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News / Life / Clark County Life

Cowlitz get animated in ‘Spirit Rangers’ on Netflix in new streaming series

Cowlitz tribe member and WSUV grad Joey Clift worked on show premiering Monday

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: October 5, 2022, 3:37pm
4 Photos
Images from the new Netflix animated series "Spirit Rangers." (Contributed by Netflix)
Images from the new Netflix animated series "Spirit Rangers." (Contributed by Netflix) Photo Gallery

The Skycedar kids — Kodi, Summer and Eddy — have a secret. They’re not just normal siblings and junior park rangers at a green oasis somewhere in California.

They’re also Spirit Rangers, magically protecting the park and its inhabitants as they take on the shapes and powers of grizzly bear cub, red-tailed hawk and spunky turtle.

Spirit Rangers,” a new animated preschool TV series, premiers on Netflix Monday, which is Indigenous People’s Day. Created by TV writer and Santa Ynez Cumash tribal member Karissa Valencia and penned by an all-Native group of writers, “Spirit Rangers” explores Indigenous legends, tales, values and lifestyles in a way that hasn’t been tried on TV before, according to writer Joey Clift, an enrolled member of Southwest Washington’s Cowlitz Indian Tribe.

“It has a very environmental focus,” Clift said during a phone interview from Los Angeles, where he’s based. Its stars, the three Skycedar siblings, are Chumash and Cowlitz.

Aimed at 4- to-7-year-olds, “Spirit Rangers” blends easy, positive themes for young children — like the importance of friendship and perseverance — with some tougher matters anchored in American history and culture, Clift said.

“One episode I wrote gets into why Native American sports mascots are so weird,” he said. “That’s never been covered in kids’ TV.”

Another episode written by Clift examines the long history of the U.S. government violating its own treaties with local tribes, he said.

“We are able to tell so many great stories and great traditional lessons, but through a lens we’ve never seen,” Clift said.

Clift grew up on the Tulalip Reservation north of Seattle, but he frequently visited Cowlitz relatives in Clark County. He graduated from Washington State University in Pullman.

“I grew up really loving animated comedy TV shows like ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Family Guy,’ ” Clift said, “but because I didn’t know any Native American animation writers, I didn’t think I was allowed to work in that field.”

Clift moved to Los Angeles, got into the comedy scene there and started landing jobs writing for TV outlets like Comedy Central.

“I really kept to the North Star of wanting to create work that helps marginalized people get seen in a way that I really didn’t feel seen growing up,” Clift said.

Writing for “Spirit Rangers” has been a dream come true, he said.

“It’s created by a Native person and it’s about Native characters who are voiced by Native actors. It celebrates native joy. It’s just the kind of show I wish I’d had,” he said.

Ten episodes of “Spirit Rangers” will go live on Monday and Clift says he hopes there will be many more.

“It’s exciting and cool to see this come to life and I can’t wait to see how people react,” he said.