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The 1491s operate as a collective. All decisions are made unanimously, and they confer on everything. This is a bit of a feat considering their geography. Wilson and Goldtooth live in Minneapolis, while Harjo and Red Corn call Oklahoma home. Pensoneau lives in Missoula. Similarly, they all hail from different tribes, different traditions and in terms of style they have little in common. Goldtooth and Red Corn are considered the poets of the group. They are usually responsible for the more earnest and message-heavy work. Wilson (who is actually a poet), Harjo and Pensoneau are more interested in telling stories through film and being funny. “The big secret about the 1491s is that none of it’s intentional,” Pensoneau says coyly. “We generally get together and it’s mostly poop and dick jokes.”
According to Red Corn, it’s the differences between the members that make the group click. “The thing that makes us possible is we cast a wide net. We got guys from up north, from down south. You need guys that look a little bit white and guys that look exactly the way people think an Indian should look,” he says. “We have all those things. They’re ingredients to the same recipe.”
It’s these ingredients that make them so compelling, and often makes their work difficult to pin down. Depending on which member of the group you ask, they are either a comedy troupe that sometimes wanders into activism or an activist group that uses humor to impart their messages. In the end, of course, they are both.