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March 18: Teachings of Our Elders - Dr. Twyla Baker, "We Laugh So We Don't Cry" (Part One)

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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 listen to Dr. Twyla Baker, enrolled member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, in part one of "We Laugh So We Don't Cry."

Dr. Twyla Baker:

Sometimes some stories, they don't necessarily always have to have a moral or anything like that. Sometimes they were just for fun. Sometimes they were definitely ones that were intended to teach a lesson, but they might have been kind of flipped on their head. Teach a lesson backwards, so to speak. How not to be, that type of thing.

And we natives, I don't know why we end up being these cigar store natives, or the portrayals of us are of the stoic things, standing with our arms crossed. Because natives are some of the funniest people you will ever meet. I remember just in my professional life, and I hate to call out anybody, but in some of the places that I've worked, my colleagues thought I was the funniest person they had ever run into. And I just felt like, you know what? I am only mediocre at home. I'm not even that funny. So you got to see, some of our relatives are crazy. But I mean, we use humor as a means of teaching those lessons. We also use humor as a means of self-preservation too, because there's a lot of difficult, very, very difficult things that people have had to live through, of course, that we know about. And humor was a means of kind of relieving that stress and being able to... Like they say, I laugh so I don't cry.

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

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.