Spirit of Intent - Indian’s have Humor
In my travels across our country over the past some years, living within different cultures and people of all races, religions and life styles, I have found that one of the best ways to understand that group is to understand what makes them laugh. And trust me there are differences, even among Native people, depending on the region one comes from.
And trust me on this, for as a Native American Indian we are totally opposite of the popular Television programs and Hollywood movie stereotype vision of the American Indian that has been around for a long, long time. There have been attempts of late to change what has been type set from its past.
Oh yes, you do see the stoic granite-face, because that is what you want to see from American Indians, but when you are not around we see the humorous side of nearly every problem and experience of our life. And over time these humorous events have been defined and refined and placed in our stories and jokes.
It has been somewhat of a disappointment, at least to me as a part of today’s society, and to others that I communicate with as Native Americans, that your Native American mythology never captured our truly humorous side as a people. If the Anthropologists, historians as well as many writers, (Authorities on Indians), and students of the American Indian mythology had captured that side of the Indigenous people, readers would begin to wonder how we managed to accomplished anything in our Indian world, then and now.
Most of our humor can be found because of our keen insight of life around us. It evolves into satire and irony that professional experts on Indian affairs have never mentioned in almost all of their works. I believe I can speak to being very disappointing to this part of history, for all the Indian peoples across the continent.
Having said that, let me open a window by sharing some rays of Native Indian humor by pulling back the drapes that have shrouded Native Americans, and you will find a sudden burst of the bright sun of Indian humor.
Billy Mills, a Lakota Sioux from Pine Ridge where I assisted Rev. Joe Goodmoccasin ** when my wife and did missionary work in South Dakota, won the ten thousand meter run at the Olympics in Tokyo, Japan in 1964. All of the Sioux were proud of his accomplishment and according to my Yankton Sioux friends as they shared how they were bragging about Billy’s feat to a group of Coeur d’ Alenes Indian of Idaho, who politely nodded their head as to agree with what they were saying.
After a moment one of the women in the group spoke up, and announced that Mills’ running ability did not really surprise the Coeur d’ Alenes. After all, she proclaimed up here in Coeur d’ Alenes country we Sioux have to run far, fast and often if we mean to stay alive.
That ended all discussion of any Sioux athletic abilities and the crow broke up.
Another time Jim Crowsitting ** who was an old timer from South Dakota, he use to come into town to sit and greet and watch new comers who traveled the highway that cut through town to get to Nebraska over the Missouri river that separated the two states.
One day at one of the few filling stations in Yankton, a car from Pennsylvania heading for Denver, Colorado pulled in and began to fill their tank for the long drive ahead.
A pretty blonde girl came over to talk to Jim as the young man pumped the gas into the car. She asked Jim many questions about the Sioux as if she was a reporter, and Jim answered as best he could.
Yes, the Sioux once owned all of the state and the ones that surround it. Yes, the Sioux were once fierce warriors of the plains. Yes, we still wished for days of old.
Finally Jim got weary of all the questions, and so when the girl asked the following question; do the Indians still scalp people? Jim could not contain himself anymore and replied, “Lady, remember this, when you cross the river and head west, you will be in the land of the fiercest Indians on earth and you will be very lucky to get to Colorado alive. And you ask me if they still scalp. Let me tell you, it’s worse than that. Now they take the whole head.
Jim recalls that the young man just came out of the building from paying for the gas, and the young girl was screaming for the young man to hurry and get into the car. The young couple turned the car around and headed back toward Sioux Falls, South Dakota with the tank full of gas.
Back during my younger years, I was under one of the government bureau agencies and sent to Los Angeles for schooling under “War on Poverty Act” as were many other Indians far and wide representing there Tribes in training. I became very good friends with a group from North Dakota and Montana, and a close friend, Mark , shared with me about his fight with alcoholism and shared about this one court encounter. While driving, while he was intoxicated, he was thrown into drunk-tank for the night. The following morning, along with others, he was hauled before the judge for his hearing. Not having a good command of the English language, Mark worried about the hearing, but he was determined to do his best before the judge.
Mark’s name was called and he went before the judge and stood before him. The judge, accustom to articulate, English-speaking people appearing before him, waited for Mark to make his plea. Mark said he just stood waiting on the judge to say something. He and the judge just kept looking at each other, and the silence became deafening and unbearable to the point that the judge completely forgot what Mark was standing front of him for.
The judge could stand it no more and said; “Well, speak up, Indian, why are you standing here before me?”
Mark, who had been planning his plea in his head, of not guilty, was also completely off guard. With alarm and a gulp, looked back at the judge and blurted back; “Your honor, I was arrested for driving a drunken car.”
Now moving to the Southwest to my birth place and sharing a bit of Southwest humor so you can see this type of humor.
A white woman was driving home from her business trip in Arizona when she saw Soyla , a Navajo older woman along the road. The white woman must have been on a long quiet trip as she pulled up along Soyla and asked her if she could use a ride.
As with our tradition with strangers, with a word, but a nod of the head, Soyla said thanks as she climbed into the car. Resuming the journey on the highway, the white woman talked and talked, trying in vain to get Soyla to make small talk. Soyla just sat silently, looking intently at everything she saw about the car and in the car, studying every detail, until she noticed a brown bag next to the white woman.
Soyla then spoke up; “What’s in the brown bag”
The white woman glanced down momentarily at the brown bag and replied; “It’s a bottle of wine. I got it for my husband.”
Soyla again sat for another moment or two in silence. Looking straight ahead, speaking with the quit wisdom of her age, Soyla said; “Good Trade.”
Two Pueblos, a long time back when I rode the bus from Taos to Albuquerque, were content after spending the night out on the town. The bus was late leaving Taos and it seemed to be taking forever to get under way from the terminal.
These two Pueblo men from one of the smaller villages between towns were exchanging stories while all of us on board waited for the bus to get under way. Finally as the bus got under way, they switched from telling each other their stories and began making comments on its snail pace.
After a short while, the bus driver had enough humor to withstand a running commentary on the speed of the bus that night and so he turned to the two men just to right of him and one row back and said; “If you don’t like the speed the bus making, why don’t you get out and walk then!”
Both men looked at each other and smiled slightly, and one of the men turned to the bus driver and replied; “Oh, we couldn’t do that, they don’t expect us until the bus gets in.”
As Will Roger was of yesterday, so Clyde Warrior is probably the most known Native American Indian example off a humorist during my time. I have heard that his Native whit best represents all of our Native American form of humor. I won’t even begin to speculate whether Indian humor will eventually come to have a more significant place than it is today.