Review: Welcome to the Mohawk Girls’ world

By Carolyn Potts

Carolyn Potts is an MA Ed student focusing on First Nation education policy who joins the TV, eh? review team for Mohawk Girls. Already aired episodes are reviewed in chronological order below.

Episode 101 “Welcome to Our World”

Mohawk Girls, created and directed by Gemini Award winning Tracey Deer (Club Native 2008) and featuring executive producers Tracey Deer and Cynthia Knight, is a dramedy set on a fictionalized Kahnawa:ke ( pronounced ɡahnaˈwaːɡe ), the Mohawk reservation that is actually located south of Montreal. This series features four single woman living on the reservation,and  the media has been touting it as “Sex and the City meets ‘the Rez’”.

The show opens with a series of short scenes introducing the viewers to our four protagonists: Bailey, Anna, Caitlin and Zoe. Down-to-earth Bailey (Jennifer Pudavick, a Metis actress from Winnipeg) and Rez Cop Thunder (Kyle Nobess, Cashing In) are caught unawares by Auntie Velma (played by Ashley Michaels). Flamboyant outsider Anna (Maika Harper from Iqaluit), newly arrived from New York, is vlogging her return “home” and realizing things have changed considerably since her visits with her father as a youngster. Finally we meet the loyal yet insecure Caitlin (Heather White – Mohawk/Stoney) and uptight, high achieving band lawyer Zoe (Brittany LeBorgne) discussing the lack of single prospects in Kahnawa:ke. Clearly dating, the competition between women to catch a good man, and the relationships between women are going to be ongoing themes.

The story picks up when Bailey decides to introduce Thunder to her father Sose (played by Glen Gould, Mi’kmaq, with previous appearances on Cashing In, Blackstone and Murdoch Mysteries) only to learn from him that she and Thunder are actually second cousins. Caitlyn and Zoe rally around her and the issues around dating only Mohawk men met are met head-on but in a lighthearted manner.

We learn that Caitlin “hooked up” with Butterhead (played by Meegwun Fairbrother, Helix) which neatly establishes that “all of the men are either ‘butterheads’ or cousins”, emphasizing once again the dire state of dating on the rez. The threesome check out “MYRezLove” an online dating site, and realize that Butterhead is not as bad as they originally thought.

The show finally brings the newcomer into the mix as Anna brazenly walks in to Zoe’s home and introduces herself to the girls. Anna’s flamboyant “city” look, not to mention indulgent choice of study, sets her apart from the rest of the girls and they are quick to judge her as an outsider, setting us up for the test that will ultimately bring Anna into the fold and make our threesome into a foursome.

Bailey joins up with Anna for a party in Montreal where she meets Jack (Christian Campbell , Elementary) and we begin to see her dilemma; doing what she feels what is right for her people or going where her heart wants to take her. It is in this setting that Deer cleverly weaves in the racist stereotypes that First Nations, Metis and Inuit people experience on a daily basis. Deer treats us to the indigenous response, effectively shutting down the traditional dominant white perspective.

We return to see Caitlin primping for an evening out and we learn that Caitlin’s motivation to settle for Butterhead is her desperate desire to start her own family, thus identifying with women across all cultures. Again Deer cleverly links that desire with the difficulties facing Mohawk (and indigenous women everywhere); ensure the Mohawk nation (or insert any First Nation here) survives.

The episode closes with a catfight between Caitlin and Vicky (played by Rachelle White Wind Arbez) over Butterhead, with whom Caitlin has again hooked up. Zoe along with newly returned Bailey and Anna join in the fracas thus sealing the deal for Anna’s membership in the foursome.

Episode 102 “One Big Teepee”

The second episode of the double-episode season premiere of Mohawk Girls proves to be another great episode laced with character development and a few lessons for non FNMI (First Nations, Metis and Inuit) people about FNMI culture.

The cold open features our newcomer — and still outsider to the community — Anna Goodleaf, feeling lost in her new home due to both the lack of street signs and the cool reception she is receiving from childhood friends. “Lost” will be a repetitive theme throughout the episode as a device to explore and drive the story. (Could it be Deer wants the viewer to recognize how the “other” feels when they are in the minority?) All of our characters will in some way feel a sense of inadequacy in this episode.

In the introduction we see Zoe awkwardly giving a motivational talk to a group of primary children at the community school (and later she again feels she has let down the community when she fails to deliver the promised vanilla cupcakes to the library bake sale) and Caitlin decides to check out Butterhead at the local lacrosse match only to find him arguing with his latest baby mama Vicky. Finally our ladies meet up at the rink and immediately talk turns to their ongoing mission: finding a new man for Bailey.

