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New book aims to explode stereotypes about First Nations men

OTTAWA CITIZEN

In Town: Octopus Books, 2nd floor, 251 Bank St., is hosting the Ottawa launch of the book Masculindians: Conversations about Indigenous Manhood, Thursday, May 8 at 7 p.m. The editor of the collection of 22 essays/conversations with leading Indigenous artists, critics, activists and elders on the subject of manhood is Sam McKegney an associate professor of English and Cultural Studies at Queen’s University and he’ll be on hand. Before thogh, he answered some questions about his book.

Tell me how this book came together?

For over a century, the Indian Act was used to force patriarchy onto Indigenous communities that were historically often matrilineal, with adverse consequences for Indigenous women. I wanted to understand the consequences of these interventions for Indigenous men. So I turned to Indigenous artists, activists, academics and elders and invited them to share their thoughts, experiences, and concerns about men and masculinity.

Through their wisdom, the complexities of this history are laid bare — not only how colonial power has attempted to take Indigenous men away from traditional roles and responsibilities, but also how Indigenous men have retained traditions and resisted. The result is a collection of 22 interviews that is heartrending and hilarious, and that I hope will encourage many more conversations on gender and empowerment in Indigenous communities.

Single out some of the more important essays and why you feel they matter.

Contributors speak from a variety of tribal backgrounds, life stages, and gender positions to offer insights on the past, present and future of Indigenous masculinities. Anishinaabe elder Basil Johnston speaks from personal experience about how boys who had been torn from their families created a surrogate community at residential school that enabled them to survive. Playwright Tomson Highway discusses Cree mythology and language to show how in traditional Indigenous cultures gender is fluid and not restricted to male/female. Mohawk theorist Taiaiake Alfred and Cherokee critic Daniel Heath Justice reflect on what it means to be a warrior today.

The stereotype of the First Nations male seems to be similar to the cliché of the African American male; absent, drunk and violent? Is there any truth to that?

As Taiaiake Alfred argues, there’s no living with the colonial stereotype of the Indigenous man, “because it’s not meant to be lived with; it’s meant to be killed, every single time. They’re images to be slain by the white conqueror.” Images of Indigenous men as absent fathers, drunks and abusers absolve mainstream society of culpability for the deplorable conditions in many Indigenous communities by imagining those conditions as the fault of Indigenous men. This is not to say that parental absenteeism, alcoholism and violence are not problems that affect Indigenous men. As with any population that has been subject to sustained dehumanization, these forms of dysfunction occur at distressingly high rates in many communities. However, the stereotypes obscure the complex conditions that create these problems.

I am most impressed by several young First Nations men, particularly artists, who are working today. How important are these new emerging male figures?

The influence of powerful young Indigenous men like Wab Kinew, Ian Campeau, and Niigaan Sinclair is significant because they show Indigenous youth that you don’t need to compromise who you are to have your voice heard. These are successful, eloquent, and fearless men who show pride in their cultures, respect for their elders and strength in the face of broader Canadian racism. They expose the false stereotypes about Indigenous men and they offer alternatives to assimilation.

What does the future hold for First Nations men?

Young men are looking back to their cultures to uncover ways of living that are strong and independent and that also demonstrate responsibility to their communities and to the earth. They are viewing male power as something that develops together with female power, not as something that is taken from women. The colonial onslaught hasn’t stopped, but the tools of resistance are becoming all the more imaginative and effective.

Whatever Trevor

Dis is Trevor.

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