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FIRST NATIONS COMIC DRIVES HOME A MESSAGE – WITH LAUGHS

FIRST NATIONS COMIC DRIVES HOME A MESSAGE – WITH LAUGHS

By Shayne Morrow. November 9, 2016 Edition of Ha-Shilth-Sa.

Port Alberni - Well-known First Nations comedian-activist Don Burnstick delivered a mix of hilarity, hope and unfettered political incorrectness to an audience of young and old at the DAC Health Ability Fair in the evening on Nov. 3.

Burnstick has been a practicing comic for 20 years, but he has a very serious side. Earlier in the day, he delivered a workshop on Changing the Culture of Violence. He began his act with a shout-out to the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, who are protesting a pipeline project in North Dakota.

“I believe our people in Canada support them,” he said, producing a show of raised fists in support.

During his act, Burnstick tackled everything from dating, First Nations-style, to Stephen Harper and Donald Trump.

The comic revealed that he is 32 years clean and sober. That fact has shaped his career, he explained.

“When I started [in comedy] 20 years ago, I followed my elders’ advice to never swear on stage. And don’t perform in bars. No bars, no comedy clubs – anywhere where they serve liquor.

“I said, ‘Where do I go?’ They said, ‘Go to our communities.’ And it worked.”

While Burnstick has become a mainstay at Indigenous festivals and community events across North America, the venues also include First Nations operated casinos that feature some of the top-rated performers in the business. Burnstick now plays to sellout audiences in halls seating up to 2,000.

On a serious note, the comic said he sees his art as part of the healing process Canada’s First Peoples must undertake.

“Our people are wounded. So we pray, we share, we cry, we laugh. Because laughter is good medicine. And we [First Nations] have the best laughter.”

Burnstick has a YouTube video on the Five Ways that Native Women Laugh that has received more than one million views.

“I have since discovered that, here on the Island, there are 11,” he said.

Taking his chair, Burnstick worked his way into one of the five ways women laugh. Puckering his face, he suddenly exploded into a high-pitched yelp.

Immediately, from the back of the room, one woman erupted into the identical laugh.

She wasn’t a plant. This appears to be a nightly occurrence for the comic.

Burnstick said his elders also taught him the nature of healthy laughter, which is actually a spiritual experience.

“When you’re laughing so hard and wiping your tears, there is someone that you lost – someone that you loved that is in Heaven – is laughing with us,” he said to applause.

“I used to laugh with my brother, until we cried like this. Then he died of cancer. Whenever, in my life, I have laughed so hard that I’m wiping my eyes, I know he’s there.

“That’s a beautiful feeling, and it only comes at certain times. But you gotta be sober,” he added, scrunching his face into a drunken expression. “You can’t be one of those guys who says, (slurring) ‘I’m gonna pour one for you…’”

Burnstick said the essence of native humour is teasing.

“We tease in a good way. We talk, we poke fun and we tease in a good way.”

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"I haven't laughed this hard in years!"