A Laughing Matter
Here is my keynote from the GVPTA's Making A Scene Conference.
Like most modes of colonial communication they don't reflect the full scope of the ceremony that is Indigenous storytelling.
Being there, in relation, is the practice but here is one part of that practice, the note in written form.
So grateful for the people who shared space this morning.
Kim setsadeh nenkynee Syilx. Tshilqotin, Dakelh and Ktunaxa
Sechanalyagh - GVPTA
Limelet - Coast Salish Peoples
Sunachailya Medo’s - that’s you - the white folx.
I’m incredibly grateful to be here, Really Kenji, I’m so honoured and surprised you asked me to do this.
The only other keynote I’ve given was on my rez about 10 years ago when I told the graduating high school students they did “a real gooder.”
When we sat down for coffee - I said do you read my blog?
And you said yes - and a lot of your staff did and find it useful.
It felt a bit like a disclosure. Yes - I read your blog...
I said cool cool - and so I figured want me to read some like Dance Mix 95 mashup of some.
And you said - well Kim we really want to leave that up to you. We’re open and believe in your abilities.
Marcus Youssef’s recent PACT keynote - he called my blog “infuriating” which Imma take as a compliment.
So, as I was sitting there with Kenji - I started mentally rifling through some of my personal favorite blog posts.
Like that one where I make fun of white people, or that other one where I tell white people get to work or that other one where I say white people suck.
I could stand up here and say “I have no idea why they asked me” but I think I know why the GVPTA asked me.
I’ve been working pretty hard these days and thus wrangling up some social capital and they knew I could sell some tickets. That I would help - which I also take as a compliment and pride in.
And here’s a quick side note that I want to talk to address…
They’ve given me a platform and a microphone - you don’t think I’m going to digress throughout this?
Anywho, some artists appear to do butt flipping nothing to help producers sell their shows - and I just want to say get to work.
I once met an artist from India who was talking to me about how they don’t get gov’t grants and that they all work joe jobs in the day, rehearse before those joe jobs in the morning from like 5-9am and then again in the evening from like 6pm-1pm and they finance all their own work and then in whatever spare time they have they are in the streets literally selling their own tickets.
And then I go to some shows here and hear about people asking questions like “I wonder how the shows selling”
I’m like jayzus you don’t know?!
You know whose hustle I respect the most? - Tetsuro Shigematsu and VACT. Those mothers work damn hard to get people into the seats.
I don’t think we’d ever hear Tets saying “ya we worked really hard on this show and we just people will come”...
Hope? I hope that one day I wake up and my cheeks will be less chubby but I know that’s not how that actually works.
It’s like when those natural disasters happen and it’s MEME bonanza time with people posting shit like “sending prayers and with a picture of springtime meadow.
Prayers - sure ok maybe - the wannabe shaman in me wants to believe that will work but “hope” get real Todd.
Sending or hoping people might show up to one of your shows is a big dum dum move.
It’s about as plausible as thinking canadians will accomplish reconciliation.
You know someone once said to me they don’t think reconciliation will work because it sounds too “suggestive”.
I was like wth? Suggestive? Of what? They just kind of kept looking at me and then I said “like suggestive of equity, righting racial disparity? Peace?” and their response in the gentle hum of a whisper was “sexual.”
And that was it - that was the exact moment I knew we were all done for. Gonezo, because a settler had confused “conciliation” for “copulation.”
Anyways, gonna make a hard turn back to my respect for Tetsuro.
He sold out a show before it opened and that’s one of the most impressive things I’ve ever heard.
The highly competitive person in me wanted to sell out Kamloopa before it opened.
So that’s why I worked hard for that show - I only wanted it to be successful to beat Tetsuro Shigematsu and VACT.
Fuck, I’m so colonized.
No, but it all seriousness slaxts - I get ticket sales reports for my shows months in advance - and for Kamloopa in particular that was from all 3 producing companies.
I didn’t hope for that show to sell, I knew if it was selling.
A few weeks back, I was texting Christie Watson everyday asking how many tickets were left for the night I was doing Nassim’s show .
“Hey Christie, how many tickets we gotta sell”
Next day, “Hey Christie how many tickets left?
Next day, “Hey Christie how many tickets left?
“Leave me the alone Kim.”
JUUUUUUST JOKING. Christie Watson is one of the most thoughtful producers I’ve ever worked with and he would never say that. He is also one of the funniest people/producers but like of course he is, he’s married to Emelia Symington Fedy.
