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LOS ANGELES – Oklahoma native Graham Roland (Chickasaw) is pushing the boundaries of bringing high quality entertainment to television viewers, celebrating his First American heritage and rolling with the flow of a difficult profession bringing him considerable fame.

It is almost as if fame seeks him out, as well as his creations and contributions to highly popular television programs – “Dark Winds,” “Lost,” “Fringe,” “Jack Ryan,” and many other productions – since embarking on his writer/producer profession in 2008.

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“Dark Winds,” currently on AMC, was recently renewed for a third season. The series is described as a thriller and was created by Roland based upon writer Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn and Chee novel series.

RELATED: Tribal Business News - Chickasaw Producer Graham Roland Brings Navajo Dective Story to AMC

The series began in June 2022, with the first episode written and produced by Roland. After the premiere, it was renewed for another six-episode season in July 2023, and it was renewed for a third season in September 2023.

“Dark Winds” traces the life and adventures of two Navajo police officers in the 1970s Southwest. The officers are Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, portrayed by actors Zahn McClarnon and Kiowa Gordon, respectively.

Mr. Roland’s series has won several prestigious awards.

In 2023, “Dark Winds” won both Best Drama and Best Actor in a Dramatic Series, recognizing McClarnon’s outstanding performance at The Vision Awards. In addition, “Dark Winds” was honored with the Western Heritage Awards for Fictional Television Drama.

It was apparent in 2022 “Dark Winds” was taking off with audiences nationally when it captured the Red Nation Film Award of Excellence for Best Television Series.

“In my early career, we were producing 22 episodes a year while “Dark Winds” was six episodes.” The six-episode schedule is more typical for “cable, streaming, and binge watching a season,” said Roland. “Actually, fans of the show can binge watch the first two seasons, which is always enjoyable,” Roland said with a laugh.

Mr. Roland’s Chickasaw bloodline can be traced back to his grandmother, Caroline Milligan, who signed the Dawes Commission Rolls, thus establishing a record of his citizenship with the tribe. His grandmother and an uncle still reside in southeast Oklahoma. He visits them as often as he can. He was born and reared in Ardmore until age 8 when he and his mother moved to California. He visited his father in Ardmore every summer in his teen years. His father is deceased.

In 2019, he was the keynote speaker at the Imanoli Creative Writers Conference in Ada. His message to young Chickasaw writers who hope to emulate his success was inspiring: “Embrace your story, whatever that story is. It is interesting. It is what makes you, you. It doesn’t matter where you’re born. You’re just as talented and probably have more to say than most,” he told attendees.

“Citizens have such a unique experience here, and I think that’s where great art comes from – communities like this. Having stories inside you with life experience is invaluable. You already have that. Us. It. Write about what you know, sing about what you know, paint about what you know.”

Life throws you curveballs

“I’ve known since I was a youngster I wanted to write and create,” Roland said.

When he attended Cal State University Fullerton, located just southeast of Los Angeles, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Radio, Television, and Film – after serving six years in the U.S. Marines and seeing combat in Iraq.

“My mother reminded me the Chickasaw Nation would assist with my education – and it did – but I also joined the Marine reserves in order to have a little extra pay to help with college.”

He enrolled in fall 2002 but was activated and sent to Iraq after the spring semester of his junior year in June of 2005. All told, Roland spent 2000-2006 in the Marines.

“When I decided to enlist in the Marine Corps Reserves, I recall people telling me how low the odds were that it would be activated. Then, September 11, 2001, happened, and that changed everything. We had several false alarms; where we were told we were being called up and would be deployed only to be told to stand down at the eleventh hour. In 2005, it finally happened, and we deployed. It wasn’t until the fall of 2006 I returned and finished my education.”

Mr. Roland is proud of his service and earning the honored status of Chickasaw Warrior. While the tour wasn’t pleasant by any means, Roland also remembers while there were dangers, there were not as many as the first wave of troops who entered the country in March 2003.

“Before I started school, when I was 20 or 21 years old, I joined as a way of earning some extra pay. But I also wanted to be a writer, so for me it was also life experience that I could draw from later in my career,” Roland noted.

It is a repetitive theme Roland uses daily in his professional life and encourages other First Americans to follow his course. “There isn’t a shortcut to experiencing life to its fullest. You’ve got to go out and experience it firsthand.”

Those Oklahoma Hills

“I’ve always been tied to Oklahoma. The Oklahoma I remember is summertime, catching fireflies at night,” Roland said in a recent Chickasaw Times interview. “I think of tornadoes. I think of catfish. I think of the people. And I think of green.” 

His great-grandmother, Milligan, would host big reunions, bring everybody in and cook a big pot of pashofa. He said he goes out of his way to eat pashofa when he visits Oklahoma. 

Great-grandmother Milligan lives in southeast Oklahoma and used to work with Chickasaw children in the foster care system. She is a big part of what brings Roland back to Oklahoma as an adult. 

“It just made me, in general, not wish to lose connection to my grandmother. I’m trying to get those traditions and stories from her, learn what she went through and what her childhood was like. That is important to me.” 

Family is one way Roland stays Chickasaw-connected. Another is giving back. 

“I had benefited from the Chickasaw Nation. It gave me money for studies. If I got sick or was injured, I’d go to the medical center. They took care of me, so I want to give something back,” Roland said, adding the Chickasaw Nation has provided critical services to the homes of his grandmother and uncle, such as a new roof or other repairs needing attention.

“The Chickasaw Nation’s health care initiatives are so vitally important for all First Americans,” he noted. “I know my family has utilized the benefits of being Chickasaw Nation citizens.” 

“If you want to do something, you have a great resource here in the tribe,” Roland said. “All First Americans have such a rich history in storytelling. There’s a lot of really creative talent in this community. They just need something to set them down the right path.”

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