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‘Reservation Dogs’ writer Ryan RedCorn wants accurate Indigenous narratives at Fort Worth symposium

Ryan Redcorn
Ryan Redcorn
Ryan Redcorn is an Oklahoma photographer of Osage descent. A member of the comedy collective, The 1491s, Redcorn is a panelist on Carter Museum's Speaking with Light Symposium Oct. 29

Ryan RedCorn isn’t sure what wisdom he’s going to impart Saturday at the Amon Carter Museum as a symposium panelist regarding contemporary Indigenous photography. But given the background of RedCorn, an Oklahoman of Osage descent, it’s likely to be insightful.

Explore more stories from Arts Access.

He’s a universal man. He’s a photographer whose work has been featured in "National Geographic." He’s a filmmaker, a graphic designer, a comedian and a staff writer for Hulu’s hit series, "Reservation Dogs."

He’s also among the panelists at the “Speaking with Light Symposium” at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth

RedCorn said Indigenous people have typically been left out of these types of programs, but he’s glad the Carter has worked to be inclusive.

“It’s always nice to be acknowledged for your work and be included and being asked,” RedCorn said.

The museum is presenting “Speaking with Light: Contemporary Indigenous Photography” to kick off its exhibition that starts Sunday and continues through Jan. 22.

The exhibition is designed to highlight “the dynamic ways that Indigenous artists have leveraged their lenses over the past three decades to reclaim representation and affirm their existence, perspectives, and trauma.”

The Carter organized the exhibition that features works by more than 30 Indigenous artists through 70 photographs, videos, three-dimensional works and digital activations.

RedCorn downplays his potential input for the panel, but he comes from a place where his opinion would be valued in an open discussion. He’s a resident of Pawhuska, which is the setting of the book-turned-film "Killers of the Flower Moon." The plot is based on the series of 1920s murders committed within the Osage Nation after oil was discovered on tribal land.

He also was one of the producers in the “Reign of Terror” episode on the CNN series, "This is Life with Lisa Ling." He directed the first all-Native episode of the PBS documentary series “Roadtrip Nation.”

His signature photography is mostly portraits, showing subjects, usually fellow Native Americans, as they chose to be seen. RedCorn said he wants the narrative of Indigenous people to be an accurate representation.

He said he’s grown tired of Indigenous people “being told you’re helpless or useless and there’s nothing you can do about it, and everything that’s happening to Indigenous people is inevitable.

“That kind of storyline is really harmful, not even truthful, not even factual, and doesn’t really account for the way that I experience my own community, or that the world experiences my community or my experience within my own community.”

RedCorn has also turned serious Indigenous representation into humor. He’s the founder of The 1491s, a sketch comedy group of Native American troupe who create satirical and absurd comedy with a Native twist. Their videos have gone viral and they’ve made appearances on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "TEDx Talks."

Slapping Medicine Man

RedCorn met Sterlin Harjo, the co-creator of "Reservation Dogs" while performing with 1491. Harjo soon included RedCorn as a staff writer.

"Reservation Dogs," which employs a crew of mostly Indigenous people, is also designed to create another version of a narrative they control, RedCorn said.

“It’s kind of just now getting to a point in time where people are finally asking Indigenous people what they think,” RedCorn said.

The Speaking with Light Symposium is Saturday from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. Panelists: 10:30-noon, Tom Jones (Ho-Chunk), Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche), Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie (Taskigi/Diné). 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m., Dylan McLaughlin (Diné), Ryan RedCorn (Osage) and Kali Spitzer (Kaska Dena/Jewish). RSVP.

Arts Access is a partnership between The Dallas Morning News and KERA that expands local arts, music and culture coverage through the lens of access and equity.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.

Tommy Cummings has worked at The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the San Francisco Chronicle as an editor/writer/digital producer.