April 10, 2015

Oxbow Indians in Backstrom

I recently watched another episode of Backstrom--this one featuring Indians:

Backstrom Recap: Enemy of My Enemies

By Rachel Cruz“Backstrom” Season 1 Episode 7 “Enemy of My Enemies” aired on Thursday, Mar. 5, 2015 at 9:00 p.m. on FOX. The SCU is specifically asked to help in the case of a pipeline bombing, but Backstrom isn’t so keen on the sheriff there.For starters, Sabine the eco-terrorist is revealed to be part Jewish and part Coquille Indian. Backstrom the insensitive lout calls her a Jewish Indian the rest of the episode.

Backstrom guesses she's hiding on the Oxbow Indian Reservation. Coquille is a real Indian tribe, but the Oxbow reservation is fictional. Here are the facts:

Coquille Indian TribeThe Coquille Indian Tribe is the federally recognized Native American tribe of the Coquille people who have traditionally lived on the southern Oregon Coast.

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz, based in Siletz, Oregon, recognize the Coquille people as one of the tribes that make up their confederation.[5] The Confederated Tribes of Siletz continue to live on the Siletz Indian Reservation. In addition, by an Act of Congress in 1996, the Coquille Tribe now has reservation area totaling 6,512 acres (26 km2).
So Sabine's people live in southwestern Oregon, not in the Portland area. But she could hide on a reservation near Portland where the police don't have jurisdiction. In short, the setup is plausible.

Good job naming a real tribe--something most TV shows don't do. Yet locating the action on a fictional reservation so the tribe couldn't object. More shows should use this approach.

Oxbow Indians show up four times in this episode, mainly as background:

1) Backstrom and Officer Moto go barreling onto the reservation in search of Sabine. Tribal officer Jessie Rocha (Adam Beach) immediately shows up and orders them to put down their guns. Backstrom and Moto don't respond. A bunch of Native men appear and Rocha says they're deputies. Backstrom and Moto don't respond. One deputy approaches Moto and Moto swings at him, beginning a brawl. Backstrom's father Blue appears and stops the fight.

Every step of this conflict happens much too quickly. In reality, the city police probably would check in with the tribal police. The tribal cops would agree to catch the terrorist with the city cops' help.

Even if Rocha comes on too strong, Backstrom is in the wrong. Moto is especially in the wrong for attacking a tribal deputy on tribal land. I'm not sure many tribes would excuse that.

Blue's Native approach

2) Backstrom's subordinate Niedermeyer is trying to talk Blue into reconciling with his son. They see Rocha take some young Native hooligans away for tribal justice, which means rehabilitation and restoration rather than punishment. Niedermeyer asks what Blue thinks of this and Blue says it seems better than anything the white man has come up with.

When Backstrom sees a photo of Blue shaking hands with Rocha, he's enraged. Presumably because he's a right-winger who thinks jailing people is the only solution to crime. Blue comes off as a peacemaker to Backstrom's warmonger.

3) Blue contacts Backstrom to suggest they cooperate. When Backstrom arrives, Blue is doing a sweat with Niedermeyer and some Indians.

Backstrom says his father is untrustworthy and a liar. He notes how Blue pistol-whipped him when he was a boy. Blue says he was wrong but Backstrom was trying to get his gun. Backstrom storms off. So far Blue has seemed reasonable and Backstrom unreasonable.

4) The anti-government industrialist lands a seaplane on the Oxbow reservation lake to spirit Sabine away. Backstrom and his cops arrive and surround them, but Sabine threatens to blow them all up. The Oxbow cops arrive and everyone points guns at each other. Blue arrives and persuades Sabine to surrender.

Backstrom claims Sabine is his prisoner, not Blue's. He says he deserves the capture because he drove her out of hiding. Blue counters that he knew where to find her in the end. They ask Rocha and he sides with Blue.

Backstrom claims this is an example of Blue's perfidy and the others agree, but I don't buy it. For one thing, Blue talked Sabine into surrendering, which was the toughest accomplishment in this case. For another, Backstrom was out of his jurisdiction, again. When you're basically trespassing on foreign soil, you don't get to claim a prisoner or anything like that. You do as you're told because you're an outsider.

Backstrom didn't like Blue's triumph, but Blue didn't break any rules. I'd say he won fair and square--by using his brains, not his brawn. He earned the victor with his Native approach to policing--working with people rather than trying to dominate them.

Besides, Blue gave Backstrom a chance to cooperate and Backstrom rejected it. Backstrom deserves what he got. So it's silly for everyone to act as if Backstrom's anger at Blue is justified. Based on this episode, it isn't.


If you ignore Backstrom's bigotry, Enemy of My Enemies is a good Native-themed episode. There's nothing too stereotypical about the Indians or their actions. The story's flaws aren't related to them.

Indeed, the Indians seem superior to Backstrom the typical white man. He's so angry that he can't deal with Blue or Rocha, so he doesn't get to share in their success. That's what he gets for being a racist and sexist pig who thinks he's better than everyone.

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