After that show, which we did sell out mothers, he did this hilarious improved skit around why Rumble should win a special Jessie award for their use of Tim Carlson’s rolling white screens for making a dynamic entrance into the PL1422 space.
Which got me laughing really hard but also really, really thinking about all the work that our administrators and producers do.
So, to the Coast Salish Theatre community, I might poke and prod and trouble you but it’s because of my deep adoration for you all…..
Well, like at least for the ones producing interesting shit...we all know my affinity for shows like Mary Poppins.
Sidebar - I think I would actually make a really good Mary Poppins. I think I look like a Mary.
Right? But maybe we like Indigenize it, so instead of flying in with an umbrella, I could like fly in on the tail of giant beaver and instead of hanging out with those kids eating sugar instead of medicine or whatever is happening there - I could like make people eat indian ice cream.
And instead of having some suto romance with Dick Van Dyke, I could….I could...I don’t know - I seriously don’t know what the fuck happens in that show.
In my brain, it goes umbrella scene, whiney white kids, hot chimney dude, pigeon song, umbrella exit.
Anyways, I want to give a big thank you and acknowledgement to the people getting butts in the seats, the folx going beyond hope, the workers and leaders parlaying the BOD’s to shift the paradigm and moving our systems and institutional ecology to a more evolved and equitable state for all artists.
Truly from my Ancestors to yours limelet, sechanalyagh.
Yes, thank you, limelet for your work.
Now, Some of you are sitting there being like, dat me, Kim’s talking about me - I’m shifting the ecology - yeah!
And others are sitting there being like….well that’s kind of me….
And others are sitting there and being like - yooooo that is not me - I do not do those things. I just show up and shuffle around until the boss leaves, accomplishing just what I have to so my annual review is sufficient and I so that i buys me enough time to find a job on Charity Village.
To those people, I’m here for that level of honesty - truly I am. And it is my intent that we figure out what’s going on so you can feel meaningfully engaged at work or at least in the theatre and even broader community.
We need you.
Now some of our arts leaders here might be thinking, Kim my team is amazing, all of my staff are engaged, and we come in at 9...10am everyday ready to make the revolution happen.
Ok...well let’s just really take a look at that.
I had the fortune of participating in the Banff Cultural Leadership Program last year, I learned many many key tools that have really built my capacity.
In our second module, Tim Cynova who is also one of the most passionate arts leaders I’ve ever met. When he came to Banff he was so excited to speak to the cohort and it’s the only time in my life I’ve ever seen this, he had to take a knee in the middle of it.
I’m not sure if it was how riled up he was of the lack of oxygen in the mountains but this guy took a knee in the middle of his arts leadership powerpoint and it continues to astound and impress me.
Anyways, I learned some pretty astonishing statistics about workplace efficiencies and employee well being from Tim’s blog entitled Work. Shouldn’t. Suck.
Now, these stats are American but in my research I found the numbers in Canada that are very comparable. So even if we wanted to embody that ridiculously ill informed and unwarranted canadian optimism to boost these %’s to assuage our guilt - they are so wild - they are still relevant.
So here goes-
Only 15% of employees feel engaged at work. And around 60% of the total employees at your organization are disengaged at work. And this one - 25% of employees are actively working against you.
So ya your instinct about Todd making your life a living hell is correct.
But here’s the last one that just actually makes me laugh - 51% of employees are actively looking for other jobs - most likely at their current place of work.
And we in the theatre sector are not absent form these realities.
In the past 6 months I have visited a theatre where I actually saw employees actively working against the AD and organizational leadership. Employees actively tanking shows.
And for me, in my teachings, when you aren’t fully participating, participating in making something happen, it’s deemed by the community that you are actively responsible for not making it happen.
My biggest intent with my work, with my writing, is achieving equity for Indigenous peoples so every community member has the opportunity to live peacefully.
So I do, I want to give thanks to the work that we are doing but I want to bring some truth to this community with my experience as an Indigenous womxn intersecting with settler colonials and newcomers.
Truth to how the community is tentatively or not fully participating with us, at what feels like those workplace statistic levels.
And here’s my intention, I believe that if we can all start addressing this very serious problem, I think we can alter those statistics because it’s going to centre, motivate and instill joy back into all of our jobs and roles within the community.
I believe it’s going to set us on a journey that will make us all feel a lot less scared to see our truth and thus truly capable of building this new relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples that we so urgently need.
