How To Give an Authentic Indian Speech

*Editor’s Note: This is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time–give amazing Native writers a vehicle for their writing. There are several that I’m working with, and you can expect amazing stuff from them coming up. Now…I cannot claim credit for the below post, as much I’d love to (although Robert wanted me to make sure and take the blame for the photos. Yes. They’re mine.). Please welcome this amazing young writer and feel free to give honest and constructive feedback. His name is Robert C , from the Kiowa Nation and resides in the Mile High City. He is an obscure figure in the NDN world and has no prestigious awards to his name. Despite this, he endeavors to persevere and strives to be a good relative, friend and ally. His views are his alone (unless noted otherwise) and are not attributable to the host, fellow writers or any other associates.*

From time to time, a news article will appear and report public speaking to be a fear which ranks right up there with death. The article may quote a communications professor who will go on to relate some of the fear-based responses to public speaking—anxiety, sweaty palms, shaky voice, fidgeting, racing heartbeat, etc. Scary stuff, this public speaking.

If this is the level of fear held by the average person, imagine the fear of a Native who has to speak in public for the first time. What can be especially frightening is the belief they have to match the oratory feats of their Native ancestors. However, this fear is largely based on a misconception because many modern Native speakers have already established an easy-to-follow speech template which can be perfected with a little practice. This template works well with a non-Native audience and once mastered, it may pay off by delivering well paid speaking gigs.

THE TEMPLATE

Before concentrating on speech content, an aspiring Native speaker must first focus on a couple of speech elements—establishing credibility through appearance and pronunciation. An almost surefire way to establish credibility, and appear in the media, is to wear a headdress or warbonnet. In the past, some traditions required each feather to be earned until enough had been acquired to fashion a headdress. Nowadays, this type of tradition seems to be irrelevant and the main requirement for wearing a headdress is to take advantage of a good photo op. If a headdress is unavailable, then traditional clothing (or something resembling it) can be worn. It’s not important if one never wears traditional clothing for any other occasion so long as they wear it for a speech.

Another way to establish credibility is to affect a rez accent. This may mean speaking much slower or even in broken English. If one has never spent much time on the rez, watch Little Big Man and mimic Chief Dan George. Much like appearance, it’s not important if one doesn’t actually speak like this at any other time.

Once the appropriate attire is on and the right accent is found, it’s time to move onto the content of the speech. Remember, the following doesn’t need to be reproduced verbatim but it should serve as a general guideline and sections should be included in every speech (to allay fears, speaker notes will appear in parentheses).

Introduce yourself by your ndn name (note-do not look at someone you know when doing this because they may appear confused or skeptical and this may throw you off) Begin with a quote from a famous NDN and then include any or all of the following:

“First, I would like to apologize for speaking before my elders (don’t worry if you have no elders, it sounds good). I am here to speak as a member of the Seventh Generation (every NDN from the age of 6 to 80 make this claim so you are safe in doing so). I never thought I would make it this far because I grew up in a town in which the stores had signs that read “no Indians or dogs allowed.” I am also the product of a boarding school (it’s okay if you are a century removed from this process). I used to be extremely angry at what was done to my people, but a grandparent told me I had to let that anger go and make it in this world, and education is the key (scan the audience for nodding approvals and smiles). Today, education is the new buffalo and warriors carry a briefcase, not a bow and arrow (No one will care if your people didn’t actually hunt buffalo nor will they ask about the contents of the briefcase). Every NDN wants to fight for their people but it is hard because Indians are like crabs in a bucket and we pull anyone down who tries to climb high (every ethnic groups uses this same analogy so you are safe in doing so as well). Despite this, we have triumphed because we are still here and have survived. In fact, Native Americans have served in the armed forces at higher rates than any other ethnic group (other groups make this same claim so you are safe in doing so as well). We are a sovereign people and the treaties are the supreme law of the land that guarantee our right to education, housing and health care (chances are no one will know anything about federal NDN law and will believe your claim). We are all related. Aho!”

