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Over the course of the past four years, the 1491s have produced videos and posted them on YouTube at a dizzying rate. Their most viewed works include a video about a day in the life of a powwow emcee with an inflated ego, another about a medicine man who addresses the ailments of his patients by slapping them in the face and one short video called “Indianer Than You.” Most of their videos work in the tradition of high jinks. The main characters are usually some version of pitiful, understanding far less about themselves than the characters that surround them. And often these characters are American Indian.
“First and foremost our critique is with Indian culture,” says Red Corn, who is Osage. “White people jokes are kind of low hanging fruit.”
Goldtooth, who is Diné and Dakota, echoes the claim. “In a lot of our indigenous communities there’s a lot of unhealthy behavior, a lot of dysfunction, and you can see that in a depressing light but on the flip side a lot of that dysfunction is so tragically and absurdly funny,” he says. “And we as Native men have accepted and reinforced this machismo, this warriors don’t cry mentality. It’s absurd and it’s funny.”
Much of the work produced by the 1491s is angled in this way. Their logo is an arrow bent into a circle, so the pointed end is nearly touching its own tail feathers. If there was a symbol for self-deprecation, this would be it.
Yet, some of the most resonantly scathing work produced by the 1491s is not aimed at a single target. In a video titled “I’m an Indian Too,” shot last summer at the Santa Fe Indian Market, which bills itself as the “largest and most prestigious Native arts market in the world,” the 1491s veil their critiques beneath a fatty layer of slapstick. In the video, Red Corn is dressed in a headdress, loin cloth and dark Ray Ban sunglasses. The video depicts him running around the Santa Fe Market dancing to “I’m an Indian Too” from Annie Get Your Gun. At first watch, it is hilarious. Red Corn has a way of puckering his face and gyrating his hips that is a little bit infectious. In several scenes in the video, other people on the street dance with him. One geriatric man pushes him away in disgust but Red Corn keeps grooving. Red Corn and (most of) the people around him appear to be having so much fun, you kind of wish you had been there.
But, beneath the antics, there’s another story being told. The lyrics to “I’m an Indian Too,” written in 1946 by Irving Berlin, go “And I’ll have totem poles, tomahawks, pipes of peace/ Which will go to prove/ I’m an Indian too.”
And though his flamboyant dance moves obscure the lettering for most of the video, Red Corn has a word scrawled across his chest in black marker: “HiPSTER.”