Aboriginal Joking

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Aboriginal Joking

The arrival of European settlers in the late eighteenth century marked the beginning of Aboriginal persecution for over a century. Residential schools, pressure to assimilate into a Eurocentric society, negative ethnic stereotypes, and the loss of land, culture, and family members are just some of the atrocities that were endured by the First Nations people. Now, almost three centuries later, many Aboriginal people are able to address these past injustices with humour.

Joking has long been used as a way of escaping harsh realities. Canadian Aboriginals often employ this strategy when discussing the sombre aspects of their history. Although this type of comedy seems unconventional, it has helped many indigenous people cope with the oppression they have endured. This function of humor is best described using the structural-functional approach. In this situation, structural-functional theory views humour as a social structure designed to fulfill the psychological need “to cope with unpleasant experiences, . . . and . . . to distance oneself from negative emotions such as fear, grief, or shame” (Kuipers, 2008). In the documentary Redskins, Tricksters and Puppy Stew, Tom King, creator of Dead Dog Café, explains that he handles the pain of being Aboriginal through humour rather than anger. King’s radio show mocks Aboriginal stereotypes perpetuated by Caucasians, such as the ideas that they use “Indian” names or that they consume strange foods like “puppy stew.” These perceptions are presented such that their asininity is apparent, but still humourous for both Aboriginals and Caucasians; thus, King turns a formerly offensive issue into a joke. In doing this, King is able to deal with the struggles of Aboriginal life and distance himself from the hurt caused by these struggles.

Aboriginal comedy also permits the discussion of controversial issues without the tension or repercussions associated with serious debates. This function of humour can also...
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