Because right now….right now it’s just a hope.
So here it is:
You need to start laughing with us when we invite you to.
With our art pieces, with our music, in our plays, conversations and with our stories, we you to be laughing with us.
You need to be laughing with us to truly heal, it’s Indigenous medicine and it is necessary together.
This keynote is a laughing matter.
I’ve got to start with who I am and where I come from. I know that some of you in this room know me but I want to presence myself and introduce some of my Ancestors.
Having my Ancestors in the room with us, is really important because it honours them and when mine come, it pulls into relation yours and so some of yours arrive too.
And our Ancestors have some things to talk about.
I come from 4 Nations. Which makes me a super indian and the reason why I’m so obnoxious.
I do think sometimes when I get introduced people are like HOLEH how many indians is she?
On my Matriarchal side, I come from the Tshilqot’in and Dakelh Nations. This is near the Williams Lake and Prince George area.
My mother is Terri Harvey - the most loving Matriarch I’ve ever met. Mom’s parents and my Grandparents were Emma Mack, a fierce advocate for Education and Maxine Mack an inductee in the BC Cowboy Hall of Fame.
The Tsihlqot’in is where I spent the majority of my summers as a child, on the Anaham rez, making fires and falling face first into cow pies. Which was really exceptional indian training for the steaming pile of colonial shit people try to feed me on the daily.
The Tshilqot’in are fierce Indigenous peoples, the interior demands it. The land demands it.
Here are a few examples of what I mean.
In 2014, after 20 years of fighting the canadian state, the supreme court of canada, made a unanimous precedent setting decision that confirmed we had aboriginal title to over 1,700 square kilometres of our homeland, not just “old village sites” as the canadian state had argued. This was the first time in canada aboriginal title had been confirmed and my people fought for decades to accomplish this.
In 2017, we were the first Indigenous community in canada to say no to a federal evacuation order, we made this decision to stay and protect our community after the government abandoned us and then the royal canadian police threatened to take our children away.
Our community members, who are trained in fighting wildfires, community members including my Uncles, Aunty’s and cuzzin’s fought the blaze so successfully not a single dwelling burned.
It was such an awesome event - and we made t-shirts. I’m wearing one right now.
My Uncle Victor gave me a two extra that I brought - anyone else want one?
In 2018, the prime minister of canada exonerated six Tsilhqot’in men, hanged in 1864, for leading an uprising against the settler colonials illegal occupation on my Indigenous Nation.
I come from badasses and I’m damn proud of it.
On my Pa’s side we come from the Syilx and Kutanxa Nations.
My Father is Harold Harvey and his parents and my Grandparents were Susan and Joe Harvey.
My Father is the most extensive and accomplished learner I know, he truly is the most humble and smartest person I know. Which is wickedly powerful combination.
On my Syilx side we come from leadership, a long line that goes back to the 17th century from what we know.
You know that valley in between Merritt and Kamloops called Nicola? That’s named after my great great great great great great Uncle, Chief N’kwala.
My relatives travelled all over Europe to meet with King George and the Pope to try and get the colonizers to respect Indigenous peoples inherent rights.
The Interior Salish is unceded land and the King’s and Queen’s over the Atlantic had made oral agreements with us about respecting our land and title rights to fish and hunt and use the land as we have done from time immemorial.
My Ancestors we’re a part of the Interior Indian alliance where over 20 Chiefs worked to ensure our people had the opportunity to live peacefully.
So on my mother’s side, I come from fighters and my father’s side I come from diplomats.
My Ancestors did their work over generations - the work to get the colonizers and the non-Indigenous peoples to do right by us and I stand here before you in continuance of that work.
As you can see - we’ve got some images from Kamloopa and other projects and processes rolling behind me- so if you get bored just play picture roulette and try and guess what’s what.
I think in every opportunity I have it’s vital to presence happy, beautiful Matriarchal faces, spirits and bodies.
How many people were able to see Kamloopa?
Kamloopa was my first play that went into full production. My first production that i got to implement working in the Indigenous methodology that centered the needs and wellness of the artists engaging with the story.
Creating and implementing this Indigenous centered approach was necessary for me to feel ethical to the artists I engaged with.
But I’m not going to stand here and give more attention to the cultural, spiritual, physical and mental violence and challenges I endured in the earlier part of my career because that is going to feed into exactly what we don’t need you doing anymore.
We don’t need your pity, we don’t need your tears of pain, guilt and shame. We don’t need it, I don’t want it.
