American Indian Literature: Resistance and Renewal

                        Jaune Quick-To-See Smith (Salish)
T H I S      I S      I N D I A N      C O U N T R Y

Fall   2012 * TR  9:30 - 10:45  *  TLC  023

 

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In "Indian Humor," Vine Deloria gives you a background in traditional practices and uses of humor within tribes. Scholar Kenneth Lincoln focuses more on humor as a survival skill in the context of genocide and colonial oppression. 

Kenneth Lincoln, Indiín Humor: Bicultural Play in Native America                            

Lincoln is interested in the use of humor as a way of resisting genocide and as a means of survival. In part, he is working from the findings of psychologists such as Viktor Frankl. In his book Man's Search for Meaning Frankl, a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust in Nazi Germany, argues that optimism in the face of tragedy best allows for 

(1) Turning suffering into human achievement and accomplishment;

(2) Deriving from [survivor's] guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better

(3) Deriving from life's transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action (Frankl 162).

As Frankl points out, you cannot force people to be happy or optimistic; rather "if you want anyone to laugh you have to provide him with a reason, e.g. you have to tell him a joke" (Frankl 162-63). Frankl turns to his own experiences in Auschwitz to argue that those who survived found that "develop[ing] a sense of humor and [learning] to see things in a humorous light is some kind of trick learned while mastering the art of living "(Frankl 64).

Lincoln argues that just as the Jews used humor to survive genocide, so have American Indians.

What kinds of jokes are told by those who have faced genocide and colonialism and who must still struggle with oppression and discrimination?