Tea & Bannock: The legacy of Skoden

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For millennials like myself, meme culture is now a big part of our social interactions on Facebook. Over the years, it has become the most common form of humour on social medias and became so viral that some universities like Cambridge are now offering short courses on memes. Memes take many forms but the typical format is a relatable sentence accompanied by an image then spread quickly by Internet users.

Before Facebook, early forms of memes like funny pictures were shared through (quite annoying) email chains, discussion forums and MSN, for instance. Many experts are debating on what was the first Internet meme. My online researches lead me to believe that Godwin’s Law (1990) and Baby Cha-Cha-Cha (1996) were the first ones. Thankfully, memes have evolved since then.

At some point, minorities in North America started making memes for their own community. From that movement emerged Skoden. Skoden is a Native slang word for “let’s go then”, usually said before a fight. “Stoodis (let’s do this)” and “Kayden (okay then)” are related slang words.

The original Skoden meme featured a picture of a homeless man with his fist drawn. We knew him only as Skoden. Just like many other homeless Indigenous folks in this country, he got his picture taken probably without his informed consent and got stripped of his identity. This man died in a shelter in Lethbridge, Alberta in 2015. His name was Pernell Bad Arm, a generous and kind person according to his family.

But something happened in Sudbury, Ontario a few weeks ago. One morning, everyone woke up to a “Skoden” graffiti splashed across the water tower, which confused the non-Natives. At this point, something shifted in Indigenous meme culture. People started to ditch Bad Arm’s picture as more people found out about his story. Even though police consider it an act of vandalism, the Sudbury water tower graffiti allowed Bad Arm to reclaim his dignity in the spirit world.

Laughing is one of the strongest medicines. Evelyne St-Onge once told me that, “If the Innu stopped laughing, we would have died.”

Humour has always been a coping mechanism for Indigenous folks, including me. I often laugh at my own hardships and traumas. It’s soothing.

For some of us, Indigenous meme culture is an easy way to keep the conversation going about politics, ceremonies, colonization and culture. Coping with the burden of colonization and depression is exactly what got Arnell Tailfeathers, a Blackfoot-Cree from Kainai First Nation and an influential meme maker, into memes.

“I also try to communicate political messages through memes, and maybe influence certain people in positions of power,” Tailfeathers said. “The message is mostly implied, maybe subliminal. For the most part it’s observations. But I can only hope to add to the conversation. Specifically, I hope to add a Blackfoot perspective into the Indigenous networks. A fine arts degree in digital media also helps.”

Kyran Auger, Cree from Loon River First Nation in northern Alberta, said he is impressed by Tailfeathers although he says his memes are not as political. “When I bring in my memes, I like to think I have them all prepared in a nice bundle, lay them out in front of the other meme creators and openly display the teachings that come with my meme,” he explained. Auger likes to get his templates from familiar references, like Tipi Tales or Ernest Monias.

Like Tailfeathers and Auger, I believe it’s important to have an internet experience that resembles Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island – especially on Facebook where hate speech towards us is largely accepted – and to reshape pop culture in our way. I also believe memes are a way for us to bond through something other than trauma.

As Auger would say, “All are welcome in the meme lodge.”

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