kids.
“The kids are junior rangers in the park, but they're also protectors of the real world, but also the spirit that lives there,” she said. “So it's a hybrid of having a foot in both worlds. They have a foot in their tradition and they also have a foot in the real world as little park rangers.”
She also credited working with Nee as a strong source of inspiration, as well as inspiration from her own life experiences with her tribe. She cited the example of the dancers who would wear bear-skins dancing in her tribe’s traditional dance ceremonies.
To ensure storytelling that was authentic in its representation of Native culture, Valencia fostered the creation of an all-Native writing staff. Since the concept started at the heart of COVID, the producers are still assembling the Native actors and crew. Rene Haynes casting had helped with auditioning and hiring Native talent from all over Turtle Island.
Other contributors include Native writers Joey Clift, Cowlitz, and Kelly Lynne D’Angelo, who have both expressed their appreciation for the project on social media.
Nee says, “‘Spirit Rangers’ is the living embodiment of the kinds of shows I wanted to champion at Netflix. Part of the ethos of my company ‘Laughing Wild’ is to nurture voices from underserved communities and help them tell their own stories.
Nee reached out to Valencia for stories once at Netflix.
“As a Native storyteller, she was my first call when I started at Netflix. What story did she want to tell? She pitched the perfect preschool show, and now my goal is to support her as she takes on the roles of Executive Producer and showrunner of ‘Spirit Rangers,’” Nee said. “Karissa is an amazing, creative, and strong leader, who has assembled a 100% Native writing room, Native artists, Native actors, and Native musicians. It’s a privilege to get to work alongside them and shine a spotlight on their work.”
The show follows three Native American siblings known as Spirit Rangers.
As described in the Netflix announcement:
“Spirit Rangers’ is a fantasy-adventure preschool series following Native American sibling trio Kodiak, Summer and Eddy Skycedar, who have a shared secret—they’re ‘Spirit Rangers!’ Spirit Rangers can transform into their own animal spirit to help protect the National Park they call home. With the blessing of the Chumash and Cowlitz tribes, we’ll join the Skycedar kids on their magical adventures with spirits inspired by Indigenous stories.”
The series as of yet does not have a fixed released date, but reps at Netflix say a likely 2022 release.
But as Valencia says with excitement, “I’m over the moon about it.”
Executive Producer: Chris Nee
Creator and Executive Producer: Karissa Valencia
Native Production Consultant: Joely Proudfit, Ph.D.
Animation Studio: Superprod Animation
Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, is associate editor of Indian Country Today who enjoys creating media, technology, computers, comics and movies. He is a film critic and writes the #NativeNerd column. Twitter @VinceSchilling. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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