Weather Forecast


Art on his own terms: Native American comedian, screenwriter to speak at Rail River Folk School Friday

Migizi Pensoneau is a co-founder of the American Indian comedy troupe The 1491s and will speak Friday at Rail River Folk School in Bemidji. Submitted photo

BEMIDJI—An American Indian comedian and screenwriter will speak Friday at Rail River Folk School.

Migizi Pensoneau is a co-founder of the American Indian comedy troupe The 1491s, who said he'll chat and answer questions about how he's seen Native representation in popular media change over time and how that representation ties in to activism.

"What people would see, in terms of Native representation in the country at large, would be manufactured, produced, and for non-Native audiences because, generally, you had gatekeepers like studios, producers, whoever else. But with the internet, it's open," Pensoneau told the Pioneer.

"You tend to see the sort of same representations of Native people on screen, but that's starting to change because movies are cheaper to make now, TV shows are cheaper to make, and the internet is a free resource for distribution...The representation of Native people, now, is unfiltered, and it's a very interesting time to be working in media."

Pensoneau, who's from the Bemidji area, said he used to avoid making "Native" movies because he didn't want to be pigeonholed. Some facets of Indian Country would be completely lost, he said, because popular media left little room for nuance, which meant audiences were shown the same sort of representations of American Indian people.

But the ease and ubiquity of the internet has opened up ways around those metaphorical gatekeepers. And Pensoneau said pageviews and video play counts can be a way to rebuff those who might claim there's no market for American Indian performers or art.

"What's interesting now is that I can make movies that I wanted to see when I was a kid," he said. "I can actually be an agent of change in terms of the way people are represented, and I don't have to have anybody telling me that it's not Indian enough or it's not Indian in the way that they think because it's coming from me and its authentic."

The 1491s' name is a reference to the year before Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas. The troupe has produced a litany of popular sketches—"Slapping Medicine Man" has more than a million views on YouTube—and appeared in a "Daily Show" segment that confronted fans of the NFL's Washington Redskins, whose name is derided as a slur against American Indians. Pensoneau got his start writing for the TV show "Alias."

If you go:

What: Migizi Pensoneau on American Indian representation and activism

When: 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12

Where: Rail River Folks School, 303 Railroad St. SW, Bemidji

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

(218) 333-9798