The humor and the heat were on during the 2-day American Indian Arts Celebration – literally. A steamy 90 plus degrees hung over the spacious Big Cypress Reservation grounds in early November, still, the crowds braved the humidity to see the exquisite patchwork and jewelry crafts, taste samples in the Frybread Competition, and see the scaly/furry swamp critters.
The weekend featured attraction was the debut South Florida appearance of the 1491s, the self-proclaimed group of “Indigenous misfits” with a revolving cast of characters based out of Oklahoma. They originally started out in 2009 making funny videos to put on YouTube that poked fun at Native stereotypes, politics, history, relationships, and other not so sacred buffalo.
Since then the gang has had appearances on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "TEDx Talks," and has traveled nationwide with live performances, panels, discussions and have even produced a theater piece called “Between the Knees” about the two Wounded Knee standoffs.
At the Seminole show, the group that included Dallas Goldtooth, Mdewakanton Dakota-Diné, Sterlin Harjo, Seminole-Muscogee, Migizi Pensoneau, Ponca-Ojibwe, Ryan RedCorn, Osage, and Bobby Wilson, Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota, started out with a little friendly audience interaction, warning parents that they may blush and their kids may learn something.
Spying a traditionally dressed Seminole girl in the bleachers with a 3-foot gator in her lap the boys began riffing on “that’s how Seminole men must look once they get married” before playing the first of several videos while they set up the next skit.
The funniest bit was the Native Dating Game as they convinced Miss Indian World, the former Miss Seminole Cheyenne Kippenberger, to be the bachelorette. “We have a real Indian Princess this time!” the emcee, played by Pensoneau, bellowed. Wilson, Goldtooth, and Red Corn, gave hysterical answers to her questions of “What is your idea of a perfect first date?” and “What kind of parent would you be?”
The answers such as “You’d pick me up in your car and make me dinner” and “I already have six kids by four moms so I know what kind of dad I am” had Kippenberger turning red and laughing as the guys deadpanned.
Another crowd-pleaser was a sweat lodge bit that found the half-naked participants turning their “humble Creator thanks” into confessionals about adultery, bankruptcy, and stalking. A Powwow song contest had Wilson singing his Cougar Song to an older lady in the audience.
“The hardest part is finding the right cougar!” he exclaimed. “Call me!” he yelled to the lady when he finished. The next singer, Harjo, began slowly beating on a hand drum before throwing it to the side and launching into a rowdy version of the country song “Seminole Wind” – ‘Blow, blow, the Seminole Wind/Blow like you’re never gonna blow again” he belted out to much laughter.
The video that got the loudest applause was “The Indian Store” where Goldtooth and Wilson take off their hoodies and don shirts with airbrushed art of wolves on them and medicine bag necklaces to start work.
Their store is filled with dreamcatchers and rattles and masks and sage bundles. When a hapless customer, played to exasperated perfection by Michael Horse, asks for serious books on Native history and colonialism, he is given confused looks and offered tomes on Animal Speak and Edward Curtis photographs. “Oh never mind,” a disgusted Horse says as he finally walks out.
After an hour of relentless biting humor and multiple costume changes, the troupe was brought on stage and each given alligator tooth necklaces by Cultural Ambassador Everett Osceola, who had booked them into the festival. Backstage after the show, Miss Indian World was still laughing as they congratulated her on being such a good sport.
“I just went with it,” she said in her heavy beaded sash and crown.
The day before Osceola had taken the wide-eyed gang out into the Everglades on airboat and swamp buggy rides and given them a tour of the wolves and warthogs in the Swamp Safari Zoo.
It takes some hard-earned knowledge of Native culture and history to get all the insider jabs that make up the 1491s repertoire, but in the tradition of groups like Monty Python and Native comedian Charlie Hill, the groundbreaking Mohawk funny guy who started out in Native Theater and ended up on national TV appearing on the Richard Pryor Show and the Tonight Show in the 70s, the 1491s let Natives have the last laugh at their often unfunny history.
Next up is a feature film and more Rez appearances.
Sandra Hale Schulman, Cherokee, has been writing about Native issues since 1994. She is an author of four books, has contributed to shows at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and has produced three films on Native musicians.
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