Pulling Out the Big Puns: “Ottawapiskat” , Hypocrisy, and Native Humor by Twyla Baker-Demaray
Pulling Out the Big Puns: “Ottawapiskat”, Hypocrisy, and Native Humor
The revolution rages on north of the imaginary border, mere hours away from me; in recent weeks the Idle No More movement has raced across Turtle Island like Chase Iron Eyes across the plains in a memorial run; it has gathered strength and support from the far corners of the planet. Indigenous people and their allies from Aotearoa (New Zealand), Japan, Europe, Australia, all across Indian Country in the U.S. and beyond are holding rallies and flash mobs, forming blockades and picket lines, flooding social media with images, statistics, and calls to action, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down. I’ll save the explanations of the entire movement for the experts, many of whom have already written excellent pieces, which you can find here, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/gyasi-/what-is-idle-no-more-_b_2486435.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false and here, http://lastrealindians.com/idlenomore-sleeping-giants-awaken-by-colby-tootoosis/ to name a few. On a cold dark night on Twitter, I came across what may be the latest in the movement’s arsenal of truth – humor.
The hashtag #Ottawapiskat was first mentioned by Aaron Paquette, a First Nations artist and speaker out of Edmonton, Alberta, and an outspoken supporter of the Idle No More movement. The hashtag itself is a play on words mashing up the Canadian capitol of Ottawa and the First Nations community of Attawapiskat, which has made headlines for a housing crisis and alleged mismanagement of tribal funds. It has gained momentum since its first mention on Sunday (1/13/13) and the Indigenous Twitter tribal nations grabbed it with both hands and ran. The concept of the hashtag is relatively simple: what if the Canadian capitol was treated as if it were the capitol of an Indigenous nation? What if Canadians spoke about Ottawa in the same manner in which they refer to various First Nations? The observations it has inspired from many Twitter users are hilarious, and at the same time, carry not-so-thinly veiled messages regarding the hypocrisies many FN people feel the Canadian capitol and Prime Minister Stephen Harper perpetrate when it comes to First Nations. #Ottawapiskat also calls out the media as a whole, and its biases in reporting on Idle No More. It has garnered attention from Huffington Post Canada, the CBC’s George Stromboulopoulos Tonight show, and literary giant Margaret Atwood. Some of the references tweeted in the #Ottawapiskat hashtag can prove rather confusing for the average Indigenous person in the U.S., so to clue you in to what they’re talking about, think of it this way; what if people started talking about the U.S. government (or any government entity or agency, really), the same way they talk about our tribal nations? What if we started flipping the script on the same people who are so very quick to condemn tribal nation issues, without looking into the mirror?
The result has proven hilarious, deconstructing detractors arguments about First Nations, 140 characters at a time. Paquette says that #Ottawapiskat hit at a critical moment in the movement. “There was a lot of tension building and people weren’t speaking with each other, they were talking at each other. Things were getting grim; so when #Ottawapaskit came out, Indigenous and their allies saw a way to get off the defensive in a uniquely Aboriginal way: humour. Being able to transform bad experiences through laughter is what has kept us alive these past few centuries. It’s essential to our survival. (The tweets) range from bitingly sarcastic to almost sweet absurdity. It was just nice to be able to give the people a way to have fun again, feel hopeful, strong. The other benefit I see is that it opens the way up for non-Indigenous to join the party. Pointing out hypocrisy has no racial borders. We’re owning it. I grew up being called ‘halfbreed’. It could have hurt me but instead I made it my strength. I think this is the same.” What has been markedly absent has been detractors of the Idle No More movement; once exceedingly vocal, the ‘trolls’ of the #IdleNoMore hashtag don’t appear to have much to say about the #Ottawapiskat hashtag, or, they completely misunderstand its purpose. It’s understandable. Truth, whether delivered straight up no chaser, or via some great satire, can be tough to argue. While not all of the tweets are gems, many of them hit their marks with biting accuracy.
Here are a few of the tweets:
Re-educating the children of #Ottawapiskat is key to overcoming the devastating and socially crippling effects of Smug Complacency Disorder.
— Taiaiake Alfred (@Taiaiake) January 14, 2013
#Ottawapiskat debt hovering around $600,000,000,000. Might be time for a third-party manager.
— Hayden King (@Hayden_King) January 14, 2013
In #Ottawapiskat they smudge w/the smoke & stench from oil sands tailing ponds. The dizziness incurred cited as “financial spirit helpers.”
— Ryan McMahon Comedy (@RMComedy) January 14, 2013
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) January 14, 2013
I’m sick and tired of my hard-earned tax dollars paying for the housing of #Ottawapiskat residents. Why do they deserve all the breaks?
— David William (@nrvscrcts) January 14, 2013
Where are my tax dollars Harper? WHERE ARE THEY?!?!? #Ottawapiskat
— Nuliayuk (@Nuliayuk) January 14, 2013
And lastly, from yours truly:
#Ottawapiskat is further proof of how Natives have always used humor; as medicine, as a shield from negativity, and as a weapon of truth.
— Twyla (@Indigenia) January 15, 2013
and can check out more on Twitter by clicking on the #Ottawapiskat hashtag. “Even if you took everything from Indigenous people, they would still be able to laugh at you.” – The 1491s