Most popular discourse on North and South American history Whitewashes the genocide of Indigenous people and ignores the rich civilizations that Europeans and their descendants attemped to destroy. “Native America,” a four-part docuseries that premieres on PBS tonight (October 23), aims to look beyond ahistorical retellings to illuminate the reality of pre-Columbian Indigenous societies.

A PBS announcement notes that the episodes draw on Indigenous tribes’ oral histories, unearthed ruins and other archeological and historical evidence to tell the stories of civilization prior to 1492. Episode descriptions and teaser clips highlight the myriad ways these groups, spanning from the Pacific Northwest to the South American Andes, developed spiritual, political and technological innovations that influenced the governments that went on to oppress them.

The series also connects this past to the present-day lives of Native Americans fighting to keep these traditions alive. The Associated Press reports that director Gary Glassman worked extensively with tribal leaders and cultural advocates to make sure the series authentically captures these societies. For instance, former Hopi Cultural Preservation Office director Leigh Kuwanwisiwma helped Glassman’s crew access and film Hopi tribal elders as they conducted a sacred smoking ritual. Contemporary cultural and political leaders like Kuwanwisiwma, Sid Hill (Onondaga) and Jhane Myers (Comanche/Blackfeet) discuss their connections to their ancestors throughout “Native America.” 

Photo: Providence Pictures Jhane Myers and Severin Fowles. Indigenous woman and White man in blue and grey clothing stand on brown rock with green vegetation and green valley with blue river and sky in background Production still from "Native America" featuring (L to R) Comanche artist Jhane Myers and archaeologist Severin Fowles searching the Rio Grande Gorge in New Mexico for an ancient Comanche tipi encampment. Provided to Colorlines on October 23, 2018.

“Native America” premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EDT on PBS. Subsequent episodes will air on Tuesdays through November 13.