The show begins with Penny announcing her mother Dana is coming to visit:
BRAD: Damn, she even makes Columbus Day sound cool.
Here's the bit we're concerned with:
[He unveils a 2" turquoise pendant on his chest.]
DANA: That is the lottery of ancestry.
The Navajo are one of the most isolated tribes, meaning there's much less chance of intermarriage. Remember, we're talking about Dave's great-great-grandparent, who would've married in the mid-19th century. Yes, a Navajo could've married one of the few white settlers in the sparsely inhabited Arizona Territory when Indians were considered marauding savages, but it's unlikely.
But there's no reason to think this is a fraud or mistake. Somehow Dave's grandparents never mentioned that one of their grandparents was a full-blooded Indian. So let's go with the claim that he's genuinely 1/16 Navajo.
The restaurant scene
A little later, Penny, Dave, and Alex are at an outdoor restaurant. Dave is wearing a fringed leather jacket, Penny questions him about it.
DAVE: It's a metaphor. Each fringe represents a tribe. Each bead a white man's broken promise. Plus it's reversible.
ALEX: And this is all helping you with a new sandwich?
DAVE: Yes! And it is great. Buffalo meat, green chiles and corn. Although I couldn't find the Navajo word for sandwich, so I'm calling it seit'aad. Which is an actual sand...witch.
PENNY: A real witch...who lives in the sand?
DAVE: "She who buries her victims in the many dunes."
His goal is nominally to boost his truck's business, but he isn't talking to his customers. He's talking to his friends, and to the audience. He, which means the show's writers, are making up a phony Navajo rap for our benefit.
So Indians are victims living in the past. Indians have strange beliefs about evil magical beings. And anyone who's 1/16 Navajo can claim to be an Indian. That's what we've learned so far.
The only positive note is that Dave utters what sounds like a real Navajo word. And what looks like a real Navajo word in the closed captioning. I doubt it means "sand witch," but it may mean something.
It turns out Dana is depressed because her husband is leaving her. The gang tries to cheer her up.
DANA: Oh my gosh, Dave. Do you think you're a real Navajo now?
DAVE: Made a few friends at the American Indian Center.
DANA: Have you? [Drops a paper towel on the floor.] Did that make you cry?
DANA: Because you're not a real Indian, David!
DAVE [pouting]: "Native American."
[Dana leaves in a huff.]
PENNY [trying to cheer up Dave]: Dave, you're one-sixteenth Navajo, and don't let that white woman take that from you.
The reference to Iron Eyes Cody, the crying Indian, is okay because Dana is being sarcastic. She's mocking Dave's belief that he's an Indian, not mocking Indians.
But she's upset, and Dave doesn't concede the point. Moreover, Penny reinforces Dave's "Navajo" identity. The message to the audience is muddled at best.
Again, Dave's use of a Navajo word is a positive. I think he said something about nizhoni. That roughly translates to "walk in beauty," a core Navajo philosophy. It might be something you'd say to a depressed person who's lost her way.
The big finish
Finally, Dana and Penny sing a number at a boat show. The gang arrives with a group of well-wishers to cheer Dana on. I think Max calls them "Americans and Natives." The implication is that the group includes some of Dave's "friends" from the Indian center.
One is clearly an Indian. He looks like actor Rick Mora, although someone assures me it isn't Mora. He doesn't say anything, but we get a few glimpses of him. There may be other Natives in the crowd, but they're gone too quickly to be sure.
This is a mildly pleasant ending, but it could've been better. The show should've had a few more lines to address the whole "Navajo" thing. Something like:
DAVE: Here, meet some of my friends from the Indian center.
PENNY: No fringed jackets or big pieces of jewelry?
INDIAN #1 [laughing]: Nah, we left them in our teepees with our canoes and totem poles.
INDIAN #2: We don't have to dress like stereotypical Indians to prove ourselves. We know who we are.
All in all, Yesandwitch wasn't a bad episode. The ending and the Navajo words almost counteracted the misguided beginning.
These days, a lot of TV shows take this kind of uneven approach toward Natives. They try to be sensitive, to send a positive message, but they can't help using clichés and stereotypes. It's better than pure stereotyping, but it leaves much to be desired.
For more on this season's TV shows, see Columbus Day in Saturday Night Live and Pete Littlebear in Up All Night.
Below: Dave in his "Navajo" jacket watches the singers with an Indian behind him.