Gary Fife/Radio Specialist
CMN health awareness event features nationally known guests
WETUMKA, Oklahoma — They are mostly known for their comic performances, but on Sept. 27 they included a motivational message for their audience.
Keynote speakers Tonia Jo Hall and Alayna Eagle Shield, from the Standing Rock Lakota reservation were keynote speakers for the College of the Muscogee Nation Health Awareness Conference at the Wes Watkins Technology Center in Wetumka.
The pair is mostly known for stand-up comedy routines, but they were at the conference to lend their support in raising awareness for suicide and substance abuse prevention and testing for major diseases.
There are a few Native comics around Indian Country, but most are males. The women say they are fulfilling a role for women in their section of the entertainment business.
Hall has had the longer career, playing concerts, conferences, pow-wows and releasing a number of videos on the internet.
Hall said she is keeping busier these days, with bookings practically every week.
Eagle Shield said their partnership allows the two to pursue their own solo careers as well as blending their talents for performances like this one.
“We’re doing both. We’re having our sessions on self-healing, on culture and comedy, but we’re also doing our own thing too, getting solo bookings,” she said.
She explained that they use many of their life and cultural experiences as the basis for their material.
“I think just growing up having experiences on the reservation. We can all relate to having aunties and uncles, experiences on the rez. You know, parties, or just that one store or just being nosy, everything,” Eagle Shield said.
She said these common experiences connect an audience with the material.
“You know when we talk about, ‘Oh, that’s your auntie now, ask her for money.’ Everybody can relate to it, because that’s just how it is. Or when cops are going by, we all open our curtains or call our next-door neighbor or call out aunties who know everything. ‘What happened; what’s going on?’ ” Eagle Shield said.
Hall said a general positive feeling is the main reaction they are going for from an audience.
“Laughter. I want them to feel good. I want them to relate. I want them to leave motivated, I want them to say, ‘Hey, I could do that, too.’ You know, whatever I’m sharing with the motivational speeches with my sister Alayna,” she said.
She also hopes they inspire good habits.
“Like, ‘wow, I should go pray. I should start out my morning with gratitude. I should smudge more,’ ” Hall said. “All these things help me take care of myself. So, mostly I want them to have self-love and get laughter along the way.”
Hall said Indian people connect humorously to tribal family and community life.
“They might know somebody that reminds them of Auntie Beetrus (one of Hall’s characters) and acts like that,” she said. “She acts like she’s stern. She’s a lean, mean fighting machine. She says anything she wants; she’ll fight. She’s not scared of the law; she treats men like a napkin, ‘Wipe your hands and you’re done.’ ”
That last statement was generously peppered with the phrase, “Aayy.”
Eagle Shield added, their humor appeals to all audiences, not just Natives.
“I think really a lot of action because we all know what it’s like, even if we’re non-Native,” she said. “We have friends who have gone through the same similar…(thing). Whatever it is, we relate in that way, through action.”
Hall agrees with that and adds some adjustment is probably needed when traveling to a different part of Indian Country but similar themes always work.
“I will adjust to the crowd, whatever the crowd is and what can relate to them,” she said. “Everyone can relate to kids. Everyone can relate to break ups; everyone can relate to dysfunction.”
Hall admits sometimes a bit of research can help target the humor.
“When I go to different rezs or different places, I try to do a little bit of homework on ‘who’s the who’ in the area; like, what are some slang words; what are some events and clown on those,” she said.
Both Eagle Shield and Hall had some parting words from the Mvskoke people that looked to self-reliance.
“I think that each of you has a message, a story that has created your reality right now. No matter what that is, whether you’re a comedian, give motivational speeches, no matter what it is,” Eagle Shield said.
She said everyone has someone they love to shape a story around.
“Either you’ve been loved before. Even if it’s your best friend, your grandma, your dog, your grandpa,” Eagle Shield said. “You each have a chance to share that with somebody. So, I encourage you to share that love, share that humor; share that story cause it could be a message for anybody.”
For Hall, it is simpler; enjoy life.
“Laugh as much as you can and not take life too seriously,” she said. “There’s a lot of serious stuff in this world, so find your inner child. Dance every once in a while. We all love music and when a song comes on, shake it. Whatever shakes, let it shake.”