As I said before we need you laughing with us and sharing joy and happiness with us. And with this journey we are going to have to build our capacities to hold many conflicting truths and realities. Doing that is a part of the growth.
Right now, young Indigenous artists are working their butts off in Eurocentric institutions across your country, Indigenous artists working under Eurocentric normative ways of creation and Indigenous audience members sitting in Eurocentric hegemonic dominated theatres - being oppressed, hurt, dismissed and enduring continued attempts of erasure.
That is fact and that is happening right now and we are all responsible for that, including me. But know that slaxts, know that complexity and know that even though that is happening - you still have permission to laugh with Indigenous artists - especially in moments we invite you to.
Here’s what you cannot do right now, you cannot sit there and turtle in - resist slaxts - don’t let the shame and guilt close you off. I don’t want, we can’t have you shut down.
We gotta be brave and lean into the vulnerability it takes to be courageous.
See now I’m paraphrasing Brene Brown and trying to hock it off as my own. No no no I’m kidding.
But I do really listen and learn from that woman - she’s a research professor who studies courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Her Ted Talk on youtube has 35 million views and I think I account for a significant number of those counts.
You see because a big part of my practice is making decisions in my life to make me brave, to be courageous with my choices.
What Brene has learned through her rigorous research is that the only way to be courageous, the only path, truly the only doorway is by being vulnerable.
Brene defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”
That’s what Kamloopa is for me.
In every aspect of it. From ideology, creation, execution and embodiment - it was my greatest endeavour of being vulnerable and ultimately it allowed me to be brave.
And here’s where I keep diving in to the process - the bravery allowed me to write the jokes, to offer humorous and complex situations and allow the women to laugh through the very real emotional intersections Indigenous womxn face today.
I see it as a series of doors to enter and walk through to get to the joy.
Vulnerability - truth - courage - humour - laughter -
You see had I written Kamloopa in my 20’s it would have been a trauma sale. It would have been each character crying “why me, why us?!”
Armouring up and fighting the world. It would have been a trope, a caricature of what an Indigenous womxn is. One note, one dimensional, and lacking any complexity, scope, truth and ultimately vulnerability.
Because I was not capable of being vulnerable, I was not courageous and I was not able to laugh because I still had a lot of healing work to do.
And that my slaxts, is that is where the majority of non-Indigenous folx are at unfortunately.
The formidable Indigenous artist Yolanda Bonnell recently posted an article by Vivek Shraya entitled “How did the suffering of marginalized artists become so marketable?” if you haven't read it - you can check out my blog entitled “Indigenous Booty and Comedy Over Indigenous Trauma Story Sales” and it links to the full article.
I am going to read out the incredibly direct and important social media thread that happened with Yo Yo posted the article.
Yo started with:
"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."
A Settler added "We just don't know when to laugh"
The poignant actor and artist 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 responded with:
"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 Brown and Kaitlyn Yott did with nuanced comedic approaches.
Edward B Smith is spot on. If you’re not laughing, especially at some of the softballs I wrote - I have to question the work you’ve put or 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. I also studied the laughter - who was laughing with us and who was laughing at us.
I found it very revealing.
One of my biggest concerns, a concern that I thought thoroughly about when I was writing it, directing it - was they might not laugh.
Of course comedy is subjective so there might not be laughter because it’s not your cup of tea but my bigger concern was that they, you might not and some will not laugh because non-Indigenous folx are so frozen by guilt and shame because they haven’t done the work. The work that Edward B Smith talked about that almost all BIPOC’s have had to do.
How many people here were able to see Corey Payette’s Children of God?
Yes, wonderful, there are many powerful moments in that show and I am really honoured to have been in the first production if it.
On top of acting in it - I’ve had the privilege of facilitating and holding space in the post-show conversation for around 50 shows which results in interacting with close to ten thousand audience members - I call that the front line work.
In that front line work, as an actor, community worker, writer and facilitator I know first hand - just how scared some of you are.
I’ve seen it night after night, talk back after talkback - crying or frozen and some really truly hurting.
And here’s the thing, I see the sincerity, I see it my slaxts but here is my answer because it’s the only thing we can control, the work that is going to move you to continued motivated action - you have to go and heal yourself.
Because that unhealed pain, the tears is continuing to maintain the status quo of oppressing and marginalizing Indigenous peoples.
The unhealed pain of non-Indigenous folx, those who come up to mic’s at talkbacks, on the street, on social media posts asking “but what can I do? What can I do?”
