The 1491s: Bastard Children of Manifest Destiny

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.

6 Responses to “The 1491s: Bastard Children of Manifest Destiny”

  1. itzli Says:

    You’re a cutie Rachel! Nice work with this post! =) Keep it up.

  2. Io Says:

    Thank you, @itzli. There is one more post to come in this series. I’m glad you’re enjoying it so far!

  3. Laura Says:

    Thanks for the post. I am disappointed that it was not brought up that 1491s made a video that included blackface on October 2nd and made a response video (oct. 5) that supported their use of blackface even though there were no black people who were in the making of the video (and they could have shown pictures of blackface instead of participating in it). I was really disappointed when I watched those :(

  4. Io Says:

    Laura, that video was going to be in the original article but the discussion it would have sparked about their use of blackface would have warranted a separate post altogether. While I do indeed feel that it’s a discussion worth having, the focus of this series was to illustrate the renaissance of the arts/comedy/dance/activism/etc. in Indian Country.

    When the choice is between posting a blog which is about the 1491s in-general or one which is about what some perceive as a misstep, the choice was made to simply introduce these guys to the wider world and to accentuate the tremendous positive force they exert. To have introduced them in such a controversial light without first making readers familiar with all the great things they are doing would have done a tremendous disservice. This is, after all, a piece of editorial blogging rather than an objective journalistic piece (where the blackface controversy would have been addressed were I writing that type of article).

    For myself, I feel that they made a strong statement by using blackface and I think it was relevant to their message. In my eyes, and in the eyes of many other natives, playing “Indian” on Halloween is the equivalent of blackface. By donning it for the video, they evoked a sense of shock and horror in the viewer that wouldn’t have been invoked with photos. This sense of horror is the same reaction viewers should have to “redface.”

    That said, even though we may disagree now, I still think it’s a worthy discussion and I’m eager to see what you and others think about the matter.

  5. Charlie Ballard Says:

    Laura – the 1491’s, “don’t support” , the use of Blackface as they clearly state that in their follow up video and only used that example of ethnic ministrelism to get their point across.

    I agree with Io, regardless of what people say, these discussions would have never taken place if there weren’t groups like the 1491’s who had some something relevant to say.

    And speaking as a Native American, I could get upset over the title of this article as Natives being referred to as a bastards of Manifest Destiny but I’m sure that title is more appropriate for descendants of non-natives to this country.

  6. Io Says:

    Charlie, the title comes from Ryan Red Corn’s own words in the poem “Bad Indians.” :) Survivors of Manifest Destiny is how I view them, myself, and every other person of indigenous descent in this country.