• Kim Senklip Harvey

Indigenous Booty and Comedy Over Indigenous Trauma Story Sales

Today's post is going to be capturing some integral social media posts about Indigenous stories and creators.

First up we have the BBC's story on Indigenous Burlesque troupe Virago Nation "a collective of Indigenous artists creating performance through burlesque, theatre, song and spoken word as well as workshops, and community networks rematriating Indigenous sexuality."

I love the Matriarchs of Virago Nation. They are an Indigenous burlesque troupe reclaiming and dismantling violent, oppressive and projective stereotypes of Indigenous femme sexuality. I was fortunate enough to go to one of their shows earlier this year and was blown away at their beauty, power and storytelling. Indigenous womxn are drowned in eurocentric ideal standards of “beauty” and colonialism has tried to control the narrative of how Indigenous femme bodies should be treated and Virago refuses and resists those violent acts with their Matriarchal power.

I was so moved because as I watched each artist come to the stage, I realized how this experience happened far too little for me and is so integral for my own truth and understanding. I realized just how little I've seen how a Kwakitul womxn's back looks like when it dances, or how little I knew the scope and movement of a Cree womxn's legs when they are telling a story, or how little I've seen a body positive representation of a Mohawks breasts or the shape of a Gitxsan booty.

Over my lifetime media and art, I have seen thousands of images of white women's bodies, thousands. When I was at the Virago Nation show, I really felt how little I've been given the opportunity and access to celebrate Indigenous femme sexuality. As an Indigenous womxn, bearing witness to beauty and sexuality in a non-eurocentric hegemonic paradigm was nourishing and vigorous.

Indigenous femme bodies are extraordinary in their complexities, nuances and are on the most beautiful spectrums of reds, tones of browns, curves, waves, flows and transformations. They are reflective of the land and Virago’s embodied storytelling is a generous gift for all peoples to experience Indigenous Matriarchal sexuality and robust power that honours Indigenous women’s agency, sovereignty and authority over ourselves.

If you’ve never experienced Indigenous Matriarchal sexuality that originates from Indigenous womxn - then you need to experience this. If you just study the politics, the history, the headlines or the violence than you have failed to see us in all of who we are and are perpetuating colonial tactics to hyper-sexualize, dehumanize and erase Indigenous womxn.

Follow them on insta at Virago Nation and saturate yourself in images and videos and experiences of Indigenous matriarchal bodies where Indigenous womxn are in charge of the portrayal and narrative.

This is why Indigenous people fucking rule, I’m literally telling you that a burlesque show is a part of your work and education to truthfully understanding Indigenous womxn and building the new relationships people Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

Second up is an article that's been making the rounds called, How did the suffering of marginalized artists become so marketable? by Vivek Shraya. Who writes:

"I also hoped that if I shared my experiences of pain, my art could perhaps even set audiences free from their stereotypes and biases, elicit different behaviours and reactions when they encountered difference off-stage and off the page. What I didn’t know was that by writing this book and creating subsequent art projects that explored my encounters with racism, biphobia and misogyny, I was walking into a trap.

When I reflect on my career, it’s hard not to notice the ways interest and institutional support (in the form of art contracts, funding, awards, invitations) have increased as I’ve shared more of my traumatic experiences. While my ability to survive as a working artist depends in part on interest and institutional support, the correlation between trauma and “success” is disturbing. Have I unknowingly been typecast as a trauma clown?

Unfortunately, this seems to be a common experience for marginalized artists: our value often seems inherently tied to the suffering we portray in our work. What is it about the suffering of marginalized bodies that’s so appealing?"

My friend and powerhouse Indigenous Matriarchs Yolanda Bonnell shared the story and a really interesting comment thread started to unfold and here are selected comments from it.

"This is really important.

One thing I noticed about Kamloopa - which is a play about Indigenous women and joy and healing - when we had predominantly white audiences, they weren't laughing at the humour. Like at all. Nothing. It's a comedy and it felt like they weren't enjoying it.

Then we come to the end of the play and there's a bit of a reveal about some trauma and the realization of identity that gets emotional and suddenly, they were all invested and crying and gave us a standing ovation.

White folks don't want to see our laughter. They want to see our trauma.

And we need to talk about that." Yolanda Bonnell

"We just don't know when to laugh" lots of Settler, white and non-Indigenous folx

Edward B Smith then responded with:

"Perhaps culturally illiterate because white folks have never had to take the time to investigate how to fit in within another cultural context, the way ALL BIPOC have had to learn to do their entire lives. I don't think it has to do with discomfort over political correctness. I think the word you're looking for is laziness."

I added:

"For me, the way I study and write comedy is that it’s about thoroughly investigating and knowing something and then undermining the assumed truth and interrogating that dogmatic knowingness.

If you’re not able to understand the concept in its untroubled state, like a lot of people who are Indigenous ignorant, you won’t get the complex way we made fun of it. Which Yolanda and Sam and Kaitlyn did with nuanced comedic approaches.

Edward B Smith is spot on. If you’re not laughing, especially at some of the softballs I wrote and that the Fire Company composed with Kamloopa - I have to question the work you’ve put or not put in to educate yourself on Indigenous ontological understandings.

This is where I jokingly say a lot of BIPOC’s have PHD’s in whiteness. It’s why we can laugh, it’s because we have the understanding and because we have not been lazy.

Kamloopa was such an interesting study for me witnessing who laughed at The Bay smallpox joke, watching some white feminists who couldn’t laugh at the cooch pearl joke because it appeared they've never thought of a brown vagina, white men who didn’t know what to do with the beaded g-string, people who laughed at the foster care part. As well as studying what type of laughter and if it was with or at us.

I found it very revealing.

White folx gots a lot of self-educating to do because us Indigenous folx are out here dancing, cracking jokes and laughing and Settler and Non-Indigenous folx ignorance is trying to keep us on our knees so they can assuage their guilt with fragile tears.

And I just ain’t got time for that shit anymore."

Of course there is some subjectivity with regards to what some people laugh at but remember I study comedy, I study people, it is been my job to do so and I presence that information to remember that I have a good idea of what the genisis of a laugh or response can look like. I have a very good idea if participation or lack there of is because of ignorance. I am humbled to know that I am not 100% in my observations but I experienced around 2,000 people come thru Kamloopa and I almost never watched the show - I watched the audience - so my case study on this one is pretty extensive.

With this information, I agree entirely with Yolanda who embodied and experienced every show. White folx know how to cry at us and for us but hot damn do they struggle to laugh with us. I agree with Edward as well, I think a lot of it is ignorance and in this era, when access to educate ourselves is so available, that willful ignorance is part laziness and or entitlement and it's got to be accounted for and that work has to be done.

And we as Indigenous artists also have work to do, we have to refuse to sell any more of our trauma stories and tears that lack Indigenous agency whcich are not rooted in our sovereignty and artistic emancipation from colonial control and consumption.

So imma go get to work and keep writing and hoping you will come and laugh with us.

with deep respect, laughter and Indigenous love,


Photo by Fubarfoto, Derek and Amanda