The (hilarious) comedian Jim Gaffigan mentioned Indians on Conan O’Brien. He also mentioned the Black Hills. He did so in his typical funny way—he is a comedian, after all. I’ve always liked him—his voices are hilarious. On Conan, he didn’t make a political monologue or soliloquy or anything major—he made one very smart and politically aware joke.
That’s what comedians do. His joke happened to mention Indians.
Shortly thereafter, I see 10 posts on Facebook that Jim Gaffigan is talking about Indians.
Shortly thereafter that, I see 10 Twitter posts that Jim Gaffigan is talking about Indians. People tweeting to him, getting his name tattooed on their chests, right beside John Belushi’s name. “Holy crap, Jim Gaffigan is talking about Indians on Conan! He mentioned us, and it wasn’t bad!!!”
So what? Indians talk about Indians all the time. Here at Indian Country Today Media Network, we talk “Indians.” A lot. Too much, sometimes; I occasionally want to hear about Mongolians (I hear they have goot beef) or the French (I hear they have good toast and fries). Indianz.com talks about Natives. I hear that Beyond Buckskin (beyondbuckskin.blogspot.com), Native Appropriations (nativeappropriations.blogspot.com), Ruth Hopkins, Chuck Trimble, Randi Rourke, Native America Calling, etc., all talk about Natives. A lot. We are fortunate enough to have all these networks that discuss our Native people in detail, and still some Natives get excited when a white comedian makes one joke about Indians?
Do we really value white people’s opinions about Natives that much more than our own people’s opinions? Are we really that attention-starved—we get happy whenever we get a moment’s attention from famous white folks? I don’t see those types of celebratory tweets and facebook messages when Ruth Hopkins writes something about Indians, and her articles are freakin brilliant!
The quest for approval and validation is profound indeed.
In my estimation, cool, when non-Natives eventually see the richness of our cultures and want to meaningfully engage, that’s obviously a good thing. Still, we have to appreciate and develop the networks that we have; cultivate the wisdom that we have internally—the Native people who give very smart and detailed analysis about Native life from 50 different viewpoints. If Jim Gaffigan (or Johnny Depp or Barack Obama or Marlon Brando or Jane Fonda) doesn’t say anything about Indians, these amazing Native people and networks will still be here informing the masses about how to get stronger, better, smarter.
Gyasi Ross is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and his family also belongs to the Suquamish Nation. He wrote a book called “Don’t Know Much About Indians (but i wrote a book about us anyways)” which you can get at www.dkmai.com. He is also co-authoring a new book with Robert Chanate coming out in the Summer of 2012 appropriately called “The Thing About Skins,” and the website and publishing company for that handy, dandy book is www.cutbankcreekpress.com (coming soon). He also semi-does the twitter thing at twitter.com/BigIndianGyasi