*At this point, feel free to talk about your personal life/accomplishments, how hard life has been lately and air any personal grudges you might have. You may also want to mention that we are a spiritual people (speak very softly) and our responsibility is to protect Mother Earth by showing our white relatives how to live in balance (don’t worry if you grew up in the suburbs and wouldn’t last one day without a cell phone, it’s the image that’s important).*

If at any point you lose your train of thought or become confused, explain to the audience that English is your second language, even if it’s the only language you understand. In addition, a rambling, incoherent speech can be justified by reminding the audience that Natives are non-linear thinkers and prone to speaking in circles (Editor’s Note: we live life in circles, no?). Also, if it becomes apparent that you do not have enough content to fill up the time slot, it is customary to pass the time by praying out loud, singing songs for 30 minutes or having the audience perform a friendship/round dance until the time is up. Follow these instructions and you will be a successful speaker.

WARNING

None of this will work with a predominantly NDN audience, but that’s the subject of a different post.

Robert C.
Kiowa Nation

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Published in: on June 16, 2010 at 4:39 am  Comments (37)  

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  1. friggin hilarious!!!

    thanks for sharing Robert’s thoughts. critical views of us– BY US –is what we need more of so we remember to keep it real and not get too big headed when we find ourselves in the limelight.

    please post more of Robert’s work, STAT!

  2. Great post, so funny and so true. I especially like the warning at the end.

  3. I had a really good laugh.. this young writer is quite talented. Keep up the great work Robert C, and thank you Gyasi Ross for providing the forum for brilliant Native people to shine. (btw, is that middle photo from one of my fave films, “Pow Wow Highway”?)

  4. Great Work! Hilarious! I enjoyed reading this. I’m glad that this young person has the ability to use his insight, creativity and especially his humor to write a great piece. Can’t wait to read more in the future.

  5. So true and very well written, love Robert’s wit!

  6. Great stuff, and hurtfully on the mark, or hilariously on the mark, depending if you’re guilty (or savvy) of this routine.
    Hang in there, Robert C., and thanks for bringing this young talent to us, Gyasi.

    Chuck

  7. hil-ar-ious! the cell phone survival, 7th gen and friendship dance got me laughing hysterically!

    (pause) come to think of it, there are many out there that would probably take this seriously…;0)

    thanks for sharing.

  8. This is exactly what I needed this morning before heading into work at a Tribal Office in which several people carry this out on a daily basis. Thoroughly entertaining and interesting.

    The pictures crack me up.

  9. ROBERT! you forgot the customary pot of sage burning on the edge of the stage and the self depreciating jokes- oh yeah that was in there. This was fun

  10. Suggested appendix to include in the part where you talk about yourself and your accomplishments; be sure to tell your audience that dispite your accomplishments, you remind yourself you are only a “pitiful two-legged”.

  11. Classic!! We must put our heads together and conjure up more good medicine like this.

  12. FUNNY, FUNNY, FUNNY
    I couldn’t count the amount of times I have had to endure this mindless, numbing, methodology of speechmaking described by Robert C., almost to the extent that I would wish it upon my worst enemies, maybe not. Brilliant insight followed by great writing. We need that here in Hollyweird. As a Producer, I can’t wait to pitch a funny (comedic) project here, unfortunately, most do not fit that description. Still waiting. Keep up the good work, both of you.

  13. I so LOVE this! and how awesomely true this is right off the back! hahahaha My question? why cant you speak in front of your elders? I’ve always heard that but have not heard why its wrong? or why they have to apologize for it! hahaha Unreal..but true and funny!

    Thanks!!!

  14. Hey Viiiccttorr! I fell into my chair laughing! Friggen hiliarous! We need 1000 more Robert C’s and Gyassi’s and Shermans!

  15. We really need to use this template to create a bingo card to bring to our next gathering. Instead of B-7, it would be a box that had “Aho” in it. Instead of O-78, it would be “wearing a headdress” (or as I call it ‘Indian-Up’ – wearing beadwork, turquoise… etc.) So then by the time they are done with their speech… someone yells BINGO! How Indian is that?!

