Page 58

Justice and the Indigenous Peoples of Canada PART 4 - THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING FUNNY GOING ON Anecdotes revealing the intrinsic sense of humour of Indigenous people everywhere Norm Zigarlick, an itinerant senior based in AB/SK [Series began in the Winter issue, Vol. 29, No.2]

Something that regularly gets missed in discussions about, or the typical portrayals of, indigenous people, is the role that natural and abundant humor plays in everyday life. I've had the privilege and opportunity to witness this many times during the course of my life. It doesn't matter if it’s a serious politNorm Zigarlick ical discussion, a hunting trip, a social gathering, a work environment or just discussion over a cup of tea, humour always slips into the conversation somehow. In the course of my 70+ years, I've spent time with indigenous people from the high Arctic and on down to the Great Plains, people from the northern woodlands and from the Rocky Mountains. I've yet to get to know one that didn't have a well-developed sense of humour. There is no style of “aboriginal humour” that might be considered standard, it comes in all forms from sarcasm to flat out off-the-wall bizarre and everything in between. There are few boundaries. I've decided to give a few examples of how humour has manifested its self in circumstances I have been directly involved in. My story telling abilities may not be able translate these circumstances well. It would be hard to explain how edgy things are when a polar bear is wandering around a tent or when a fight is about to break out in a public place and how anything would seem to be funny at the time. I’ll give it a shot, in no particular order. ≈∞≈

During the spring of 1977 I was flying a ski-equipped Cessna 185 on a wildlife survey in the northwest corner of Hudson's Bay. Wager Bay was the center of the survey, in part because it was near a proposed natural gas pipeline route from the high Arctic, and in part because it was going to become a park. Our operating base was actually at Baker Lake (now in Nunavut) but we had a fuel cache at Wager Bay so that we could fly well to the north without having to burn up time going back for fuel. There were three of us on the crew. I flew and navigated, Judy was the wildlife biologist who planned the routes 58 dialogue

AUTUMN 2016, VOL. 30, NO. 1

and the daily tasks, Larry was a young Inuit guy of about 20. He was a paid observer and a guy who could keep us alive on the land if that became a requirement. The month of May at Wager Bay is still what most of us would call winter, not terribly cold, but lots of ice and snow and nobody wearing Bermuda shorts. One afternoon we landed on the ice next to the fuel cache to top off our little airplane. This took a half hour or more because fuel drums had to be dug out and rolled down to the 185, then hand pumped up into the tanks. Wager Bay has steep and spectacular cliffs all around it, some in the order of 500 meters high. While we were fueling, an intense spring snowstorm arrived over the cliffs and in a matter of minutes visibility was down to near zero. After a couple of hours or so, it was clear we were there for the night. It doesn't really get dark there in May, night is just an expression. During my first night at Baker Lake, a week or two earlier, I woke to a hell of a racket with kids laughing and people cheering. I checked the time, it was 2:30 AM. There was a game of scrub baseball being played on the road in front of our accommodations. In any case, Wager Bay was home for the time being. We were well equipped for this type of thing. We set up our tent, rolled out the sleeping bags and cranked on the Coleman stove for food and heat. Twelve hours later the Cessna 185 was only partly visible under a wall of fresh drifted snow and we were still going nowhere. Did I mention Wager Bay has a very high polar bear population? About noon of day two, Judy left the tent to do what people have to do sometimes. She was back inside in about 15 seconds. She said, “Larry there are new polar bear tracks just outside the tent.” He said, “uh huh.” He wasn't the least bit worried. Judy was. As part of our kit we had a government Winchester 30.06 rifle. She asked Larry if he would show her how to use it. He asked why, and she replied that in case he and I were both out of the tent, she would like to know how to use the rifle if there was an emergency. Larry took a sip of tea but said nothing. Judy asked again. He said, “no.” She said, “why?” He said, “I thought about it, and I'd rather get eaten by a polar bear than shot by a woman.” He never so much as cracked a smile until both Judy and I were laughing. We never …/

Dialogue Vol.30, No.1 digital edition  

Canada's unique volunteer-produced magazine for ideas, insights, critical thinking & radical imagination - shared in letters, essays, storie...