Is freezing us all in time because this work is relational, we have to move forward together and we can’t if you’re frozen in pain.
Here is an offer - investigate what’s happened in your life that has resulted in you not knowing more about Indigenous ontology.
Interrogate your lived experiences that have kept you from having Indigenous peoples in your life on the regular.
Trouble your pain, trouble it because it troubles us everyday.
We have not had the privilege of not working to heal because it is that urgent for us.
Ask yourself why you have not done it already. Because non-Indigenous folx - you frozen in shame actually obstructs “reconciliation”.
And let’s just take a moment to talk about that word - just a moment because it’s already cost us a lot.
I personally think that they should’ve called it The Indigenous Truth and Justice Commission. In fact, I think it has actually been a colonial tactic to use a word that could be mistaken for something like copulation.
In no way does that word resonate with me. It feels heartless.
Sounds like, I've lost all patience.
Reconciliation is defined as “the restoration of friendly relations”.
First of all who said we wanted to be your fucking friends - cause let’s look at what a friend is -
1. a person attached to another by feelings of affection - ummmm 2. a person who gives assistance - you came here totally unprepared, like you wore bonnets and tailcoats and had no idea how to hunt. You’re like that friend who's like useless in too many situations and you’re not sure how they make it everyday. And y'all didn’t - we had to literally feed you. 3. a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile - There is this the quote example in the Merriam Webster which goes “who goes there? Friend or foe?” obviously we landed on foe real quick.
4. a member of the same nation - absolutely not - but there were and are some seriously delusions about that one.
In conclusion and by definition, I think we can all agree that we Indians did not want to be your friend.
But let’s get back to that word “reconciliation” - “the restoration of friendly relations” this makes another big assumption that there is something to restore and in my understanding there is nothing to restore - it was a fucked up and shit relationship to start and thus the concept of “reconciliation” is one enacted by the state to keep us in a dynamic that gives no power to Indigenous peoples to be in permanent subservience to the imperial monarchy.
And I’m refusing that. And that takes a lot of work for me. See I’m not just asking you to do The Work, you need to really, really see the work that Indigenous folx are doing on the daily.
We had to get past the fragility of doing the work and to truly get uncomfortable to shift our way of knowing to see it through an Indigenous lens.
And I want to help you.
Learning and knowing Indigenous epistemologies is about being vulnerable enough to know you won’t ever really know a thing and with that understanding we still work to exist in a vulnerable state, without judgement or shame but rather with the deepest empathic relationality.
I crave humility in the non-Indigenous community. Humility is very different than guilt or shame which some white folx mistake.
Humility is defined in english as “having no pride or being low” and holeh no wonder nobody wants to embody that.
But for me as an Indigenous person humility - in an embodied state - means to not let ego make decisions for me, to respect the knowingness that the universe is so awesome - I will never, ever truly understand.
And so I approach my engagement with the Universe with a impermanent, evolving and deepening respect that I have to work hard everyday to understand its aliveness. That I wake up shifting and reflecting on the way that I experience something because I know that I am in relations and connectivity with everything around me.
So to be a good Indigenous community member I am humbled by the task to ensure that everything around me is healthy and in good relations.
I am accountable for feeding, respecting and nourishing all these cosmological connections.
I experience them as threads - connections of energy.
I do an inventories of which of my connections need attention, which need me to nourish them because we are like trees. Our nourishment exists and relies on the active participation of a collective network.
We all have to give energy to our connections because nourishment happens through bearing witness to one another which is deep listening, nourishment happens through empathy, nourishment happens through love and it happens through laughter and these healthy relations of connectivity need all of these things to stay healthy.
And presently we are not in healthy relations and my people are desperately trying to send nourishment and nutrients down some of these threads but if the other end is disconnected, ignorant, frozen, shutdown - then this work, this relationality becomes impossible.
I empathize with you Medo’s because the settler-normative way of being or ontology is about knowing something fully and if you don’t then there is this shame attached and you’re intelligence is reduced by the culture and that blows.
This shame culture you exist in fails us all. It truly just sucks.
For me as an Indigenous person - our culture is almost the exact opposite. We know and celebrate our community members who live in the vulnerable, the courageous and with humility.
Because the teachings and culture embrace that the world is just too big, the concepts, dimensions, the realities are truly unknowable and knowing that, to me, is Indigenous intelligence.
