A white guy’s review of Mohawk Girls

Tuesday night was the first time most people in the Montreal area got to see the new TV series Mohawk Girls, a “dramedy” produced by Tracey Deer that is set and produced in Kahnawake and airs on OMNI and APTN.

The series has been a long time in the making, and the first season was actually shot two years ago. It got a good deal of attention when it was being produced then, and even more so now that it’s actually on the air.

I watched the first two episodes as they aired on APTN tonight, both as an amateur TV critic and as a regular TV viewer interested in good storytelling. I’m not an expert on Mohawk culture, nor am I an expert on television production, but I’ll offer some thoughts of how I personally see the series so far.

The good


The setting: Unlike many Canadian TV series that try to make where they’re set as generic as possible, Mohawk Girls makes it clear that it takes place in Kahnawake, the reserve across the river from Montreal. And the overriding theme of the series is life on the reserve. While it might feel like any other Native reserve in Canada, it definitely can’t stand in for New York City or Anytown, U.S.A. In other series, the workplace is a cubicle office. In Mohawk Girls, it’s a cigarette factory.

The issues: How can you successfully date when you have to restrict yourself to a community of just a few thousand people, and half of them are related to you in some way? This isn’t some made-up gimmick to sell a bad sitcom, it’s an actual issue that actual people deal with, but one that we haven’t seen much on TV lately (or ever). And it’s one that can be mined for both drama and laughs. There’s a lot of potential to talk about things affecting Mohawk communities in a way that doesn’t sound like a sociology class. And Mohawk Girls is exploiting that well.

The technical quality: The length of the credits alone tells me that this is a professional series, and that’s backed up by watching it. It has nice visuals, good editing, good sound quality. It’s not a high bar, admittedly, but it could have been much worse.

The bad

Brittany LeBorgne (Zoe), Maika Harper (Anna) and Heather White (Caitlin) in the first episode of Mohawk Girls.

Brittany LeBorgne (Zoe), Maika Harper (Anna) and Heather White (Caitlin) in the first episode of Mohawk Girls.

The acting: I want to cut this series some slack, because it’s new, and because some of the principal actors are from Kahnawake. But comedy doesn’t work when we can tell someone is expecting a laugh, and drama doesn’t work when we can tell someone doesn’t really feel the emotion they’re trying to convey. And in this series it’s hit-and-miss. Winnipeg’s Jenny Pudavick is believable as Bailey, who finds out in the first episode that she’s dating her second cousin. But the other actors have a tendency to overact, and while that sometimes works to comedic effect, when there’s no joke involved overacting is just that. Hopefully as the characters get fleshed out and the actors more comfortable, this will get better. But it’s hard to get hooked on a series when it looks more like a series of lines being spouted out on cue than an actual scene where something happens.

The writing: Mohawk Girls is at its best when it’s talking about issues both profound (preserving culture) and trivial (no street signs) that affect the community. But when it gets to more universal aspects of human behaviour, like flirting with a love interest, the plot and dialogue seem frustratingly unrealistic at times. Some secondary characters are one-dimensional, acting like douchebags in a way that actual douchebags don’t even behave. There’s a lot of subtlety to human behaviour that’s missing here.

It’s never a good sign when “acting” and “writing” are on the list of cons, but I still think the pros win out here, and I expect the cons will improve. How successful this series will be will depend on how much they improve.

We haven’t gotten into anything really dramatic yet, but there are enough hints laying around that this is coming soon. My overall opinion of the series will be shaped in large part based on how it deals with those kinds of moments.

Mohawk Girls airs at 9pm Sundays on OMNI 1, and 9pm Tuesdays on APTN, repeating at 1am Wednesdays and 9pm Sundays. There’s also a companion web series called Rez Chick which looks like it could be interesting.

You can watch Mohawk Girls online on APTN’s website.

7 thoughts on “A white guy’s review of Mohawk Girls

    1. Fagstein Post author

      So, how much did this crap cost the taxpayer Steve?

      Depends how you define “taxpayer”, but generally not much more than any other Canadian TV show. There are federal and provincial tax credits, contributions from production funds that get some of their funding from the government and the rest from contributions by TV providers mandated by the CRTC, and of course there’s APTN which is a mandatory subscription for all licensed Canadian TV providers.

    2. Denis H.

      Cliffy, I would like to sincerely thank you for elevating the conversation with your thoughtful comments and methodical arguments.

      Steve, I have yet to watch the first episodes, the premise is very interesting and the Mohawk culture as it stands today definitely deserves to be explored and, even though it’s done through comedy and drama with some actors that don’t have a lot of acting under their belts. Like you said, all signs point to the show getting better with time. I’ll watch them and let you know what I think.

  1. Ted Bird

    A very astute and fair assessment, Steve. Excellent production values but the artistic end needs improvement. Hopefully they will be given the time.

  2. Rhonda

    I’ve watched a few episodes and find it very interesting, especially the desire of the girls not to marry outside their race or culture. This is fascinating, yet disturbing. On the one hand, I can empathize with their desire to preserve their culture and genetic lines, but on the other hand it smacks of racism. But this can be said of any other culture based on genetic identity. I suppose some of my Irish kinspeople would find it abhorrent to dilute their “pure” bloodline with someone of another “race”. On the other hand, I can’t help but think if every race and culture would intermarry, we could maybe eliminate at least some of the more obvious physical characteristics that humans use to separate themselves from “the other”, to the detriment of humanity as a whole. Anyway, kudos to the Mohawk Girls and I’ll continue to watch with interest.

    1. Alen

      I watched a couple of episodes and was overall disappointed. It is fascinating about the need to marry a card carrying native, and the episodes I watched talked about that in terms of percentage of “blood” purity (I forgot the term they used).

      However Rhonda, you misunderstand the issue a bit. It is not about “diluting” the genetics of the Mohawk people that is the issue so much as the social and government policies that make it an institutionalized mess. The reservation system was copied by South Africa, who used it to promote Apartheid, and in reality that is what happened in Canada too. Unlike in South Africa, the near extinction (genocide) of several nations created an opposite effect than the original intention. It created the need for the victims to use the very Apartheid system to “protect” their own culture, even though it ironically altered their culture anyway. For instance, various native people adopted frequently and blood ties were not always biological before this government intervention of the reservation system was implemented. After its implementation, genetic purity become the overall focus of those in the reservation system (as opposed to their linguistic, religious, social, cultural, philosophical and governmental independence).

      In fact, I see little difference between the Mohawks and the rest of Montreal society, in the show at least. There are no philosophical, social or even cultural differences… not even music and dance, and rarely any language (I only saw one stop sign in Mohawk). There are very interesting and profound questions that need to be asked, but the show only rarely dealt with it. Unfortunately, its writing was poor and the characterizations are not ones I am interested in watching, Aboriginal or not.


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