Stoics ‘R’ Us

When's the last time you saw an Indian grin? (Trick question.)

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Indians don’t smile. America knows this because Edward Sheriff Curtis photographed over 1500 Indians in the 1900s with decidedly serious expressions. Those photographs, reprinted in generations of history books, continue to represent much of mainstream America’s visual landscape of Indian peoples in this country.  Admittedly, those old time Indians didn’t have a whole lot to smile about in Curtis’s photos. Our population had dwindled to somewhere around 230,000 from Native Americans’ estimated pre-European-contact high point of about 10 million.  That’s enough to make anybody cranky.

Ryan Red Corn, an Osage Indian from Norman, Oklahoma, and his buddies are going toe-to-toe with Curtis with “Smiling Indians,” their new four-minute video depicting, yes, smiling Indians, lots of them. Even when trying to strike a pose depicting a stylish attitude, the Indians in his video bust out laughing. Indians who’ll watch will know why. It’s because other Indians are teasing them. To be Indian is to be teased — unmercifully — by relatives and friends who love you enough to be sure you don’t take yourself and your high-class college degree, your fancy job, your latest, latest gym shoes or anything else too seriously.

Smiling Indians/the 1491’s
“Smiling Indians” was created by comedy group the 1491’s.

Smiling Indians” was created by Red Corn and his buddies at The 1491’s,  “a sketch comedy group, based in the wooded ghettos of Minnesota and buffalo grass of Oklahoma.” They describe themselves as “a gaggle of Indians chock full of cynicism and splashed with a good dose of indigeneous satire. They coined the term All My Relations, and are still waiting for the royalties. They were at the Custer’s Last Stand. They mooned Chris Columbus when he landed. They invented bubble gum. The 1491s teach young women how to be strong. And… teach young men how to seduce these strong women.”

National Public Radio recently featured “Smiling Indians” on its website. In NPR’s short interview with Red Corn, he says that the 1491’s created the video as a “new visual for our culture.” They have dedicated the film to Curtis.

 

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