So, when we ask you to come to an Indigenous artistic ceremony I believe we are offering you the space to be brave and to be conscious and aware of the connections we are trying to make so you can participate in creating, nourishing and healing.
Kamloopa was a great exercise for me to make an offer to the community to come and laugh with us and I saw thousands - and by my almost failing grade 11 math I think about 2,000 people saw her.
And some people did see it and let’s figure out who exactly were those people.
And please don’t lie and sque the data - if you didn’t go I don’t really care - I probably didn’t see your show.
I’ve got a couple questions for the slaxts who went - and I want to remind you that I’m a Brene Brown fan so by participating - I see it as brave.
Also, as a person always trying to embody vulnerability I will share this - when I was sitting at Zawa’s writing this, I remembered that I did not think that me writing a keynote would even be possible.
It’s so important that we just do sometimes to prove to ourselves that it’s not just feasible - it’s possible.
It’s like me and commas - I really don’t know how to use them “properly” is it a list, a breath, or do we just put them in when it looks good - who knows - I just do and therefore I can - ya know? #IndigenousIntelligence
So who saw Kamloopa - raise your hands.
Everyone with your hands down just know that I’m slowly and with a dewey decibel like system filing you in my brain as racists.
Anywho - now of those people that saw Kamloopa, who laughed at least once?
Now of those who saw it - who at one point wanted to laugh but didn’t because they we’re sure if they had permission to laugh?
Who didn’t laugh because they were just scared to?
Well this is interesting - limelet for participating - so early for courage.
Honestly - this is a part of building this new relationship forged with trust and understanding because as my bitch Brene teaches - trust is built in very small moments.
The other thing about trust is that “to choose not to connect when the opportunity is there, is a moment of betrayal.” So I appreciate your active participation.
With this information, we can see that there are some problems here that are unique to the non-Indigenous experience as they intersect with Indigenous artistic ceremony. Problems that actually prevent people from full being able to participate in the ceremony, challenges that actually potentially inhibit me from being able to continue my work.
Because in a euro-normative canadian creation based theatre community, if the majority of people don’t laugh when it’s intended to be funny or feel unsafe or unsure to - that’s an issue.
So let’s take a moment to dig into what exactly laughing is.
In a 2016, Psychology today article by Robert R. Provine, a neuroscientist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland and author of ”Laughter: A Scientific Investigation” and “Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond”
Holy fuck I want to read that book to know what the “beyond” part is.
States laughter is “an unconscious response to social and linguistic cues. Stripped of its variation and nuance, laughter is a regular series of short vowel-like syllables usually transcribed as "ha-ha," "ho-ho" or "hee-hee." These syllables are part of the universal human vocabulary, produced and recognized by people of all cultures/"
So laughter is unconscious - which I know, mine come out in bursts that I literally cannot control. I violate so many colonial social settings because of this unconscious impulse.
I was kicked out of and asked to stand in the hall or go to the principal's office countless times as a youth because I was laughing and it always troubled me because I could not control the impulse. It was a reaction to a set of understandings, like a sneeze - I can’t instantly and honestly manufacture a sneeze and I can’t instantaneously and honestly manufacture a laugh.
My mom gives me the most manufactured laugh I’ve ever heard when she knows I’m trying to be funny but she just thinks I’m not.
Her regular laugh is this incredible sonorous howl that makes you gleeful, her “fake laugh” sounds something like this.
Nothing more motivating to be a better comedic writer than that laugh.
Provine goes on to say “laughter is primarily a social vocalization that binds people together.
It is a hidden language that we all speak. It is not a learned group reaction but an instinctive behavior programmed by our genes. Laughter binds us through humor and play.”
“A social vocalization that binds people together. A hidden language that we all speak”
“Laughter bonds us”
I know it - I feel it.
It’s a bondage I don’t want to ever be released from.
We have all had these cosmologically altering laugh sessions that launch us into a place of pure ecstasy. Where each inhale syncs us, where we laugh so hard we become imprinted on a genetic and blood level.
It is remarkable, these are the joyous moments we gift to our future generations because they impact us so profoundly.
Laughter for Indigenous peoples is a part of the ceremony. Our laughter is truly healing and we do it no matter the situation. Some of the funniest stories and jokes I’ve heard have been at funerals.
Last week I was at Kwikwexwelhp Healing Village which is a min security prison and I was so fortunate enough to have some of the Indigenous men in the healing village read scenes from Kamloopa.
