10 in the morning, and eight high school students won't speak.
Dallas Goldtooth threatens them: "Someone start talking or I'm
going to start calling on you."
A boy fidgets. Two girls giggle and whisper.
Goldtooth asks again: What do you want to say in your video
A boy in a black Nike sweatshirt clears his throat.
"It tears families apart," he says. "Some people forget their
heritage when they drink."
And so begins another video from the 1491s.
The guerrilla Native filmmakers and comedy troupe came to Lincoln
on Tuesday (April 2, 2013) to help participants of the Sovereign
Native Youth Leadership program shoot a video. The Nebraska Commission
on Indian Affairs hosted the 1491s' visit and sponsors the youth
program -- high school students from Nebraska's four tribes learning
to be leaders.
Last week, to prepare for the 1491s' visit, the students brainstormed
ideas. But on Tuesday, the five members of the 1491s struggle to
get students to share them.
Goldtooth, one of the group's founders, tells students the filmmakers
are there to help them find their voice.
"You dictate the direction," he says.
Ryan Red Corn, an Osage member of the 1491s, shares the story
of a young woman they met at a Native boarding school who told them
about briefly escaping the school to retrieve berries from a nearby
tree. The 1491s made a video about it.
The 1491s have lampooned everything from the movie "The Last
of the Mohicans" to powwow emcees, and they've gotten hundreds of
thousands of hits on YouTube.
Despite their popularity, at least two Native students haven't
seen their work.
As the morning wears on, the students begin opening up, a little
at a time.
Two brothers from Winnebago speak about their dad, who once
struggled with alcoholism but quit after his children were born.
They talk about losing their uncle to cirrhosis, a liver disease
prevalent in alcoholics.
"Top that," student Skyler Walker says, daring the others to
beat his story and eliciting laughter.
So how does a mixed bag of comedians and filmmakers get shy
Native students to open up? Red Corn says it's important to make
them laugh and see themselves as important.
1491s spend much of Tuesday making each other laugh, poking fun
at Red Corn for being half white and Goldtooth for enjoying food
Eventually, they begin teasing the students, including Skyler
and his brother Max, who are half Ho-Chunk and half white. The boys
call themselves "half chunks."
"Half chunk 1 and half chunk 2," the 1491s call them.
Then they turn on each other: "Osage sounds like a drunk person
speaking Dakota," Goldtooth says to Red Corn.
But then, just a little, the tone of their conversation shifts.
As he talks about his love of gourd dancing in the Omaha tribal
tradition, student Marco Ramos cuts short a conversation between
Red Corn and comedian Bobby Wilson.
"Quit holding hands and pay attention," he says, as the room
erupts in applause and laughter.
Later at lunch, Scott Shafer of the Nebraska Commission on Indian
Affairs describes how difficult it has been getting the students
to open up to the presenters they have heard since the program began
its second year this past fall. So often, students have struggled
to connect to policymakers and professionals, he says.
That wasn't the case Tuesday as the students and the 1491s developed
ideas for their video on alcoholism.
student describes adults who tell her not to drink but who then
Somewhere in the room, an idea flickers.
Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo, who has directed several movies and
documentaries, offers an idea that involves the students making
the video's viewers believe they were talking about using drugs
"It helps me forget my worries," Cheyenne Gottula, an Oglala
who attends Lincoln High School, says before the camera. "My mom's
the one who got me into it."
Then, the reveal.
"I like playing volleyball."