The Urban-Rural Divide Takes Centre Stage In Yellowstone

March 1st, 2021 | FT

If you haven't binged the first three seasons of Yellowstone on Amazon Prime yet, you have a few months before the fourth season premiers on the Paramount Network. The show has an appeal that reaches across all political lines and touches on subjects that many conservatives in rural Canada can relate to. It even touches on indigenous issues and the battle against big, powerful forces that threaten to encroach on the heritage and history of many people, not just the Dutton family. Most of all, it showcases rural attitudes and the struggles against urbanization that many right-leaning folks are currently facing.

Don't worry, there are not many spoilers ahead.


The Duttons settled on the their land in the 1800s. As the show's main character, John Dutton, makes clear: it has always been a fight to keep the land. When the first season opens, it becomes clear who John's enemies will be and who he will need to fight off to keep his land.

The Dutton Yellowstone Ranch borders other ranches and an Indian reservation. It becomes easy, early on, to sympathize with the chairman of the Confederate Tribes Of Broken Rock, Thomas Rainwater, as he faces many of the same challenges as the Dutton family; only his struggles have gone on for centuries against colonists and marauders. Just like the Duttons, the people of Broken Rock have tried to protect their land, their heritage and their livelihoods. They, too, will stop at nothing to protect what is theirs.

For both, the Duttons and the people of Broken Rock, challenges come in many forms. Early on, both Rainwater and a new tycoon developer from California set their sights on the Dutton ranch. As the first season progresses, things get more and more intense and confrontations become more messy. Before long, it starts to get bloody.

Yellowstone is a lot like House Of Cards, but on a ranch. All of the characters are struggling to keep and to take power. Even within the Dutton family, an ongoing struggle between Jamie and Beth sets the course for drama, bloodshed and betrayal. As the story moves forward, more and more about each character's past is revealed. Soon enough, you find yourself liking people you would normally despise in your everyday life.

The characters and events in Yellowstone ring true for many rural Canadians and First Nations. It has been increasingly difficult to change the course of society in ways that would preserve the rural lifestyles of many in Canada. From the slow cultural shift away from things like beef, oil and farming, ranchers and landowners across Canada have started to feel the pinch. To add fuel to the fire, more free land is being sought by developers and tycoons and municipalities.

Recent examples of similar events in Canada include the attempts to buy and seize land in and around Calgary's Springbank community in order to build a large reservoir and dam to prevent the city from flooding. It serves as a good example to many rural Albertans of an attempt by urbanites and city-dwellers to expropriate land with the purpose of expanding and imposing their urban interests. Another particularly unique problem facing Alberta ranchers and farmers is the decline in oil profits and the payments made for land leases that have been acquired by oil and resource companies. In recent years, disputes over payments and leases have caused conflicts that would easily compare to some of Yellowstone's most dramatic moments.

Canada is rife with examples of urban-indigenous clashes and divides that the Broken Rock tribes have exemplified in Yellowstone. The Oka crisis, the Grand River dispute and the latest Wet'suwet'en drama are good examples of indigenous communities fighting to protect what is their own. Although there is much more than meets the eye behind protests against pipelines and energy extraction, Canada's First Nations are familiar with the struggles faced by Chairman Rainwater and his people.

Yellowstone puts a heart and purpose behind the less publicized incidents of loss and drama that afflicts non-indigenous farmers and ranchers as well. It is easy for us to hear more about First Nations land disputes, but the less publicized non-indigenous land issues are put on display in Yellowstone, making it an appealing show for several political stripes. The show is well received by such a wide audience due mostly to its examination of the humanity behind the urban-indigenous-rural clash and the real, human consequences brought about by a changing world.

Yellowstone is a must-watch for anyone who wants a taste of political, cultural and social drama that hits close to home.

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