For hours we laughed and laughed and laughed.
We laughed until we cried.
This group had, by really no surprise, some of the most perspicacious analysis of Kamloopa I’ve ever heard. Poetically assessing how we tackled consequential Indigenous matters by wrapping them in comedy.
So why are white folx, struggling to laugh with us - like Yolanda said in some situations, like not laughing at all.
I think a part of it is that even some of the conscious people are so ridden with guilt that it’s shackled them. That because we’ve said over and over for good reason that “the last residential school closed in 1996!” and that “I’m the first generation to not have to go to residential school” that if you were shifting from that fight flight or freeze state - we shocked you right back into it.
Is it the spatial proximity to the trauma that keeps us connected to the pain - which keeps us from being able to laugh?
Yo - we gots to work on that like yesterday.
It’s like this scar on my elbow. You know those blue soft safety mats under the basketball hoops in most community centres and high schools?
Ya that’s because of me. I ran into the wall, full speed and shattered my elbow, dislocated it and broke two bones. So someone was like yo kids are tragic and we need to prevent this shit from happening again, so they threw up some blue safety mats.
I can joke now but at the time when I was in so much pain my eyeballs we’re sweating and if someone tried to joke with me in that moment I would have just bit my whole arm off and slapped them with it.
But now, after healing and gaining perspective, I’m able to take a jab at how absurd that was and I can making fun of how stupid I was in that moment and that doesn’t undermine my intelligence or self worth.
I offer that the healing has to impact and transform your confidence in knowing that we can still talk about these truths and you do not have to shut down - true healing, strong relations are not that fragile.
Provine’s article about laughter continues with “while we usually think of laughter as coming from an audience after a wisecrack from a single speaker, contrary to expectation, the speakers we observed laughed almost 50% more than their audiences.”
I think we can agree that I have absolutely laughed more than you and that’s not egotistical thats just science proven by empirical data.
“The study also showed that banal comments like, "Where have you been?" or "It was nice meeting you, too" -- hardly knee-slappers -- are far more likely to precede laughter than jokes. Only 10% to 20% of the laughter episodes we witnessed followed anything joke-like. Even the most humorous of the 1,200 comments that preceded laughter weren't necessarily howlers: "You don't have to drink, just buy us drinks!" and "Was that before or after I took my clothes off?." being two of my favorites. This suggests that the critical stimulus for laughter is another person, not a joke.”
Okay, okay, okay - some of that is terrifying but let’s just dive into that last part. “Critical stimulus for laughter is another person, not a joke.”
And I do have to agree with that - especially using the case example of Kamloopa - I think a reason that people struggled to laugh at the jokes was because of their relations with the characters - Indigenous womxn.
Indigenous womxn have been so brutalized by the canadian state and there are so many horrifying examples that in turn saturate the headlines to be consumed over and over by people - there’s been a conditioning in the relationality between settlers and Indigenous womxn that only covers a portion of the truthful existence of us.
If all I ever heard about white men was that they are over represented in social welfare systems, struggle with mental illness, predominantly compose the major of sex work - I would, with that narrative also probably pucker up and feel frozen to engage but here is the thing.
That narrative is being fed to you by the canadian state to try and continue to oppress the truth about the strength of Indigenous womxn.
Because the longer we “believe” Indigenous people, in particular Indigenous womxn are hard done by, or always at a disadvantage, or always need to be fulfilling a state controlled narrative of damaged- the longer you believe that, the longer you hold us down.
Not injesting our whole truth, not laughing - is holding us down.
A good friend of mine told me that he got a piece of feedback about Kamloopa that just infuriated him. He said a white women said “Ya know, I did really enjoy it, I did….but you know...I wish...I wish it had more GRIT.”
I was like ummmm ok - what she wanted more “small loose particles of stone or sand” No I don’t think so but the other part of that definition is “courage and resolve; strength of character.”
Which - boggles me a bit because I wrote three women that we’re far more courageous than me, I wrote three womxn to inspire me, to remind me to be grittier.
What I think that woman wanted was their disposition to be more “recognizable” for her, more state controlled narrative recognizable. Gritty like what she sees on the evening news.
And that I refuse to do.
Kamloopa is not and will not be a trauma sale. I won’t ever write one, ever.
That feeds into pity not empathy and if vulnerability is the doorway to courage, empathy is the fucking doorknob.
