I had the opportunity to see a play and comedy show all rolled into one man recently and I was struck with how effectively this man gets the message across that alcohol and drug abuse are bad for you. I’m not the one to say that these topics are funny, yet, somehow, I was laughing with many other people at the slapstick antics and fast delivery of his jokes that seemed to roll off effortlessly into the eager to please audience. There were many young people there to absorb the message and older ones were touched by the truth behind the punch lines.
Don Burnstick is a funny and yet serious man. He’s from out west in Manitoba and has been around some, spreading his comedic gospel of community life and people who live those common next-door-to-you lives. Don is a comedian with a serious message for young and old, using the medium of stand-up comic and theatrics to heal people. Don said that people have to heal themselves using laughter as serious medicine.
Burnstick’s comedv focuses on your average small aboriginal community and the laughter that comes from appreciation of his jokes only proves that native people can still look at themselves in a humorous fashion, even after traumatic topics are brought up, or even after these often dangerous actions occur in real life. I looked around the giggling audience to see if some message actually sank in as to the seriousness of topics, such as alcoholism and drug abuse, child neglect and domestic violence. Later on, after talking to a good friend, he pointed out that we didn’t really know that we were laughing at our own actions and foibles and that we were the target butt of these jokes.
Especially when we mimic other cultures over the decades from Elvis to rap, Burnstick points out that we take television for granted and as factual, worthy of imitating, giving rise to the saying that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. He pointed out how we slowly lost our identity as native people by copying foreign cultures like there’s no tomorrow and, almost overnight, we became a people who needed soap operas bingo, alcohol, drugs, weird sex and other vices, just by the virtue of seeing it on TV. Don brought up the fact that young people seem to have cut down a lot on just plain old fun stuff like swinging from a tree versus the dependence we have for instant gratification such as pushing buttons on a Nintendo game to satisfy our needs for the lighter side of life.
Laughter and happiness is an essential part of life and rounds off our circle of healing in hard and difficult times. If you have the chance and you see the little poster hanging on the bulletin board announcing his show, take the time out to go and see for yourself what the fuss is all about. His solo act in the play “I am Alcohol” is worth the effort of turning off the Nintendo machine for an hour or so and educating your child and yourself that laughter does help a lot with healing your inner self.
Not long ago, I was in Chisasibi, because I heard that the long necked Canada geese were on their migration for that weekend and I, being a fanatical weekend hunter, went to my old hunting grounds to partake in that great hunt of all hunts. While I watched and shot at literally thousands of geese, a story went through my mind, a story my mother told me about a similar day, a long time ago in the same vicinity.
When the longnecks were flying, all the hunters and people paddled across the Fort George River to Atawaskouch to harvest these fine birds by the hundreds and thousands. All the hunters lined up in a line that stretched for more than a kilometer across the ridge to the bay and shot at geese as they flew by. To honor this great event, the Hudson Bay manager showed up in his finest suit and constantly flipped a shiny new penny (in those days, a penny was worth much more and was the size of today’s loony) and promised it to the hunter that bagged the most geese that day.
As the hunt went, it was a very successful one, with piles and piles of geese all along the ridge, the hunters taking careful aim and thinking of that shiny new penny. The HBC manager walked up and down the ridge, inspecting the kill and evaluating just who would be the lucky recipient of his shiny new coin. At one point during the day, the manager was aghast with the fact that he had lost or misplaced that valuable penny.
He ordered everyone to stop what they were doing and to look for his precious penny, promising it to anyone who found it and effectively ruining any chance of ending what could have been the best hunting day on record for the kind people of Fort George Island. Much to his chagrin, the penny was never found.
Many decades later, my mother walked that very ridge and talked about the days of old, when something caught her sharp eyes. She bent over and picked it up from the well-worn path that our people walked on over the centuries. “I found the penny!” she proclaimed. “I guess I get to keep it,” she added, thus ending the lifelong puzzle as to what happened that single penny.
For all it was worth, I thought that the story itself was golden and only showed that no matter who we are or where we come from, we should not always go for the tempting prize when our children are at stake, or when gathering food to feed our families is a priority or any other of those values which we seem to be slowly losing over the generations, those values that define us as Eeyouch and people of this land.