Hollywood would have you believe that American Indians are a pretty humorless lot. Stoic, tragic, fierce, mystical, romantic? Sure. But funny? Somehow the notion never caught on and yet nothing could be further from the truth.
Though I was born too late to share a joke with my more culturally connected Mvskoke relatives in Poarch Creek, Alabama, I had the benefit of spending much of my childhood in an Ojibwa household where laughter reigned supreme. I never saw anyone cry over garbage being tossed by the roadside, but I’ve spent many evenings shedding tears of joy. Bawdiness and wit are, for many indigenous peoples, virtues which help hold communities together, ensure the survival of stories and traditions and offer healthy means to cope with frustration and heartache.
Perhaps no one sums up the native experience and debunks stereotypes more concisely or hilariously than the 1491s, an all-native comedy group that describes itself as “a gaggle of Indians chock full of cynicism and splashed with a good dose of indigenous satire.”
In the video below – set to a 1979 disco cover of the song “I’m an Indian Too” from Annie Get Your Gun - the 1491s tackle the ongoing obsession in pop culture with all things Indian, lampooning hipsters who sport headdresses and contrasting popular images of Indians with natives (and a few fans of native culture) at the Santa Fe Indian Market:
That’s yours truly at 2:06.
In other skits, presented after the jump, they poke fun at everything from “Twilight” to the Occupy Wall Street movement, cleverly highlighting its failure to incorporate the concerns of indigenous people.
Members of the 1491s audition for roles among the Wolf pack.
The West Village Band of Zuccotti Indians makes a stand.
Aside from their comedic talents, the 1491s actively work to improve the lives of those within native communities. Most notably, they address the alarming rate of violence and sexual assault against indigenous women and the lack of response to this epidemic on tribal, state and national levels.
Narrated by Ryan Red Corn, the ode “To The Indigenous Woman,” drew a strong emotional response at the 1491s panel which took place during the Santa Fe Indian Market in August.
Additionally, the members of the group advocate for the preservation of tradition and language via the “Represent” series found on the 1491s YouTube page and through powerful pieces of spoken word poetry.
“Bad Indians,” a poem by Ryan Red Corn of the 1491’s
Through wit and rhyme, the 1491s invite viewers to laugh and take action within the native community and beyond. They remind us that when it comes to the myriad challenges facing native peoples politically and personally, a side splitter is sometimes the best medicine.