Pity without being in the scope of the entirety of an Indigenous persons emotionality - is the doorway to guilt, tearsvile and that is boring to me, it’s oppressive, it’s detrimental to my peoples emancipation from the continued state control over our lives and existence.
It’s why we’ve become stagnant in building this new relationship - it feeds disconnection and is the greatest fuel for status quo holding.
If we don’t face these misunderstood cultural ontological differences, if we don’t address the pain and shame we have for our Ancestors doings, if we don’t deliberately and unwaveringly stare into why we cannot see one another with nuance, empathy and real understanding we are going to continue to oppress the freedoms of Indigenous peoples.
We have to, in great detail, see every community members truth and lived experiences.
I had the privilege of seeing Lady Parts at the rEvolver Festival last week with Creators Katey Hoffman Cheyenne Mabberley and players Agnes Tong and Arggy Jenati under the Direction of Pippa Mackie and lost part of my voice because I was laughing so hard.
Their writing and embodiment was nuanced, complex, reclaimatory and joyous.
I was there on the same night that the Cultch received a complaint from a man that said the show was “denigrating to women and the audience got so riled up it became a safety issue.”
This man thought a room full of about 100 predominantly young people and WOC - laughing - was a safety issue.
And I will tell you this only thing being threatened that night was the fucking patriarchy.
There is so many horrifying aspects to that “complaint” I’m just not sure I have the time to deconstruct the oppressive and controlling nature of it.
What I will say is that - as painful as that feedback was - I’m not holding just that man to account because we’ve all and continue to contribute to upholding a community where we allow that.
That is a person, one of many that are in the community, probably in some way sitting here in this room that is so disconnected from the truth of a part of the population and that populations birthright to joke and laugh - it was practically big brothered as a violation against the public.
A person that has so little access to some people in the community, they have become so distanced, they not only won’t laugh but now actively trying to stop others from laughing and healing.
And that is dangerous.
Because for me, humour is an act of colonial defiance, joy as resistance, laughter as an attack on continued state oppression. Nothing bothers an oppressor more than laughter.
Think about it, what do those adults acting as teenagers do in the Breakfast Club when they leave at the end - they are fucking laughing. Laughing their way out of that control.
Also loving - they all fucking get together in that movie and love is also such a brilliant form or resistance but that’s for my next play - spoiler alert Break Horizons is about Indigenous love - get ready mother lovers!!!
So we need to be bravely creating, fostering and nurturing environments that allow the community to bear witness to the truth of one another so we can better serve one another and feed those connections….and that’s why it’s really important that we have strong administrative systems……
Oh fuck in Marcus’ PACT keynote he said to always end on administrative systems but I think he was joking ...ok let’s try this again.
What’s vitally necessary is that we be laughing with one another - knowing that it is the ultimate act of fucking the patriarchy, dismantling colonial state oppression and embodying the new relationship.
And I know you can all do it because did you know that a laugh and a cry are anatomically the same physical action? The fluttering of the diaphragm - it’s the same action - I’ve seen you come for years and years to Indigenous shows crying and crying and crying.
And I’m not saying don’t cry because yes parts of our stories are sad, just like yours but it’s not the full truth, it’s not fully bearing witness if all you do is cry.
Laughter has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, work your ab’s, triggers the release of endorphins, it can even prevent cardiovascular disease.
Crying and sadness is - well it’s an important emotion to feel and it’s a part of balanced release. I know this because I pay a lot of money to my psychologist to teach me that feeling all of your emotions is healthy - thank you Daryl, if you want his contact info please find me after.
But if your unconscious reactions are only allowing you to cry at us and be sad- you’re not standing with us and we so desperately need you to be because a healthy relationship only exists when we bravely and honestly hold the entirety of one another.
We don’t need you to be white person fear puckered - we don’t. We need you in the seats laughing hysterically - causing safety issues.
I once had a boyfriend tell me - and I’m going to share it with you now because I think this whole revolution to Indigenous emancipation could rely on this one poetically elegant distillation:
“Kim, less wah wah waaaah, more ha ha haaaa.”
And that asshole ex boyfriend is right - and you’re missing the party.
Do the inventory to be vulnerable and ultimately courageous and come laugh with us.
I had such a blast and was far less nervous than I though I would be. If you made it to the bottom, all 26 pages of this, you're a fucking rock star.
With so much love, laughter and Indigenous Love,
p.s congrats to Matriarch Yolanda Bonnell for her 4 Dora nominations - get it you beautiful powerful slaxt!
Photo Cred: Tim Matheson.