Panel discusses poetic activism in Native American society

Editor's note: A previous version of this article misidentified Dallas Goldtooth as Dallas Harjo. The appropriate edits have been made.

The 1491s, a satirical sketch comedy group, led a discussion on the role of poetry in contemporary Native American society in room 300 of the Halle library Nov. 21.

According to their website, the 1491s teach young women how to be strong and young men how to seduce these strong women. Group founders Bobby Wilson, Migizi Pensuneau and Dallas Goldtooth presented commentary along with their YouTube videos in Halle Library to an audience of attentive students.

“I was expecting it to be really poetic, but it was really funny,” sophomore Marcus Williams said. “It was great to learn from Native Americans outside of a classroom.”

Native Americans aren’t the only ones with this qualm – when the group was commissioned by Public Broadcasting Service to add their work to a documentary, the submitted work ultimately was omitted from the film.

“They wanted a real Indian, but got a guy who could be Peruvian,” Goldtooth joked, as Wilson was the main face of the dismissed footage.

The video is available to view on YouTube and is titled “Bad Indians” by Ryan Red Corn.

The 1491s were recently part of a panel on “The Daily Show” discussing the Washington Redskins name and mascot, where Migizi Pensuneau states that the name is offensive by definition.

“The target of our comedy is to tease Indian men, to challenge the construct of what it means to be an Indian man,” Dallas Goldtooth said. “Natives have a hard time with introspection.”

One of their exploratory and historically resonant works is a poem called “Geronimo E-KIA,” where multiple narrators tell how Geronimo did not die in Pakistan, or any other media driven area that goes under acknowledged, but that he lives on. The outside world doesn’t know his true name and there is power in that mystery.

“Our symbol is representative of that [mentality by] being an arrow shootin’ itself in the ass,” Wilson said.

Wilson said without this introspection there would be no understanding of the absurdity within these perceptions and the shifting of culture that new generations bring out of any heritage.

“It was really cool how they use media as activism, using poetry to change the world and how people look at it,” freshman Kelsey Hawkins-Johnson said at the close of the event.

Their self-reflection and admitted self-ridicule is comparable to famous comedians like Richard Prior, Monty Python and Eddie Murphy. These are artists who they draw inspiration from which is seen in the use of humor to discuss serious and relevant topics in today’s Native American society.

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