Sticks and stones and no, it’s not funny

Urbane 2

By Drew Hayden Taylor

Original published in May 2014

It’s been said we live in kinder, gentler times; that overt and aggressive stupidity by some people, especially towards other people, is gradually being weaned out of our society.

Witness all the zero tolerance messages being enforced in grammar, middle and high schools these days. I heard of one seven-year-old being sent home for pointing his fingers like a gun at a fellow student and going ‘bang”.

Yet, sometimes it’s difficult to believe this agenda is working. There are always a few people out there that manage to, with a few words, restore your tainted impression of humanity.

On a national level, the best example of this happened a month or so ago. A group of students at the University of Ottawa, who for some reason known only to them and their like, saw fit to post on Facebook a disparaging conversation, sexual in nature, between four men (and I use the term loosely) regarding a fellow student—a female student, the Student University President. And these young men were high level dudes in the student government. No doubt a good example of the Peter Principle at a university level.

On a smaller, more personal note, this same bizarre inability to know what’s right and what’s wrong seems to orbit me. I spend a good chunk of time travelling Canada and the world lecturing about Native culture and humour, trying to breed a level of understanding and bridging cultures. But every once in a while I bump into somebody, usually of a non-Native background, that seems to think they have funnier opinions and jokes about Canada’s Indigenous people than I do. And they are not afraid to share them.  In fact, they do so enthusiastically.

It’s their complete and total belief that what they have to share is not only acceptable, but also highly funny that fascinates me. I can only hope that God did not indeed create man in his own image. If so, then I am severely disappointed in Him… or Her.

Case in point, two years ago I was lecturing on Native humour at an Adult Learning Centre in Toronto, waxing on poetically about the origins and nature of Aboriginal humour.  Obviously this included telling a few ‘Indian jokes” while giving a political and cultural context to each joke.

Next, I do a Q & A, and a young man in the first row puts up his hand quickly, saying he has a joke he wants to share.  Question: “What’s the definition of confusion on a Native Reserve?” Answer: “Father’s Day.”

A very old, and tired, joke. I remember that one when I was a kid.  I think we’ve all heard it. Now this White guy is telling it to me, grinning brightly in front of about a 150 people, mostly immigrants whose understanding about Canada’s Indigenous people was limited. Now they have this bouncing around in their heads.  I think he expected me to applaud his familiarity with Native wit. Then he seemed confused when I didn’t share his enthusiasm for his contribution to the lecture.

More recently, when I was playing Texas Hold’em at a local haunt in Buckhorn, there were two new players that night. I was wearing a novelty t-shirt implying I was a lifeguard from South Africa (it was a gift). I don’t quite remember how the topic came up, but one of the guys suddenly burst out asking me “Ever save any Native people?” Not being an actual life guard, and not understanding why he was asking me such a question. I innocently said ‘No’, and he smiled yelling “Good!”

Once again I managed a weak smile, and debated if this was the time and place to try and educate such an individual. However, I didn’t think he was open to possible enlightenment. Besides, I was busy trying to fill an inside straight. (Note: I didn’t do it).

It always amazes me how people can think this kind of thing is acceptable. Or relevant. Or proper. Or the worse sin I can possibly imagine, think it is funny!

I should know better.  I guess that’s the kind of people you meet a poker games, and Adult Learning Centres.