Laughter is a Big Part of Indigenous Culture


Sometimes I think April Fool’s Day was created just for me. 

There’s nothing funnier than a good practical joke, especially when it’s planned out. I spent my preteens in the era of real communications. Basically all people had were landline telephones, some of which were party lines.

A party line was a line a person had to share with others, generally a neighbourhood. There was no privacy because other people might be listening to your conversation.

In my neck of the woods, there were only two television channels. Basically most, if not all, communication was done face to face. 

My friends loved pulling practical jokes. It was all harmless fun, like the time we duct-taped one of our friends to the wall to see if it was possible. 

After using about two rolls, we were able to tack him to the wall to a point where he couldn’t move. Then we left him there while we went and played baseball.  

Being young, we didn’t completely think this through, because after the ball game we went back to check on him only to find police cars around his place. 

Apparently someone was walking by and heard someone calling for help from inside the house. The police were called only to find our friend attached to the basement wall. We weren’t charged, but did we ever learn a lesson: the next time we’d duct tape his mouth.

My mother was probably the best practical joker I knew, and most of the time I was the recipient. 

When I was a kid, we had a bear hide we used for a floor rug. The hide still had the bear’s head attached, with the mouth open and the teeth fully exposed. 

I was scared of the bear hide, so my mom would point the head toward the wall or throw a towel over the head. One day I came running into the house only to find the bear hide looking directly towards the door. 

I froze and started to hyperventilate. It was then that I saw the bear move. If I wasn’t so young, my heart would have stopped. 

Just when I was about to pass out I heard my mom holler, “April fool.” After recovering from the initial shock, we laughed so hard we were rolling around on that bear hide.

Mom pulled this joke off by hiding and having the bear tied to a string so she could make it move.

Laughter is a big part of Indigenous culture. If there’s one thing that glues most First Nations together, it is humour.

Some nations, such as the Hopi, Navajo and Pueblo have incorporated clowns and jesters into their cultural traditions. 

These roles are important and respected members of the nation because they are healers. They heal through laughter. The old adage “laughter is the best medicine” could be their motto.

The Sioux nation has a ceremony which they call a Heyoka.  I was privileged to have attended these ceremonies and each one is interesting. Because everything is done backwards, it gets confusing and sometimes hilarious. In the movie A Man Called Horse, with Dustin Hoffman and Chief Dan George, Hoffman portrays a Heyoka. 

He wears a dress and rides his horse backwards. If a person marries into the Hopi nation, they would be one big Hopi family.

Real communication has evolved with a fixation on pixels. 

Before the digital age, mainstream media had their heyday on April Fool’s Day, some with not-so-good endings. In the early 1980s, a television station in Boston reported a giant hill located in the city had a hidden volcano and it was ready to erupt. 

Panic swept through the city and the news director of the station was fired. 

Once, a radio station reported that, because of budget deficiencies, the Liberty Bell was sold to Taco Bell and would be known as The Liberty Taco Bell. 

Even members of Congress fell for it. 

Not to be outdone, CBC Radio once reported the Royal Canadian Mint would be unveiling a threenie, a three-dollar coin to go with the loonie and toonie. There were people who fell for it.

Something I have always wondered is what would Geronimo holler if he had the chance to jump out of an airplane?

One of my favourite April Fool’s Day traditions is a silly little practical joke. I line up behind someone at a ATM machine and just when the person is walking out the door I holler and say, “you left money in that tiny little slot.” You should see how fast they turn around.

After that, you say April fool.