Film/Television Editor, Copy Editor Devin D. O'Leary served as film/television editor at Weekly Alibi for 28 years. He wrote and produced four feature films here in New Mexico and has been the booker/host of Midnight Movie Madness screenings at Guild Cinema for 13 years.

Living in New Mexico, most of us are well-versed in Native American art and culture. But how much do we know about traditional Indigenous science? Chances are, not a lot. Last week NMPBS premiered the first episode of its locally produced, locally lensed science series “Indigi-Genius.” The online series, which will be streaming new episodes every other week on the New Mexico PBS website, explores the history of traditional Native American technology. Through the lens of modern science, viewers are shown what remarkable advances the ancient American peoples made. Among the topics rolling out in this first season of “Indigi-Genius” are adobe bricks, preserved jerky, cosmetics and baby carriers—innovations which are still in use today.

The short-form series is written and hosted by Dr. Lee Francis IV (Pueblo of Laguna), a self-described “Indigi-nerd,” and funded in part by Vision Maker Media. Francis is a well-known local figure, having founded Native Realities Press, opened Red Planet Comics & Books (the only Native-centric comic book shop in America) and organized the annual Indigenous sci-fi/fantasy convention IndigiPop X (returning to Albuquerque in 2023). Vision Maker Media, the premier source of public media by and about Native Americans for 45 years, describes “Indigi-Genius” as “a web series celebrating the innovative and creative spirit of Indigenous cultures worldwide. Each episode tells a unique story highlighting the clever strategies and practices Indigenous communities have used and mastered for centuries. It could be farming techniques, bead making, pottery, seed saving, creation stories or even technology (past and present).”

The show was originally developed by local producer Anthony Rodriguez, who pitched the idea to NMPBS and Vision Maker Media. “He connected to me through the interwebs and thought I might be interested in writing for the show,” recalls Francis, whose father founded the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. “I thought that would be amazing, and he also said he was in search of a host, and I thought that would be awesome too! So I auditioned for both and got the gig.” Francis says he was excited because he “could see the potential for the show and really believed in Anthony’s vision.”

Plotting out the episodes and topics was a collaborative effort. “We all just threw ideas out there to figure what we wanted to discuss,” recalls Francis. “We wanted to make sure that we had a broad range of topics and covered a wide geographical area of Indigeneity. We also wanted to fold in more than just ‘hard’ sciences and included engineering, technology and innovations as some of our topic-themes.”

The pilot episode of “Indigi-Genius,” for example, explores the traditional Native American food staple of blue corn mush. There’s a surprising amount of science hiding behind this humble dish, and Francis spends the episode explaining how ingredients like blue corn and juniper ash interact chemically to produce a healthy and nutritious food staple.

Mixing scripted sketches with animation, informative imagery and good old-fashioned classroom-style lecturing, “Indigi-Genius” finds the sweet spot between education and entertainment—Carl Sagan’s sober “Cosmos” on the one end and the Saturday morning free-for-all of “Beakman’s World” on the other. “Mr. Wizard was my science guy growing up,” admits Francis. “I loved his experiments, but he was definitely more along the Sagan/deGrasse Tyson line. I did watch Beakman and Bill Nye, so definitely influences. I was also influenced by ‘Adam Ruins Everything’, especially with the cold opens for each show. I love the idea of blending humor and education to bring more of an audience.”

For Francis, “Indigi-Genius” is aimed at “anyone who wants to learn more about Indigenous innovation—young and old. For me, personally, my target audience is Native youth and Native communities. It’s both a chance to educate and a chance to inspire. And I think our digital outreach, coupled with our content to educate-entertain, is the way we hope to grow an audience for this show and for more shows like it to follow.”

Although the initial 15 episodes, rolling out between now and July 19, stick largely to Native America innovations, the format allows creators to branch out to Indigenous peoples around the world—from the First Nations in Canada to the Indigenous tribes of Australia to the First Peoples of Siberia.

“It’s interesting to see how many of these ‘old’ technologies are still in use and how many people are coming back to realizing the wisdom and skill of ancient and ancestral knowledge,” says Francis. “Moreover, these technologies have a core of sustainability which is important for moving into a climate-changing world.” Ultimately, the show’s proud writer and host feels that both the show and the technologies it highlights are “about taking care of our children, our communities and our families. I think we can all keep learning to do that better and better.”

You can watch the first episode of “Indigi-Genius” now at pbs.org/show/indigi-genius/. Future episodes, each 10 minutes or less in length, will be released bi-weekly.