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As a Native Artist: I Will Joke No More About Frybread Forever

As a Native artist who is guilty of listicles and memes, it was natural to feel attacked recently. But when can we crack jokes about ourselves?

Is the Native literary and art community a hive mind? A collective comparable to The Borg? Is resistance futile? Like any collective, do we have to come to a unified consensus by a committee of our peers? While we most certainly agree on most things—such as the Washington Reds***s are unquestionably racist—there are also many issues in terms of representation that we don’t all agree on. Is that okay? Will some of us have our CDIB cards revoked? Will we be ostracized or banished for our dissent? Are we disappointing our ancestors, or bringing shame to our future descendants?

If you happened to agree with the recent op-ed Quality and Control: How Native Artists Have Failed to Criticize Each Other—that is if you happened to agree that Native criticism of Native art is important and will only make for better, more substantive works, then congratulations! You support critical thinking and the open exchange of dialog. Welcome to the marketplace of ideas!

However, if you’re not on the same page, and as a productive Native artist, feel personally slighted or even attacked, welcome to the club. As a contributing columnist for Indian country, a writer of satire, and an author of some of those listicles which Mailhot felt a pressing urgency to denounce—listicles and memes which apparently will cause the utter ruination of Native identity, and wipe out all life as we know it—I pledge and testify myself as one hundred percent implicated. Guilty as charged.


You see, it has been within my evil plans, for over two decades now, to destroy all that Native people have upheld as inalienable and divine. Myself, having direct relationship with The Dark Side, the first chapter of my quest for destruction of indigenous intellectual purity and refined, delicate esthetic, is to cull from the shady edges of the streets and houses, and pow wow grounds, only the richest and most beautiful of all humor, slapstick, cheeze, and schtick; all of that wonder which abounds from Native culture. Every frybread joke, every mother-in-law quip, every rez dog wise-crack, and then I shall erect a mighty tower—a listicle if you will—of memes, in which I shall then use as my throne, upon which, I shall wreak havoc upon all that is good within the land. I’m here to burn it all down. Set the bar low, lower, lowest. I am the twerking diva of Native American identity and art. I am the cheap floozy your mother is worried you’ll bring home.

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You’re on to me.

But I will not stop there. Oh no, fearful mortals. I shall then take up pencil, paint, and paper, and deify our most iconic Indian champions, saviors, and legends, until such a time that their images are ubiquitous and sullied, and should any poor soul feel emboldened with their grace, inspired from such figureheads, willing to push on for another day amid this cold, hard, world, I shall tease them further with a comedy sketch and present it on a nationally televised news/comedy show, for which all of a collective pride and ensuing mirth and hilarity will shrivel to dust at the gates.

And then I shall build a tower of frybread jokes, upon which Indian humor will be cast upon, forever enshrined, and so the people shall laugh, and so the people shall share the connection of an insider joke, a standard punchline, an old gold gag, which those on the outside will not understand, even if it is told in the enemy’s tongue. And then ruination will be, but those of the people who live their lives humbly and with love and grace in their hearts, those for whom the Facebook “likes” and the Twitter “reposts” validate all of existence, so the people shall laugh. Yes. They shall laugh. And it shall be medicine. And it shall be good.

Forever and ever. Infinity. As long as the grass shall grow and rivers flow…

Tiffany Midge is a poetry editor for The Rumpus, and an award-winning author of “The Woman Who Married a Bear.” Her work is featured in McSweeney's, Okey-Pankey, The Butter, Waxwing, and Moss. She is Hunkpapa Lakota. Follow her on Twitter @TiffanyMidge