Laughter as Medicine: The Power of Native American Comedy

They say “laughter is the best medicine,” but the most powerful medicine of all might just be American Indian comedy. Native peoples on this continent developed rich and complex humor traditions in response to centuries of oppression and the intergenerational trauma of ongoing settler colonization. Jokes were and are used to reflect on life’s ironies, impart wisdom, build relationships, and help heal from pain. Comedy can be one of the most effective tools in the arsenal of Indigenous strategies of deep cultural resilience, and as we emerge from this global pandemic and continue to struggle with dire threats to our people and the planet, we need the healing medicine of laughter more than ever.

Share some laughter and learning with Oakland-based (Yerington Paiute/Washoe) stand-up comedian, writer, actor and producer Jackie Keliiaa; and Cara Romero (Chemehuevi), Program Director of Bioneers’ Indigeneity Program and renowned artist/photographer.

This discussion took place at the 2021 Bioneers Conference.


Jackie Keliiaa

Jackie Keliiaa (Yerington Paiute and Washoe), an Oakland, CA-based comedian, writer and producer, is a regular performer at a number of Bay Area comedy clubs and has performed at San Francisco SketchFest, Punchline San Francisco, Comedy Oakland and Tommy T’s, among many other venues. Some of her performances can be found online at: Team Coco LIVE: Moses & Friends and Illuminative’s 25 Native American Comedians to Follow. Jackie is also one of the comedians profiled in the recently published book, We Had a Little Real Estate Problem: The Unheralded Story of Native Americans & Comedy.

Cara Romero

Cara Romero (Chemehuevi), Program Director of the Bioneers Indigenous Knowledge Program, previously served her Mojave-based tribe in several capacities, including as: first Executive Director at the Chemehuevi Cultural Center, a member of the tribal council, and Chair of the Chemehuevi Education Board and Chemeuevi Headstart Policy Council. Cara is also a highly accomplished photographer/artist.

To learn more about Cara Romero and view her work, visit her website.

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