CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 7 . . . . November 30, 2001
Drew Hayden Taylor, himself an Ojibwa, explores the question, "What exactly is native humour?" His informants are a number of First Nations individuals who work in the field of humour. Stand-up comics Don Burnstick and Don Kelly each provide different views. As a child, Burnstick initially found humour to be a short term way to prevent his father from being physically abusive. After years of living on the streets and abusing alcohol and drugs, he has discovered humour to be a bridge between the cultures as has fellow comic Don Kelly, although Kelly notes that majority culture audiences are initially uncertain about whether or not his humour will be aggressive towards whites. Novelist Tom King is the creator of the humorous CBC radio show, "Dead Dog Cafe," which featured three "Indians" who were trying to run a radio station out of a cafe which, among other things, served "puppy stew." Sharon Shorty and Jackie Bear are a pair of humorists from Whitehorse who have created the alter egos of Sarah and Susie, two elderly Native women, who "speak" to First Nations audiences. Finally, Herbie Barnes, an actor and co-founder of a sketch comedy troupe, describes native humour as an "exploration of the dark side." A key point made by the participants is that First Nations communities, after all the tragedies that have happened, are now "moving into a space where we can have humour." One of the members of Barnes' comedy workshop noted that, historically, even in the most serious of First Nations ceremonies, humour was always present and the Trickster character was a core part of First Nations' life.
When so often the majority culture image of First Nations peoples is derived from newspaper headlines that trumpet negative happenings, such as financial mismanagement on reserves, or brief television clips which focus on "violent" acts, like road blockades or protest marches, Redskins, Tricksters and Puppy Stew offers another and much needed alternate view, one overlaid with the voices of all races joined in shared laughter. And at the root of humour, there is a truth.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and adolescent literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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