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December 22: Teachings of our Elders - Debbe Poitra on the Importance of Humor

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North Dakota Native American Essential Understanding Number Four is about sense of humor. It states: "Native people have a rich history of shared sense of humor that includes teaching stories involving Iktomi, Maymaygwisi, and Nanabozhoo. These stories and this unique sense of humor continue to support our resiliency and cohesiveness."

In this episode of Dakota Datebook, we'll hear Debbie Poitra, elder, educator, enrolled member of Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa, discuss the important role that humor plays among the indigenous people of this area.

Debbie Poitra:

And when you take a look at all of the trauma that has happened in the past, and continues to happen today because of the poverty and the drugs and all of the other social issues that come into play when you live on the reservation, the sense of humor has been what has brought people through those rough times. And no matter how tough life is at that particular moment, there's always someone who will say a joke or have something funny to comment on or tell a story about one of the family members. Especially if it's someone who passed away, and everybody's grieving, and you're having such a hard time because your heart is so heavy. And they'll tell a funny story about this person. And then, it lifts the mood. And it helps you to be able to deal with the situation.

And it has helped our people to overcome for hundreds of years with the situation that they're living in. I remember back when my dad would tell us that he had to get a work permit from the bureau superintendent, and this was in the sixties, to be able to leave the reservation to go and find work. And when you're put under that type of control by someone else, where you can't even decide for yourself about your livelihood, that can be very traumatic. And yet, they've overcome things like that. They've overcome those hardships. And it's through that resiliency. And sense of humor leads to that resiliency to be able to overcome the issues that they've had.

If you'd like to learn more about the North Dakota Native American essential understandings, and to listen to more Indigenous elder interviews, visit teachingsofourelders.org.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.