FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — When reports surfaced that the National Security Agency
had been monitoring the cellphones of world leaders, Arizona blogger Andrew
Curley wrote that the Navajo Nation’s president was furious his phone wasn’t
among those tapped.
The truth is, Navajo President Ben Shelly does not want anyone listening to his
But he and other American Indian leaders constantly do battle with the federal
government for recognition that tribes govern themselves. Curley used his blog,
a riff off the popular satirical newspaper The Onion, to highlight their cause
in a tongue-in-cheek way.
“If the NSA is not monitoring the actions of the Navajo Nation president, as
it does with other world leaders, clearly it sees us less than sovereign,”
Curley wrote in a fictional quote attributed to a Shelly spokesman.
Curley’s blog plays to a culture in which humor is deeply rooted, with jokes,
tricksters and moral lessons going back generations in Native American
traditions, from trouble-making coyotes in Navajo legends to clowns in Hopi
Over the years, Native American writers, filmmakers, cartoonists and comedians
have used the often-dry humor of Indian Country to both inform and entertain.
They often pull from stereotypes, tribal government missteps, a history of
oppression and life on the reservation.
“Humor is just very important to an Indian community anyway, and it’s just
really universal,” said Mark Trahant, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe of
Idaho, who has written on the subject. News satire like Curley’s blog “is an
extension of that,” he said.
Curley, who lives in the small town of Kayenta on the Navajo reservation, uses
pen names and submissions from others to poke fun at politicians, school
officials and sports figures in what he calls “Tlo’chi’iin News,” or
He started the blog last month with the goal of getting people to think
critically about news and to question the motives of people in power.
“It’s just kind of a way to comment on sometimes what I find are absurd
posturing from elected officials or government representatives on the Navajo
Nation and on the national stage,” Curley said.
In other entries, Shelly has written satirical posts about the assassination of
John F. Kennedy; Navajo officials regretting not burying Jacoby Ellsbury’s
umbilical cord in Boston to keep him from going to the Yankees; and a power
company using UFOs to dominate the planet.
Also playing off tribal politics, culture and other themes common in Indian
Country is the Native American sketch comedy group the 1491s.
The group performs onstage and posts YouTube videos, including a spoof
advertisement for a company that uses “Indian medicine” to fix malfunctioning
computers and other office equipment.
“Do you ever have office equipment that breaks down for no reason?” one
comedian says. “It’s not your hardware or your software. It’s spirits.”
The five members of the 1491s hail from the “wooded ghettos of Minnesota and
buffalo grass of Oklahoma,” their website says.
They dubbed a game between two Oklahoma universities earlier this year the
“Land Stealers vs. the Land Stealers.” And a post on their Facebook page tells
American Indians to approach anyone dressed as “Pocahottie” for Halloween and
talk to them in their Native language –“if you can.”
“The only thing for certain is that certain nerves are being struck,” said
group member Migizi Pensoneau, 31. “For the most part, people are happy to see
there’s a bunch of Indian guys using their voices to be a bunch of Indian guys.
There’s something powerful in that.”
Curley is the son of a tribal lawmaker and manages the campaign of a contender
for tribal president. He says political aspirations might have something to do
with the people he writes about, but his intent is not to “demonize potential
Navajo President Ben Shelly, Tribal Council Speaker Johnny Naize, Bates, former
President Joe Shirley Jr. _ likely tribal presidential candidates _ all have
been targets. But Shelly, for one, is taking the attention in stride.
Deswood Tome, who will be managing Shelly’s re-election campaign, burst out
laughing over the president’s supposed antics.
“Anybody who is in elected office is fair game,” Tome said. “Andrew is
targeting them, and he’s bringing awareness through satire and humor.”