I was sitting with a few Indigenous folk the other day. Some young and some old. The oldest guy was 72 and the youngest girl was 35. One of the great things sitting with Indigenous folk, no matter the setting, is there will be some laughter.
The thing is not everyone has the same type of humour. We speak about Indian humour as though it is homogeneous, but it is not the case. Like all people, even us Indian folk have different takes on what is funny.
|From the Kewa Train Station - the site of Larry McNeil's 1977 photograph "Real Indians" as seen in 2010. Photo by the Author.|
The topic of residential school is a touchy subject. Many people have suffered from those days of boarding schools and Indian Affairs run schools. Still for many the subject is a segue into a joke or two. There is a infamous Priest who was at our Indian Residential School and his name was Father Plamondon. Now this guy is well known in the community. Anyway he is the muse for many a joke. You see Father Plamondon was well known for his cleanliness. He liked to wash the boys and say to them "you got bad thoughts?" Lot of the older men would say that to each other in the Reserve and laugh at each other. After the Indian Residential School abuse became public to Canada with lawsuits and payments for abuse, new jokes arose.
The 72 year old guy (Dave) I visited with likes to laugh and tease as well. Father Plamondon came up and so Dave told us he was never bothered by Plamondon. He said his friend told him "you were too ugly for Father". Made me think of my cousin who received some compensation for his experience at the school. He came walking into the restaurant and said "look at the truck Father Plamondon bought me." Another joke around the Reserve happens when you have a pooget (fart). If someone has a loud fart, the person who heard it or even farted will say "ho wah, Richard will fix that". A reference about a serial rapist who buggers men when they are passed out.
We have some common experiences as Indigenous folk. Those experiences provide us with commonalities and those common experiences are reflected in our lives, our speak and even our humour. That is why many of us will not cringe at the horrid, at the insensitive subject, at the joke many will find tasteless. It has become a part of our being. We laugh and tease about the absurd, the painful and the horrible. We have appropriated many things and take ownership of them. Like how we have taken ownership of the blanket. Once used as a tool of colonial tactic, in trade of inferior products and in (although there is discrepancy) some cases used as tool of war. The Blanket is now significant in most, if not all Indigenous groups. We have the Blanket Ceremony, Blanket Dances, Star Blankets, Button Blankets, and used prominently in the Give-Away Ceremony. There are many instances where Indigenous groups have taken over ownership of past hurts or weapons and have woven them into their lives. The same with Humour. They have taken ownership of the ugliness in some past hurts and today's hurts and turned in on its head by laughing at the absurdity. They laugh at it because they know it is wrong, stupid, ugly and not who they are. So they laugh at society. They know how wrong society has been to them.
Still there are some individuals who do not share the same type of humour many Indigenous folk have. These individuals, mainly young warriors, are in a new frame of mind and life. They are taking societies misdeeds and ugliness and fighting it. They are not doing with irony and humour but with "in your face" action. This action includes fighting their own. They can't understand the humour from their people. You can't blame them. They see only hardship that our Ancestors endured. So they have no room for humour like that of their relatives. They are fed up with the way society has benefited and how Indigenous have suffered over the rule of colonial power. The youth seem to take things literally. They are not going to laugh at themselves or at their people.
So when a young person gets upset over your teasing and your jokes, just know they are taking about the battle in their own way. Its not they are humourless after all everyone loves a good pun or joke. Its just they have a different frame of context to what is humour.
So there will be those of us who still laugh and tease about the absurd, the wrong, laugh with irony and laugh in the face of society.