Meet an Animal Planet star from Washington, a Canadian podcast creator, and a bold storyteller from California.
Every year, C&I produces a comprehensive list of the best there is out West: our favorite music, books, art — you name it. This year, we focused on people and have rounded up the innovators, influencers, and fascinating figures who make up the many faces of the modern West. Here, the media mavens tackling that multi-faceted world.
Saving animals and teaching empathy
Star of Amanda to the Rescue | Washougal, Washington, and on Animal Planet
Many people see a dog or cat suffering from multiple maladies — sight and hearing impairment, say, or the loss of both hind legs, or paralysis — and they see an animal that is beyond hope for rescue, one that is destined to be put down. Not 36-year-old Amanda Giese, who operates Panda Paws Rescue out of her Washougal, Washington, home and stars in the Animal Planet show Amanda to the Rescue, along with her kids, Jade and Beast, and partner, Gary Walters.
In Giese’s eyes, every creature is a perfect fit for someone, seemingly hopeless cases are well worth the effort to save and nurture, and kindness to animals is a lesson in empathy that all of humanity can benefit from. She just has to invest the right medical care — her first career path took her to med school — and loving kindness and then find the right caretaker or family, which might mean her own family, in the case of the two-legged boxer Duncan Lou Who.
Her upbeat determination, sweet supportive family, and the wagging tails and tearful smiles when a pet is matched with a suitable family make the show an addictive, heartwarming respite in the mostly shallow and cruel realm of reality TV. As it is with the show’s cast-off animals, the folly of judging on looks is clearly illustrated with Giese herself: People might be inclined to see a tattoo-covered woman sporting a shaved head as someone to fear or avoid. They’d be wrong.
— Jesse Hughey
Shining a light through storytelling
Comedian and producer of Thunder Bay podcast | Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Nine dead bodies. Abuse of power. Scandals at city hall. Botched police investigations. Thunder Bay, the recently released podcast published by the website Canadaland and produced by Ryan McMahon (Anishinaabe from Couchiching First Nation) checks all of the boxes of a terrific thriller.
“It sounds like an episode of The Wire and a new smash hit investigative series on Netflix, and that’s exactly what it is,” says McMahon, who lobbied hard to create the podcast. He wanted to find out what had happened over roughly the last two decades in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and why the murders of nine Native teenagers — Ojibway, Cree, and Oji-Cree — were never solved.
Through his own company, the Makoons Media Group, McMahon has launched the world’s only member-supported Indigenous podcast network, Indian & Cowboy.
“I lobbied because of the murders, the ongoing news in the city, and the impacts of ongoing failed policy affecting Indigenous peoples,” 42-year-old McMahon says. It took a year and a team of four investigative journalists to unravel the mystery surrounding the killings, but in the end, he was able to tell the story of these forgotten people.
“This is a call to arms for non-Indigenous people to go, ‘We need to wake up; we need to be aware of what is happening in Indian country,’ ” he says from his home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Because it’s not the first and won’t be the last story illustrating the untold crimes against Indigenous peoples in North America. Through his own company, the Makoons Media Group, McMahon has launched the world’s only member-supported Indigenous podcast network, Indian & Cowboy.
Known in some circles for his comedy, McMahon is drawn to telling stories — funny and not. “I like to use story. Story is the most human thing in the world,” he says. “Indigenous stories are a doorway that allows people to walk through and consider our stories and our lives.”
— Ellise Pierce
Telling stories with no reservations
Author of There There | Angels Camp, California
Blurbs on a book jacket can be deceiving. In the small world of Serious Literature, praise could come from a buddy of the author, from another writer who owes a mutual literary agent a quid pro quo for wrangling a previous kind word, or from a hack who just wants to see his name on the cover of a book. At some point, though, the intensity of the acclaim, the sheer number of people raving about the book, and the profile of its admirers amount to a critical consensus. This is the case with There There (Knopf, 2018), the “astonishing literary debut” (Margaret Atwood via Twitter) from 37-year-old Tommy Orange (Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma).
Told from the various points of view of 12 urban Native narrators — on their way to a powwow in Oakland, California, and to an ill-conceived but deadly heist — the book was declared “Masterful. White-hot,” (Ron Charles, The Washington Post) and “the big, booming, explosive sound of 21st-century literature finally announcing itself” (Marlon James). It would be quicker to name best-of-2018 book lists that didn’t include it than those that did.
When C&I spoke to Orange for the February/March 2019 issue, he was working on two follow-up books: an autobiographical nonfiction one about his family and another that he was keeping close to the vest, except to say it would be fiction. We can’t wait to see what’s next from this new talent, who no less than star author Louise Erdrich described as a “brilliant and generous artist who has already enlarged the landscape of American fiction.”
— Jesse Hughey
Photography: Courtesy Discovery Channel, Elena Seibert/Courtesy Tommy Orange
From the May/June 2019 issue.