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Who is Deer Woman from Reservation Dogs?

Deer Woman by Caleb Wallette, Spokane Tribe THRIVE 2019

In “Come and Get Your Love” (Season 1, Episode 5) of the hit series Reservation Dogs, the first shot is of a beautiful Native woman (Kaniehtiio Horn) hitchhiking somewhere on the Muscogee Reservation. At the end of the scene, she gets into a car with a young man and her hooves are revealed: it’s Deer Woman.  

The episode took me back to my childhood to a night at my family’s stomp ground, where one of my cousins teased me with Muscogee folklore.  

The way I was told is that Deer Woman is a supernatural being who caught the eye of mischievous men. Then she would make them disappear. So sometimes you might see her dancing at a stomp dance or at a pow wow and she would wander off with some man who was up to no good… And that man would never be seen again.  

Just like on the show, the only way you could spot Deer Woman is by her hooves. Even though I am not a man, when I heard my cousin’s story, I felt fearful of Deer Woman and her power. 

It wasn’t until I saw the episode of Reservation Dogs that I started to see her for what she really is – a guardian and protector. Not something evil.  

When Native women, girls and 2SLGBT+ relatives experience violence at high rates, often at the hands of men, Deer Woman represents protection for Native communities and a warning to those who intend to cause harm to us. 

In the episode, we see the interactions Deer Woman has with Big (Bodhi Okuma Linton), the show’s endearing Lighthorse officer, when he was a child and how she protected him throughout his youth. The episode ends with her sharing some powerful matrilineal wisdom with Big. She says “You’re gonna want to give up, but imagine your grandma is with you every single step of the way. Be good, fight evil, and you’ll never have to see me again.”  

After deciding not to arrest Bucky (Wes Studi) after he steals a truck, Big (Zahn McClarnon), now an adult, passes on the values taught to him by Deer Woman by telling Cheese (Lane Factor), “I’m looking for bad guys, Bucky’s a good one.”  

Deer woman is not just a part of Native folklore. She represents a form of accountability for the perpetrators who have taken advantage of the most vulnerable members of our communities. And she represents the power we all have to protect our communities. 

To learn more about Deer Woman: 

Originally from Oklahoma, Summer Lewis is a Muscogee and Seminole woman working in Tribal public health in Northern California. She is preparing to start her first semester of her Master’s program at the University of California-Berkeley’s School of Public Health and enjoys baking, beading, and being outdoors. 

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