November 23, 2010

Native humor for Thanksgiving

Indian Humor During Thanksgiving Week?  Ha Ha!According to the Lakota/Navajo cultural coordinator at the American Indian Center of Chicago, this is not only American Indian Heritage Month, aka Native American Awareness Month, but, as he put it, Rent-an-Indian Month.

And this coming Thursday? In some circles, it is commemorated as Thankstaking.

Serious tweaking is going on in Indian Country. Or rather, humorous tweaking.

In the years I have interviewed Native people about their lives in contemporary America, I have been struck not only by their humor, but by my fellow non Natives' frequent surprise it exists, as if this essential human trait somehow skipped Native DNA.

"They're funny?"

Yes, I answer. Often hysterical, I may add. Ironic. Witty. Most Native people I met either make puns, tell risqué jokes, do impersonations, or make fun of themselves or others. Occasionally, the joke (the same joke) is on me. "Oh, you're a vegetarian? In my language"--it does not matter which language--"vegetarian translates as 'bad hunter.'" I dutifully groan.

Most Native people I know realize that mainstream Americans have no idea Indian Humor, as it is called, exists.

"We're either stoic and noble or tragically flawed, you know? I get so tired of that," an Osage lawyer in Washington, DC told me, sighing, before returning to what she called her "roast beast" sandwich. Disconnections run deep.
Comment:  One can trace the "lack of humor" stereotype to the stoic or wooden Indian. And then to the uncivilized Indian--no philosophy, oratory, or language except grunts and whoops--and the savage Indian--a predatory animal without human qualities.

Of course this stereotype comes from countless portrayals of Indians as one-dimensional torturers and terrorists in the media. A mass-murdering Indian doesn't have anything in his mind except a singleminded urge to crush, kill, and destroy.

For more on Native humor, see All About Jim Northrup and Low-Budget Film Explores Native Humor.


Burt said...

There are no doubt some editorials on Thanksgiving that are beautifully written, if only the truth and reality of these "wanderers" was as glorious as the Anglo view of Thanksgiving really was. Sadly, one holiday a year is not enough to make Americans "thankful" and whom to actually be thankful to.

The holiday media do not mention that the Puritans and God were not alone to provide for the bountiful harvest they so choose to toast and honor while almost freezing and starving to death during those first few years and that more than over half of these "wanderers" died in the process and harbored sicknesses aboard the ships bringing it onto the land after shelters were finally built as hospitals instead of the alleged dwellings blessed by God you see in paintings of old.

Or that in the first landing, these wanderers found an abandoned village, stole the corn buried for storage and dug up some graves (another American tradition) and almost got killed off. So they fled to another landing north to wisely ally themselves with a people they would someday massacre hundreds, mostly women and children at Mystic, Connecticut in 1637. Ironically, the tribes that allied and partook in this massacre were also eventually killed off as well.

So Thanksgiving can mean so many things for so many every year whether to serve as a reminder that if we truly value human life, we cannot dismiss the sacrifice of indigenous lives as nothing in the "prosperity" and success of nation building or we can also celebrate their defeat and Americas triumph as what we deem Manifest Destiny, but either way, have Americans learned anything from history and evolved into anything different than those Puritans and Pilgrams?

Perhaps not, one thing is for sure, they are still giving thanks and invading properties, only this time, the world might not be as friendly or sharing a harvest feast! We can only pray for our soldiers overseas and wish for their safe return as we try harder to reason and justify why, they are there to begin with.

Anonymous said...

The Lakota and the Hopi are having Thanksgiving together. They're serving corn dogs.

dmarks said...

I wonder if a Native came up with the 1492 Homeland Security thing.