Next we visit the cigarette factory where Bailey is employed. Bailey learns from a co-worker that “Mr. Mediocre” (he is so mediocre he is never actually given a name) has recently split from his girlfriend Gina (even the unseen girlfriend rates a name). Since it is up to the women to chase the men at Kahnawa:ke, Bailey dives right in and asks for a ‘hangout”. Mr. Mediocre is true to his name and the resulting date leaves Bailey caught between two worlds. This is clearly not a match. Sose/Steve, Bailey’s father, is seen encouraging Bailey with ever-increasing, almost maniacal gestures on each subsequent trip past the smoke shop, much to Bailey’s dismay.

Meanwhile Anna decides to explore her Mohawk history and visits the display at the community centre. Deer uses this scene to cleverly instruct those of us not familiar with Haudenosawne (Iroquois) culture. The camera pans the room and we are shown a few culturally significant items representative of Six Nations. The stars of this scene are two gorgeous examples of traditional Haudenosawne feather headdresses, the first one being Oneida (two upright eagle feathers and one eagle feather pointed downward) and the second showing the three erect eagle feathers pointed upwards indicative of the Mohawk Nation.

The highpoint of the episode occurs at Auntie Velma’s mansion for a town BBQ. This is yet another lesson for mainstream Canadians. Who knew that here are successful First Nations people? (Yes, that is sarcasm.) Anna invites her friend Leon (Alain Chanoine) and his roommate Jack (“Mr. Dimples” from last week’s episode) to come to the BBQ. After all, “the more the merrier”. This is a first-time visit to the Rez for these outsiders (again this sense of not fitting in). Anna realizes she made yet another mistake, risking her potential to fit in with the town.

Bailey, ever aware of wanting to do the right thing, resists the chemistry that is building between her and Jack (SHUT UP!). We also meet Zoe’s parents, played by Erland Campbell and Tina Keeper (North of 60) and learn that Zoe’s mother is the Chief. This explains why Zoe is so driven to contribute to the town (yet seems to consistently disappoint). News of Zoe’s association in last episode’s catfight between Bailey, Zoe, Caitlin Anna and Vicky reaches Zoe’s mother creating yet more feelings of inadequacy on the part of Zoe.

Episode 103 “Hanky Spanky”

“Hanky Spanky” is off to a bang and just as the title implies we are in for a rousing good bit of – ummmm – playful fun whilst working with the theme of being true to yourself. This episode introduces us to the writing talents of Adam Garnet Jones.

And so, in keeping with the title, we catch Auntie Velma up to her usual business with the young “pups”, Zoe is still busy trying to maintain her good girl veneer whilst sexting with her online “love match”. We find Anna still trying to fit in on the rez (which provided one of the fan favourite lines of the night, “just like the tacky white tourist trying to get down with the native people”). And once again we see Caitlin struggling with her insecurities, this time courtesy of Lollipop (played by Devery Jacobs) who takes up the challenge to prove she can still get it on with Butterhead.

This week, Bailey heads off on yet another painfully dull date, this time with Watio (played by Jimmy Blais), our welfare-scamming former construction worker. This scene is, I have to believe, another one of Deer’s clever bits to infuse a small cultural lesson for non-FNMI viewers; Bailey represents the generation of change (using technology to keep in contact with Jack aka “Mr. Dimples”) and Watio is held back, living in the past with residual anger (justified anger, but still held back).

This cultural divide, full of anger and jealousy is currently a difficult balance to strike with FNMI youth today. Like many FNMI young people, they are caught between the attraction of life outside their communities and the angry jealousies of those who feel must avoid assimilation at all cost, even at the cost of their own successes. Bailey is still trying to be the Good Mohawk girl, trying to find her Mr. Right Mohawk man and staying loyal to her community whilst ignoring the attraction she is feeling for Mr. Wrong ( “Mr. Dimples”), but this date ends like her other Mohawk dates, poorly, with Watio angrily shaming Bailey for her non Mohawk interests.

Finally our girls come together for our weekly bit of fun and the party begins. The girls give Anna an image makeover and teach her about fitting in Mohawk style (setting us up for Anna’s moment of conflict this week). Bailey takes a lesson from Auntie Velma and goes on the hunt for a trainable puppy (that little subplot brings us the other fan favourite line “oh, ohh good puppy”), Caitlin tries to mask her insecurities (setting us up perfectly for an amazing storyline for Heather White in Episode 4, “Where’s My Warrior?”), Zoe is once again made to feel she has let down the community (after all what gives her the right to be considered a role model just because she is a lawyer?), and we see some sparks between Anna and Thunder (Thunder is just too good to be true, can we say “yummy”?).

