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Indigenous masculinities explored

By Andréa Ledding

04/13/2016

SASKATOON — Editors Drs. Robert Innes and Kim Anderson, professors in indigenous studies at the Universities of Saskatchewan and Alberta, respectively, recently hosted a book launch of Indigenous Men and Masculinities at Little Bird Patisserie and Café in Saskatoon.

The book brings together prominent thinkers from the Americas and New Zealand to explore the meaning of masculinity and being a man, within traditions of gender equity and the sacred feminine through art and literature, sport, prisons, and gangs. The voices of indigenous male writers, traditional knowledge keepers, ex-gang members, war veterans, fathers, youth, two-spirited people, and indigenous men working to end violence against women are highlighted to offer a vision toward equitable societies that celebrate healthy and diverse masculinities with an ultimate goal to “rebuild healthy communities and healthy families,” said Anderson.

Two local contributors, Dr. Robert Henry and Allison Piché, shared on their chapters in the book, and their overall involvement in the field. Henry came from a background of working with gang and ex-gang members through a photo voice project for his PhD, collaborating with many members of STR8UP and the work of Rev. André Poilièvre, and so he returned to the men to write his chapter.

“The men created a mask to protect themselves from colonial violence,” explained Henry, who wrote about gangs and masculinity. “They perform a masculinity that protects them, and adopting a mask is a performance.”

He added that vulnerability helps males drop their masks and address underlying issues.

STR8UP employee and MA student Piché spoke about colonial violence and prisons as structures that interrupt and harm healthy masculinity, speaking from her experiences teaching within the penal system with STR8UP and Inspired Minds, and observing that the constant negative interruption and removal of men continues even within the prison system where some of her students are forcibly removed from her classes.

“Indigenous men experience violence, both as victims and as perpetrators,” noted Anderson, adding that they deal with similar burdens as indigenous women and people of colour, but include negative outcomes in the penal system, in education, and in high rates of mortality. “ ‘Who is walking with our brothers?’ is a question we ask in the introduction, having both worked with the Walking With Our Sisters art installation and ceremony.”

She explained that many men feel abandoned, and there is importance in addressing and healing the masculine spirit as well as the feminine.

Colonialism has stripped both males and females of their natural communal authority as it existed pre-contact, and the balance that existed as well as the more equitable roles and overall community balance. In addition, there was more variance for both female and masculine performances, said Anderson. In colonial society, this variance is often replaced with very narrowly performed male dominance and patriarchal violence, a dysfunction that begins in the family and continues in the community through Indian-Act-style governance in a way that maintains oppression, both individually and collectively.

It is important to recognize successes and resilience, though, and tell the good stories of positive male influence, she noted. Contributors focus on areas of strength as well as making critiques of colonial impositions. She often tells stories of her uncles, father, and grandfather and the great men they were, despite struggling with colonial burdens and dysfunctions, including alcoholism. They still worked hard to carry out familial responsibilities and protect their families as best they could.

“Responsibility and identity are intimately connected in Indian country,” noted Anderson of male roles and resiliency.

Innes described the field as relatively new, giving a brief overview of how the book came to be, and how he became involved. An examination of masculinity through family responsibilities was a natural extension of his original work studying the extensive role of kinship ties through Cowessess First Nation.

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