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Indigenous Peoples Day is no joke. But these Native comedians want you to laugh

Katianna Warren, right, laughs with Miztlayolxochitl Aguilera at festivities kicking off Indigenous People Day in 2018.
Katianna Warren, right, laughs with Miztlayolxochitl Aguilera at Indigenous Peoples Day in downtown Los Angeles in 2018.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Indigenous Peoples Day is no laughing matter.

But IllumiNative, a nonprofit working to increase Native visibility in American society, is celebrating the day with a list of 25 Native American comedians to follow.

“I read more about Native American history in the ‘Twilight’ vampire books than I did in my actual history class,” comedian Joey Clift quipped in Comedy Central’s Instagram story. “My main takeaway was that my ancestors were werewolves? Rawr. Sorry, just kidding, it’s not true, it’s not true. I wish it was, but it’s not true.”

Clift, a Cowlitz Indian tribal member, took over Comedy Central’s Instagram on Monday for Indigenous Peoples Day. He also put together IllumiNative’s list of Native comedians.

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“When you meet a Native person, don’t immediately ask how they feel about Elizabeth Warren,” Clift told Comedy Central’s audience. “That would be like me marching into a white lady’s house and asking how she feels about the band Maroon 5. Those are both loaded topics!”

Indigenous Peoples Day, celebrated on the second Monday in October, began in Berkeley in 1992 as a counter-celebration held on the same day as the U.S. federal holiday Columbus Day. Los Angeles celebrated the day for the first time in 2018, a year after the county Board of Supervisors passed a motion to observe the holiday instead of Columbus Day in Los Angeles County.

Clift’s Instagram takeover promoted the 25 Native American Comedians to Follow in 2020 list, recognized Indigenous Peoples Day and touched on Indigenous cultural topics ranging from Sen. Warren’s infamous claims of Native American heritage to the controversy surrounding the name of Washington’s football team.

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“Native people only have red skin if they’re really badly sunburned,” Clift joked on Instagram. “So if you see a Native person with red skin, don’t name a sports team after their disfiguring injury. Give them some aloe!”

While Clift’s Comedy Central set followed the narrative of “things you didn’t learn about Native Americans in high school,” the Native American comedians he curated for the IllumiNative list cracked a wide range of material.

Jana Schmieding of the Cheyenne River Lakota Sioux Tribe took to social media on Monday with a reminder that “you’re a guest on these lands!”

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Brian Bahe, who hails from the Tohono O’odham Nation and is also Hopi/Navajo, fused Indigenous humor with a nod to Sunday’s National Coming Out Day.

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Adrianne Chalepah, a part of the Kiowa/Apache of Oklahoma, talked about the intersection of the Native and LGBTQ+ communities too but on a more serious note.

“In Indian Country we need to get rid of the colonial binaries in regards to sexuality. It’s harmful to our communities to not hold safe spaces for LGBTQ+,” Chalepah wrote. “Also, I’m sick of straight Native men relying on gay jokes to be funny.”

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Here’s a taste of what others on the list had to say.

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