On Mar. 6, University of Manitoba Press launched the book Masculindians: Conversations about Indigenous Manhood at McNally Robinson. Editor Sam McKegney, who is also an associate professor of English and cultural studies at Queen’s University, compiled conversations with leading indigenous artists, critics, activists, and elders who discussed how to build “masculine self-worth and how to foster balanced and empowered gender relations.”
At the launch, McKegney argued that the manipulation of indigenous gender systems is integral and central to the colonization of indigenous peoples, and the nation-building project of Canada. Disrupting gender balance, he explained, makes communities more vulnerable to dispossession, removal, and erasure.
Undoing this damage—or decolonizing—McKegney argued, requires “recognizing that hierarchical and patriarchical gender systems have been imposed [ . . . ] [Indigenous peoples] need to invigorate [their own] gender systems.”
McKegney also engaged in conversation with some of the book’s contributors. There to discuss regaining the gender balance in indigenous communities, and rethinking indigenous identities and masculinity, were: Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair (Anishinaabe – St. Peter’s/ Little Peguis), assistant professor in the department of native studies at the University of Manitoba; Warren Cariou (Métis – Meadow Lake), associate professor in the department of English at the U of M; and Duncan Mercredi, a Cree-Métis poet and storyteller from Grand Rapids, a community that has been impacted by hydro development.
Cariou spoke about the autobiography of James Tyman, Inside Out. A non-indigenous family who did not tell him of his indigenous roots adopted James Tyman. At school he encountered racism as other children teased him about his heritage. As an adult, Tyman adopted the stereotypical behaviours he had been teased about as a child.
In Tyman’s experience, we see that indigenous men are constantly confronted with stereotypes and thus they are learned. Cariou argued “stereotypes are so pernicious and so insidious; they are adopted into a person’s identity and it is very difficult to get them out of your head.”
He further explained that it is assumed that sports logos and other embodiments of indigenous stereotypes are “harmless or even honour indigenous people, but when you see stories like James Tyman, you see that they have a very, very powerfully negative effect [on] people’s lives.”
Sinclair spoke at length about the importance of revitalizing indigenous conceptions of fatherhood. He explained that embedded in ceremonial existence are teachings about healthy relationships. Participating in ceremony provides indigenous men an opportunity to relearn indigenous gender systems.
“Everything you need to know about being a man and a father—the humility, the respect, the honour, the truth, the love, all of those things called the seven teachings—you can learn from making a fire [ . . . ] from becoming a firekeeper,” said Sinclair.
“If men saw fatherhood as a role to be celebrated and honoured, it would be a huge step for us as a people.”
Mercredi echoed the importance of traditions, and demonstrated how the dispossession and destruction of lands is contributing to the colonization of indigenous gender systems:
“In Grand Rapids, when the river was still alive there was about five miles of white water. When a child was born, a man would take his newborn and they would ride the river together, just the father and the baby, and the mother would walk back. And all that time we never let the baby go, in all the years we never lost a baby and that was a tradition that died when the river died, and of course things changed after that.”