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Why Katara From Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender Looks So Familiar

Rejoice all you fans of Nickelodeon's "Avatar: The Last Airbender." The classic cartoon is finally making the jump to live-action with a new series set to debut on Netflix. (What's that? M. Night Shyamalan what? We don't know anything about that.)

The cast and creative team set to bring the series to life was announced August 12, which sent fans scurrying to discover where they might have seen these new faces before. How will the series portray, say, Katara, the last waterbender of the Southern Water Tribe, who journeys with Aang (Gordon Cormier) and her older brother Sokka (Ian Ousley), seeking to bring peace to a world overcome by war? 

Kiawentiio, the teenage actress tapped for Katara, grew up in Canada, in the Mohawk Nation territory of Akwesasne. (She's sometimes credited as Kiawenti:io and sometimes as Kiawentiio Tarbell, but the "A:TLA" announcement and IMDb both use simply Kiawentiio.) Though her acting career got off to a fast start –– it was just two years ago that she made her television debut –– and is showing no signs of slowing down, she is also a singer-songwriter and a visual artist. Here are pretty much all of the other projects you might recognize her from.

Kiawentiio befriended Anne with an E

Kiawentiio broke into show business in 2019 when she beat out hundreds of applicants in an open call for the role of Ka'kwet on the Canadian Broadcasting Company/Netflix co-production of the "Anne of Green Gables" story, "Anne with an E."

Ka'kwet befriends Anne (Amybeth McNulty) in the show's third season, when Anne writes an article for the newspaper about her tribe. They stay in touch after Ka'kwet leaves her village for residential school, but the girl soon learns to hate the school's cruel regime of forced assimilation. She runs away, but is picked up and returned by the authorities. Anne works with her parents to obtain her freedom. Unfortunately, they didn't manage it by the end of the season, and Netflix and the CBC canceled the series before the fourth could be made.

Ka'kwet's storyline shone a light on one of the darker threads of Canada's past, the brutal history of those residential schools and the damage they did to indigenous children and communities. "I was mindful of what I would be doing when they picked me to tell that part of history," Kiawentiio told Indian Time about acting out that portion of Ka'kwet's story. She talked about learning how to separate herself from the character, "It's hard because you have to remind yourself 'It's not real' but you have to act like it is so I can be scared or really sad, so it seems realistic."

Kiawentiio watched history unfold as Beans

Kiawentiio's next project told another story of conflict between the Canadian government and Canada's First Nations people, one set roughly 100 years in the future.

"Beans" was the feature film debut of the Mohawk filmmaker Tracey Deer, who had previously made the documentaries "Mohawk Girls" and "Club Native" as well as the television show adaptation of "Mohawk Girls." (She was also brought into the writer's room for the third season of "Anne with an E.") The semi-autobiographical film tells the story of the 1990 Oka Crisis land dispute from the perspective of a young Mohawk girl, Tekehentahkhwa, better known as Beans.

The Oka crisis was a 78-day-long standoff between the Canadian and Québécois governments and local communities of Mohawk people protesting the incursion of a golf course onto a burial ground, drawing the ire of authorities and local non-indigenous people. Deer was a young girl during the crisis, and wanted to tell the story from that perspective to show the impact such a conflict could have.

To Kiawentiio, working with someone who had lived through the events on the film was a challenging but rewarding process. "It was two-sided," she told Now Toronto. "I felt pressure because it was her story and I wanted to get it exactly right. But it was helpful because it was her experience and she could tell me exactly what she was feeling."

"Beans" was named Best Picture at the Canadian Screen Awards, while Kiawentiio was named "One to Watch" by the Vancouver Film Critics Circle.

Kiawentiio practiced her craft on Rutherford Falls

In 2021, Kiawentiio appeared in a small role on the Peacock sitcom "Rutherford Falls."

In the series, Kiawentiio plays Maya Thomas, daughter of casino C.E.O. Terry Thomas (Michael Greyeyes), who dotes on his family but has big dreams both for them and the Minishonka Nation. Maya crafts intricate semi-traditional beadworks –– at least one of them includes characters from Minecraft –– but balks when her dad encourages her to turn the hobby into a business by selling her creations. She tries to help him see that not everything has to be about the accumulation of money and power.

It's a small role, but an important one that proved Kiawentiio can perform in a comedic environment, as well. The show, which also stars Jana Schmeiding and Ed Helms, received praise for its willingness to tell indigenous stories focusing on real-world issues by folding them organically into the comedy rather than making them the sole focus of the story. 

It's unclear whether she'll be returning for the show's second season, considering her schedule just got a lot busier.