  16. That is so funny. I haven’t heard anything that good in a long time. Great work!

  17. It’s hilarious! Brings me back to the U.N. forum in NYC when some dude showed up in fox fur (full outfit) and an owl headpeace! Crazy

    The flip side of this… in places where there are barely any Natives, like NYC, DC, Boston, or any other really big east coast joint there are a lot of opportunities to get away with stuff like he mentions, and usually it is accompanied by a big paycheck.

  18. […] How To Give an Authentic Indian Speech (via Thing About Skins and Other Curios) *Editor's Note: This is something that I've wanted to do for a long time–give amazing Native writers a vehicle for their writing. There are several that I'm working with, and you can expect amazing stuff from them coming up. Now…I cannot claim credit for the below post, as much I'd love to (although Robert wanted me to make sure and take the blame for the photos. Yes. They're mine.). Please welcome this amazing young writer and feel free to gi … Read More […]

  19. As an NDN personally facing a first-time presentation to a non-Indian audience this very weekend, this does lots to chill the jitters. Very funny!!! Especially since we really ARE planning for a round dance, hahahaha. Great work, Robert, thanks for sharing!

  20. Very funny! Theresa S., I want some of those bingo cards ROFL.

  21. Loved it, and I’ve seen so many parts of it used over the years. Yes keep up the good work.

  22. Great piece of writing…enjoyed the humor. Suggest you write a humorous piece about powwows in the city or anyplace else where the true meaning of a powwow has been lost… Go after and poke fun at the bogus powwow accent of the announcer or the boy scout regalia of some dancers or the sad fact that cash prizes have to offered in order to powwow dance with the stars. I think native folk from 7 generations back would simply be amazed at how much the powwows, they knew, have changed.

  23. Very entertaining. I look forward to your future blogs.

  24. Great stuff. I espeiclaly like the part about the accent. I have a Rocky Boy accent but I don’t know it, I guess. It’s kinda ironic but the accent actually comes from our Metis side (Ojibwa Mixed Bloods or Cree mixed bloods) and has its origins in the Scotts Irish traders and fur hunters that married into our tribes, and more than a few french. If you talk to a real Irishman or Scottsman you will notice the put an emphasis on a last syllable and “hold” it for a microwecond longer than normal. That’s us. From the French side we get “soft” english. That’s why we say “mudder” instead of “mother” and we pronounce Metis (Mayday) while the English called us Maytay. I have also found some of the “preetiest” Cree is spoken from the Northern Albera, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario Tribes. Not as sharp or gutteral as some Cree, especially U.S. Cree.

  25. I am still laughing….thank you Robert! Love the warning at the end….lol. Please keep writing.

  26. Touché!

  27. Loved it! I could imagine the speakers who come to mind that follow this template. Too Funny!!

  28. I love this! Also forgot to add the starry-eyed white girlfriend standing dutifully behind her man at the podium…

  29. Well done. That was funny. Keep up the great work.

  30. Great stuff…Keep up the great posts!

  31. I laughed so hard! whith the post “how to give an Authentic Indian speech! I love it! I can’t wait to read more from this talented writer, Robert C.
    PS; Love lite foot!

  32. Loved this article and thank you for keeping it real and honest. Especially the 7th generation…I’m going to start using that line on my tribal board and see how well that goes. Haha

  33. […] this is so ridiculously hilarious, we had to repost.  Thanks Robert C for your take on this!  And […]

  34. I loved the ‘non-linear’ part. Often it’s code for ‘I didn’t prepare for this, but I can totally pull it off if I just keep talking long enough.’

  35. I just have to say, I think about this blog every single time I am in a meeting and it just makes me laugh. Ha Ha it ruined me 😀

  36. This speech sounds like one that was said during an opening of our golf course by Dave. Funny to read and think, “I heard this speech before. I was there”.

  37. Very funny. I especially enjoyed the accompanying pictures within the article.


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