The episode comes to a head (pardon the pun) with Caitlyn catching Lollipop getting buttered by Butterhead (so THAT is where he got that nickname!), Bailey waking up next to her puppy Devon landing her face down in the mud, Zoe (aka “Spanky”) wakes up forgetting, and Anna looks like she will be taking some Mohawk lessons in her near future.

Another entertaining episode from Deer and Knight. Keep the party coming ladies.

Episode 104 “Where’s My Warrior”

Cynthia Knight returns as writer this week in the episode “Where’s My Warrior” of Mohawk Girls, created and directed by Tracey Deer.

This episode is a bit of a departure from the previous three; the focus is on Caitlin and Heather White brings a fabulous performance to this installment. Friendships are growing on our joint quest to find a man worthy of being called warrior, but this time Caitlin is on a different path during a visit home.

The show opens with Caitlin reeling from the betrayal of her Butterhead (Meegwun Fairbrother) vacillating, as we women tend to do, between sweet memories and absolute outrage. As alluded to in Episode three, “Hanky Spanky”, Anna is now enrolled in Thunder’s (played by “be still my beating heart” Kyle Nobess) Mohawk language classes and Miss “perfect” Zoe’s naughty side is getting the best of her (as evidenced with the assortment of adult toys on her bedside table). After what is a presumably an online hook up with Francois, Zoe is faced with the decision to meet up in person and explore this emergent side of her character.

Zoe agrees to meet with Francois at a local motel (not before leaving an envelope in her room containing a copy of Francois’s I.D. just in case he is an axe murderer after all), and subjects him to a long list of demands and requirements (and being the lawyer that she is, she insists on his signature). Then they get down to the business at ummmm… hand?

One of the funniest bits of the show occurs when a lacrosse player from a neighbouring reserve shows up for a match. The Mohawk ladies’ “new man” radar goes on high alert and I honestly felt sorry for the poor man having to fend off an entire team of attackers with nary a defender to help him out (sorry for that very weak lacrosse analogy).

Deer’s lesson in this episode comes at the expense of Anna. Anna, tries yet again to fit in, this time speaking some of the language and once again she is met with community opposition. Since only about 1% of the community speaks the language, those who don’t, feel defensive, since they are not living up to their responsibility (according to Bailey). We are also reminded how difficult it is for speakers to speak the language as a result of the beatings they received in the Residential School system. This leads in nicely to what I feel is the best story line so far in the series.

Caitlin (Heather White) arrives in Calgary to visit her dad (Lawrence Bayne) and her kookum/grandmother (Ida Labillois-Montour) at Stoney Nation for her Birthday celebration, and once again her loved ones leave her disappointed. Caitlin’s father arrives drunk to her birthday party. With a passing cruel comment about Caitlin’s marital status, he is off to play a round of poker leaving Caitlin heartbroken once again.

We see Caitlin tearfully cutting into her birthday cake wondering why no one can treat her right. Her grandmother reminds her that Caitlin’s father grew up in the Residential School system and never knew his mother’s love. Now he in turn does not know how to give love to his own daughter. He has essentially lost the warrior within himself. This situation is no doubt repeated in thousands of families today, still reeling from the effects of Canada’s Residential School system. This I feel makes the pain we see played out on Caitlin’s face that much more heartbreaking to see.

This installment does however end on a more lighthearted note, once again revisiting the theme of warriors: Anna and Thunder are forging a new friendship (at the very least, setting up several possible conflicts), Zoe’s naughtier side has been appeased by Francois, at least for the time being, and Bailey reins herself in from the temptation of “Mr. Dimples”.

Episode 105 “Lobster Club”

Episode 105 of Mohawk Girls, created by Tracey Deer and written by Cynthia Knight, is entitled “Lobster Club”. This episode’s theme revolves around the Lobster’s tendency to pull the other lobsters in the trap back down when they fight to escape. This is a very suitable allegory for life on the “rez”. Young people today are fraught with guilt, wanting to succeed (not necessarily in mainstream Canadian life, but like our Zoe, played by Brittany LeBorgne, and bring their successes back to their communities to improve life for everyone within their communities), and yet resisting the structures of Canadian society that still act to colonize First Nations, Metis and Inuit populations today.

We see in the opening sequence Bailey (Jennifer Pudavick) battling this very issue. Her father (Glen Gould) and Auntie Velma (Ashley Michaels) both approve and are encouraging Bailey to make things work with Mr. Mediocre (Ken Proulx), yet she is still drawn to “Mr. Dimples” aka Jack (Christian Campbell), the white guy that she shouldn’t even consider dating.

