The 1491’s, reclaiming Native American imagery

The 1491s (Dallas Goldtooth, Sterlin Harjo, Migizi Pensoneau, Ryan Red Corn and Bobby Wilson) are an Indigenous comedy troupe whose youtube channel is filled with sketches that comment upon some of the absurd ways that Native Americans are shown in popular media.

The group’s TedX Talk from 2013 gives an introduction to their work. Like most Native American/Indigenous filmmakers, the 1491s use cameras and other media tools to reclaim many of the stereotypes of Indians that are perpetuated through visual art and other kinds of images.

Their most salient point about the way Indians are portrayed on camera can be seen in the group’s 2011 Smiling Indians video, their best and most concise work, which refutes the images of turn-of-the-20th-century ethnographic photographer Edward S. Curtis by simply showing images of smiling Indians.

Curtis’s images of stoic, humorless Indians have shaped the popular view of Indians as extinct beings from the pre-American past, but Smiling Indians places Native Americans in a contemporary context to underline the survival of Indigenous people in the modern world.

 

“The reality is, just because we’re not dressed up in buckskin right now doesn’t make us any less Indian that we would be if we were at a powwow right now…. “

As they state in their Ted Talk in regard to their goals as artists, Smiling Indians reiterates that “the big idea we’re trying to fight is, go cry over somebody else’s tragedy, because we’re alive and thriving.”

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From their Ted Talk, the 1491’s outline the effect of Indigenous people commandeering the image making process: “The colonial mindset decided to warp everybody’s view about what a Native American is. … The reality is, just because we’re not dressed up in buckskin right now doesn’t make us any less Indian that we would be if we were at a powwow right now…. ”

 

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