In the early 1900s, photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis traveled around the United
States photographing North American Indians from 80 tribes. Those 2000 or so black
and white images show Native Americans in tribal dress: serious, facing the camera
straight on and mostly all not smiling. Well now, a century later, comes a video in
response to Curtis’s photos. It’s titled “Smiling Indians,” and it’s exactly that, four
minutes of video of Native Americans, young and old, smiling and laughing. It was co-
created by Ryan Red Corn, an Osage Indian from Oklahoma. Journalist Edward Block
is chatting with Mr. Red Corn today to find out more about the video and why he
decided to make it.
EDWARD BLOCK: Welcome to the program, Ryan.
Mr. RYAN RED CORN: Well, thank you for having me.
EDWARD BLOCK: You have dedicated this video to the photographer Edward Sheriff
Curtis. Did you mean that dedication sincerely or were you being sarcastic?
Mr. RED CORN: I think it would be fair to say that I was being sarcastic.
EDWARD BLOCK: Well, why is that? What’syour problem with those images fromEdward Curtis?
communities that a lot of people never get a chance to see. It’s like saying, not only are
we still here, we’re enjoying ourselves, too.
EDWARD BLOCK: And you really must have
enjoyed yourself making this video, right?
Mr. RED CORN: Oh yes, very much. When I was shooting the video, I couldn’t stop
smiling all the time and my face hurt so much just from looking at all these people
laughing, especially the children and the older people, they were having so much fun!
EDWARD BLOCK: You have this message at the very end of your video. This
message pops up: If you remember nothing else about me, remember that I smiled.
Mr. RED CORN: When I was editing the video, we heard some gunshots across the
street. And I thought: Man, this would be a really poetic way to end my days if I’m
sitting here working on this video, and a stray bullet comes in and gets me. So I had
this idea that if that happened, I was just going to type on my cell phone that if you
remember nothing else about me, just remember that I smiled. And we decided to put it
at the end of the video. It seemed like a good way to finish because, you know, that
was exactly what we were trying to show in this project.
EDWARD BLOCK: Well, Ryan Red Corn,
thanks for talking to us about it.
Mr. RED CORN: You’re very welcome, I appreciate it.