Caitlin (Heather White) has returned home from Stoney and Butterbeer (Meegwun Fairbrother) apologises for his indiscretion with Lollipop (Devery Jacobs). He invites her to his lacrosse game to meet his kids (REALLY?!?). Caitlin forgives and no surprise to us, Butterbeer leaves Caitlin to babysit his kids (he has to help his mother with something, REALLY?!?!) until Vicky (Rachelle White Wind Arbez) shows up at her appointed time to take the children. Caitlin receives a pointed lesson from Vicky.

Anna (Maika Harper) and Thunder (Kyle Nobess) – Go team Thana! – go fishing along the river and Anna gets some private Mohawk lessons. The sparks start to fly. Later Anna attends her first lacrosse game with Thunder causing some ripples in the community. Apparently attending a community event is the equivalent to declaring your intentions, but this completely lost on Anna.

Once again we find Zoe trying to be the good Community Girl, this time helping out with the Pizza Truck Vender who is contributing to the local youth group during the lacrosse match and then later she finds herself doing battle with herself as she gives up control to Francois (Charles Bender) and begins to explore what she “does like”.

This week our girls come together with the addition of Vicky and her gang, to gang up on Anna when they all assume Anna is “dating their most prized man,” Thunder. The anticipated “lobster scene” that was used as this week’s publicity “hook” ensues, tearing Anna down. This ultimately causes Bailey to realise that the pressures of her family have been holding her back from who she is. Bailey calls “Mr. Dimples” (Jack) for a last minute get together and jumps into an impromptu street party. Has Bailey, at least for now escaped the lobster trap? Will Zoe continue to abdicate control to Francois? Is Butterhead’s relationship with Caitlin really different this time? The only thing we know for sure right now is despite their first kiss, Anna, in a bid to preserve her new found friends, backs away from her attraction to Thunder and grows some “rez balls”.

Episode 106 “Tube Steak”

“Tube Steak” for me conjures up memories of Snack Bar hot dogs at the local hockey arenas; a cheap quick fix. Episode 106 of Mohawk Girls (created by Tracey Deer and written by Cynthia Knight) is all about getting with the boys rather than frying up the Oscar Meyer wieners. This episode digresses from the previously seen structure in order to learn more about the personal struggles each of our ladies are dealing with.

This week we set the tone with Zoe as she catches herself from falling further into the mysteries of light BDSM with Francois; her need to remain the Good Girl is just too strong and she leaves Francois high and dry, so to speak (but for how long?). We find that Bailey has spent the night with Jack (“Mr. Dimples”) and Caitlin is still making do with Butterhead (I keep hoping Caitlin is right about Butterhead and that we will start to see something redeemable in him, but sadly, he is still a cheap cut of meat).

Anna joins Zoe for brunch in the hopes that she can make amends to Bailey re: “Mr. Hot Stuff” Thunder. But Bailey is nowhere to be found (since she is in Montreal with “Mr. Dimples”). Now that Anna has grown some “rez balls”, Vicky and her posse try to lure Anna from Bailey, Zoe, and Caitlin to hang with them. They feel she needs to learn to be a real Kahnawa:ke (again hints of this inner turmoil based on “success”). Anna joins Vicky et al for the rest of this episode, learning more about “Rez life”. I don’t think we will see these girls amount to the “real deal”; they are more like cheap processed imitation friends.

Bailey and Jack are off to a wine tasting and Zoe and Caitlin crash the date dragging poor Bailey out and effectively reminding us of the “Lobster pot” featured in Episode 5.

Zoe succeeds in scaring herself when she researches some of the finer points in BDSM culture. This culminates in one of the funnier scenes in this episode. In an attempt to regain “control” she cuts up her “toys” and sets them a flame (only to have the smoke detector go off leaving her to properly extinguish the fire and just toss the remnants in the trash). Poor Zoe is like watching a one person tennis match as she vacillates between these two extremes (will she eat healthy or opt for the junk food?).

This week’s installment concludes with Bailey explaining to Jack the cultural dilemma she is faced due to Jack’s whiteness. “Mr. Dimples” agrees to give her some time but reminds her that he is quite serious about her (will Bailey settle for cold cuts or will she throw caution to the wind and opt for Prime Rib?). Anna is still denying her feelings for Thunder in order to preserve this budding sense of acceptance in her new home and Caitlin is once again left by the wayside by Butterhead as he abandons her for a night out with the boys. Poor Caitlin, in need of some love in her life calls her father for consolation. He fails her again, tying us back to Episode 4 and his inability to love.

Great episode once again. Love the finer details that get sprinkled throughout.