USD alumna shares California Native American storytelling through new Netflix children’s cartoon series

A woman sits in a room in front of a screen that says Netflix Spirit Rangers with colorful art
USD alumnus Karissa Valencia is the creator and showrunner of the new Netflix series, “Spirit Rangers.”
(Miguel Vasconcellos/For San Diego Union-Tribune)

‘Spirit Rangers’ will make its debut on Monday for Indigenous Peoples Day


Growing up on the reservation, Santa Ynez Chumash tribal member Karissa Valencia would often listen to traditional oral stories about how the world evolved to be as it is. She would hear from elders how the Condor got its black feathers, and how Coyote and Lizard created the first humans.

Those stories and the oral traditions of other Native American communities across the country inspired Valencia to create her new Netflix children’s cartoon series “Spirit Rangers,” which launches Monday on Indigenous Peoples Day.

“So many tribes have different stories of their land, place and animals and they needed a place to exist,” Valencia said. “I was thinking about how ‘Grimms’ Fairy Tales’ has taken a life of its own and Disney has ran with that for so long, and why not us? Why not our stories, too?”

With its bright color palette, Indigenous storytelling and catchy songs, the show focuses on three Chumash and Cowlitz siblings — Kodi, Summer and Eddy Skycedar — who secretly morph into animal alter egos to protect the land, animals and spirits of the Xus National Park where they live.

animated scene of a pink Coyote and green lizard dancing outside
Shaun Taylor-Corbett as Coyote and Cree Summer as Lizard dance during a scene in “Spirit Rangers.”
(Courtesy of Netflix)

The fictional world depicted in “Spirit Rangers” draws inspiration from real life parks with its large trees like the Redwood Forest, massive stone walls like those in Yosemite, tall rock towers akin to Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon and a geyser reminiscent of Old Faithful in Yellowstone.

“I really wanted this National Park to be the Disneyland of all of our National Parks together,” said Valencia, who enjoys visiting parks in her down time.

In addition to Valencia as the show’s creator and executive producer, the “Spirit Rangers” production team features an all-Native American writer’s room and all the Indigenous characters are voiced by Native American actors.

The cast is comprised of a group of new stars and seasoned performers, and includes Wačíŋyeya Iwáš’aka Yracheta, Isis Celilo Rogers, Talon Proc Alford, Kimberly Guerrero, John Timothy, Cree Summer, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Wes Studi, Tantoo Cardinal, Devery Jacobs and Nyla Rose.

The show also worked with California State University San Marcos professor Joely Proudfit as a Native American production consultant to ensure the show was respectful of the communities depicted in the series. As such, the production process included asking tribal elders from the Chumash and Cowlitz tribes for permission and blessings to base the Skycedar family on their communities.

“So much of our culture, our identity and our language has been hijacked, misused or abused,” Proudfit said. “We’re trying to bring it home, and being a part of a tribal community is just a large family. Having them be a part of ‘Spirit Rangers’ offers an abundance of knowledge and creativity that adds authenticity and builds relationships.”

three animated children dance with hoops
Spirit Rangers (left to right ) Talon Proc Alford as Eddy Skycedar, Isis Celilo Rogers as Summer Skycedar and Wačíŋyeya Iwáš’aka Yracheta as Kodi Skycedar perform a traditional hoop dance during a scene in the upcoming animated series “Spirit Rangers.”
(Courtesy of Netflix)

Having the family represent two different Indigenous nations was important for Valencia. As the daughter of divorced parents, the University of San Diego alumna’s upbringing was split between La Mesa and the Santa Ynez Valley reservation near Santa Barbara.

Not only does the show highlight multicultural heritage within the Skycedar family, it also features characters from other tribal nations with designs that reflect each community’s art style.

“Coyote and Lizard for example, have all this rock art on them because they’re Chumash, they’re California Native, but then when we meet Buffalo spirit, she’s got some purple on her because of the Choctaw flag,” Valencia said. “It was just a nod to show that we’re not all the same.”