A Native American Humor Primer / 2009

Blog Entry A Native American Humor Primer Aug 9, ’09 10:11 PM
by Ann for everyone
American Indian Humor


Native American humor can be divided into two categories- mixed and Native audiences. Mixed company Native American humor usually involves historical references to displacement of land. Also, such humors show to differing world perspectives between dominant Western and Native cultures. Native humor among themselves (ourselves) revolves with among tribal differences. Additionally, humorous anecdotes are told that often placed in uniquely Native scenarios/locations- BIA schools, tribal offices, dances, 49’s.

Powwow MC’s

Powwow Master of Ceremonies are your host when you visit powwows. They keep everyone abreast of what is happening at the dance- dancers, singers, visitors, staff, everyone. Among their duties is to keep everyone entertained. Between songs, they often tell jokes or funny stories to keep a good feeling going at the dance. This gives the drum time to relax, staff to get ready for specials, dancers to rest, and the hosts to sell raffle tickets. Remember at the powwow you are on Indian Time, so don’t expect precision but you can expect humor. Powwow MC’s are uniquely Native humorist, and new material is a must for them. However, over time they can dig into the archives, which can be fun.

Ay (pronounced as a long “A”)

An expression noting a joke has been recognized. Either the receiver of a joke or prank can call Ay, noting they recognize that a joke or con has been played on them. Or the deliverer of a joke or prank can use the term to note that what they said was in jest. I believe Ay is a uniquely Oklahoman expression, which probably proliferated back in the days of BIA boarding schools. In Oklahoma, boarding schools like Riverside, Sequoyah, Chilocco, and Ft. Sill, brought people from different tribes not only from Oklahoma but nationwide. Surely other pan-Indian BIA efforts such as relocation (with urban centers), higher education (Haskell University, IAIA, SIPI). All together helping to drive this expression to across the nation.


A Navajo/English fusion word predominately, obviously, where Navajos and non-Navajos mix (see previous mention of BIA’s pan-Indian efforts). Sh is a prefix in Navajo denoting the possessive my. English word of buddy, again obviously, meaning friend . Hence, sh-buddy means my friend. The comedic value of its usage typically is used not as a term of endearment, but one of casualness to evoke a response. Such as, “Hey sh-buddy, can I borrow $5.00 dollars.”

Indian (as an modifier- adjective or adverb)

Indian time, Indian car, Indian home, Indian love, etc. Usually used (sadly) in a derogatory manner. Indian time meaning to be late and laissez faire about schedules. Indian cars describing old cars with multiple “issues.” As the term is a negative, should be only used by Natives, who use it to lighten despair. Have heard similarities among African-American usage of ghetto as an adjective; however, unlike ghetto, not ever used as a singular noun- “that’s so ghetto,” could not substitute “that’s so Indian”.


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