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Justin Johnson Cortez Gets Candid About Honoring Apache Language And Culture On Walker Independence

"Walker Independence" gives fans the kind of old West content they deserve. For too long, Westerns have notoriously fallen into whitewashing territory — where barely any marginalized communities are represented despite how vastly diverse these areas actually were during this time. Of course, for many of these films and TV shows, when there was representation, it was highly problematic and not even subtly racist.

To make matters worse, these projects frequently portrayed Native Americans as villainous caricatures in films and shows despite the fact that the settlers were the ones stealing their land and preventing them from peacefully practicing their culture. Luckily, "Walker Independence" sidesteps these tropes with Justin Johnson Cortez's character Calian and his Apache tribe.

Looper participated in a press conference for "Walker Independence," where he discussed how the series honors the Apache language and culture. He also revealed what moment in old West history he wants to see on the show.

Honoring Apache culture

On the representation in "Walker Independence," Cortez said, "Native people have obviously always kind of been around the Western genre. I think people have come to expect them in the genre, and I think they deserve to have a place in there." However, representation can be more harmful than beneficial to marginalized groups of people if the show doesn't provide authenticity and care to the portrayals.

"For me, it's that I just want to make sure that we're doing it in a way that is respectful [and] authentic, that makes this character feel like a complex human that people can relate to and is not just there to serve plot or serve another character," Cortez added. "And a big part of the responsibility for me is to treat the Apache language and Apache culture with the respect it deserves. It's one of the few times we've seen this language onscreen, so the responsibility to do that right is heavy, and I'm always doing my best, and I'm always nervous that people will kind of just not see the weight of that."

With such a massive and widespread audience, "Walker Independence" is creating something truly special, and Cortez just hopes that fans acknowledge the weight of that. "So I hope people see how important it is that we're hearing this language, and people are gonna hear it all across the country and maybe across the world, that would be incredible," he said. "And it's a blessing, so I'm just thankful to everyone behind it and everyone that's supportive here, and it's exciting. So I'll rise to it, hopefully. I'll do my best."

The sad reality of the old West

There's one aspect of Native American history that Cortez wants to see the show portray. "I think for me, the historical part of it that would be really interesting to see is the reservation system," he explained. "At this time in history, Native people, a lot of land was getting taken away, and they were getting forced into either smaller parts of their own land or getting moved to completely new places they know nothing about. They [knew] nothing about the land, what [grew] there, what food [was] there, and they were expected to thrive."

At the suggestion that showrunner Seamus Kevin Fahey should pursue this storyline, Fahey said, "We will. Don't worry." Cortez continued, "You know, I think Calian's character and his relationship with the town right now is a really cool thing that we're exploring because the landscape was changing so much at this time, and Native people did interact as people came West."

There's no denying that "Walker Independence" is breaking new ground. As Cortez eloquently put it, "A lot of times what we write, we have really clear examples of, and so I almost feel like we're on a new frontier right now with this show and exploring these relationships that I've never seen shown in TV or film." While some may exist, they're certainly hard to come by. Cortez added, "And I'm sure they're out there somewhere, but I've never had the opportunity to see that, so that's been a really interesting part of this journey for me."

"Walker Independence" premieres Thursday, October 6 on The CW.