Set in Alaska, where there are more indigenous peoples than any other state, Northern Exposure featured many Native American characters in lead roles, all of them Native in descent. Elaine Miles, who is of Cayuse and Nez Perce ancestry, played Fleischman's receptionist Marilyn Whirlwind, an entirely cynical, entirely unflappable Tlingit. Darren E. Burrows (the son of actor Billy Drago), who is one fourth Apache and one fourth Cherokee, played Ed Chigliak. Ed was a half Native child deserted by his parents and raised by the local tribe. Ed was mild mannered, intelligent, and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of film. In fact, in the course of the series he made three movies of his own. In addition to Marilyn and Ed there were many recurring characters who were Tlingit. Among these were Lester Haines (played by Apesanahkwat, who is of the Menominee tribe), the fifth richest man in the tundra, and Leonard Quinhagak (played by Graham Greene, who is of Oneida descent), the local medicine man and Ed's mentor.
Not only did Northern Exposure feature many Native characters, for the most part its portrayal of Tlingit culture was accurate. What is more, none of the Native characters could really be considered a stereotype. While Leonard was the local medicine man, he had a personality all his own and so he could hardly be considered a wise elder stereotype. And while Northern Exposure was made at the height of the popularity of the magical Native American stereotype, he could not be considered an example of the magical Native American either. Rather than portraying Tlingit medicine and religion in some generic, New Age way, Northern Exposure attempted to portray it in more accurate fashion. In the end, Northern Exposure would stand as one of the few shows which not only treated Native American characters as human beings rather than stereotypes, but which actually respected their culture.
Note that the recent Men in Trees had the same general idea--outsider meets quirky characters in small-town Alaska--but didn't include any noticeable Native characters. It's more evidence that Hollywood is turning against Natives--a trend that's most conspicuous in the studios' casting decisions.
For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.