Comedian Dallas Goldtooth says reconciliation needs humour

Comedian and environmental activist Dallas Goldtooth sees reconciliation and healing through laughter and humour, and that will be his keynote message at the REDx on June 2 at the University of Calgary.

Comedian and environmentalist will speak at REDx about laughter as part of reconciliation with First Nations

Comedian and environment activist Dallas Goldtooth sees reconciliation and healing through laughter and humour. (Courtesy of REDx)

Comedian and environmentalist Dallas Goldtooth sees reconciliation and healing through laughter and humour, and that will be his keynote message at the REDx, an Indigenous speaking event similar to the TEDx talks.

This year's event will focus on reconciliation and falls on the one year anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's report. It's set to take place June 2 at the University of Calgary.

"Comedy, it allows us to engage in topics from a different standpoint other than anger or, you know, direct sadness," said the Mdewakanton Dakota and Diñe man, known for his fight against the Keystone XL pipeline.

"I think comedy allows us to process information and experience, and in the case of reconciliation and trauma, in a different manner that provides some positive healing and provides a positive discourse on the subject."

The co-founder of the comedy group the 1491s sees reconciliation as complicated because non-Indigenous people maybe new to the discussion, while First Nations have ongoing grievances and problems.

"I think reconciliation is a tough thing to approach. There's so many ways that people can define it. My hope with my presentation is at least not to shy away from the content of reconciliation," Goldtooth said.

Comedy is a "powerful medicine" and a way to open up discussion about sensitive and often traumatic topics, he said. 

"Indigenous people across Turtle Island [North America] understand that laughter is medicine, that humour is medicine, and so it's essential as we proceed to talk about reconciliation or healing within our community that we have to have laughter as part of our healing process, and that's why I feel it's important to have comedy."

Goldtooth also hopes that not only comedians but everybody can find something to laugh about.

"Satire offers us another way to see the problem, another way to critique the problem. Also born out of it, that it makes us feel good about developing and identifying solutions to those problems."

'Gold'-tooth comedy

Goldtooth got into comedy because he liked to make people laugh, especially his family. His father, Tom Goldtooth, was one of the leaders of the Indigenous Environment Network, and that helped to form his passions.

"Society is so easy at boxing people into limited identities and for me as an artist, I have a passion to make people laugh, and at the same time, I have a passion to organize and help communities."

Goldtooth said reconciliation isn't all about laughter, and at the end of the day, it needs to be about understanding.

"I wouldn't claim a successful reconciliation solely based on how many people feel good at the end of the day. I would base it on how many people understand the systemic nature of their existence and how their actions or inactions could potentially place trauma onto another human being."

REDx Event

The event will feature five other speakers, including former Truth and Reconciliation commissioner Marie Wilson, physician Esther Tailfeather and activist Erica Violet Lee.

"It matters because it's Canada's only international Indigenous speaker series, and the only such forum giving voices for discourse on issues of importance to Indigenous peoples," REDx spokesman Tim Kenny said in an email.

Kenny said the event will feature talks from "Indigenous thinkers, elders, creatives and allies." 

Goldtooth said he's excited to be part of the conversation.

"It's promoting stories of resiliency and empowerment and also having really good discourse on the issues and having really good discussion on the really good stuff on the reconciliation in Canada."