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Important book explores Indigenous male identity

 

“Who’s Walking with our Brothers?”

It’s the title of the opening chapter of Indigenous Men and Masculinities: Legacies, Identities, Regeneration (University of Manitoba Press, $27.95) edited by Robert Alexander Innes and Kim Anderson.

As the chapter title suggests, the book is an answer to the many books that explore the reality for women in Indigenous communities, but leave men out of the picture. The book is in no way a criticism of books that explore Indigenous women’s issues, but rather an addition to the discussions surrounding contemporary lives of Onkwehón:we people.

The book is broken into four sections: Theoretical Considerations, Representations in Art and Literature, Living Indigenous Masculinities and Indigenous Manhood and Conversations.

Each section has its merits, and breaking the book up into the heavier theory-type analysis, case studies, and first-person dialogue gives a more complete view of issues surrounding the topic, but also makes the book easier to read.

It’s a very interesting book to read, but one that will take a commitment.

Books like this are best used in a college or university level where students can discuss the themes in the chapters at length, or at a book club where readers can come with discussion questions.

Side note: start a book club. They’re very fun.

For example, the chapter “Material of Masculinity: the 1832 and 1834 Portraits of Mató-Tópe, Manadan Chief” by Kimberly Minor would make an excellent session, if not series of sessions in an art history, anthropology or First Peoples’ studies program.

It is a fascinating look at how European immigrants portrayed the Mandan chief and how he himself did as well.

This review indeed could be all about Minor’s essay that includes paintings from the 18th and 19th century that show classic European style portraits from the immigrants, as opposed to active and dramatic paintings from Mató-Tópe himself.

The chapter “Reconstructing Indigenous Masculine Thought,” as well, is an excellent essay and one Haudenosaunee readers will be interested to check out.

Oneida Bob Antone first gives a historical analysis of colonization and its damaging effects, and counters with a plan to initiate healing for Indigenous men.

“The challenge is to re-establish the role that Indigenous men in First Nations’ societies play through a multi-faceted purpose that includes personal wellness, strengthening strong families, and sovereign First Nations that build revitalization movements politically, socially and culturally,” writes Antone.

Antone found that “men generally were feeling trapped in the masculinity of American society,” and looked for material that spoke to the virtues of Indigenous males. He then explores ways men can reset and reconnect to their traditional roles.

“The original sacred role of Indigenous men was reset to a path of self-destruction, and men are now trying to forget the 521 years of invasion and genocide,” he writes. “The masculine role is interwoven within all life forces by a spiritual reciprocal connection understood within Indigenous cultures.”

Other chapters include one looking at masculine identity in sports for the Maori who live in New Zealand, and how the street gangs in various Canadian cities influence perceptions of Onkwehón:we adolescent boys and men.

The conversations that make up the final four chapters provide a perfect cap to the book, as the reader can hear firsthand about how men view themselves, where they came from, the influences on them, and what being a Onkwehón:we man means.

“Being a man to me is not getting involved in the bullshit that society nowadays tells us we have to do,” one anonymous participant responded.

“I was taught providing is more than just your household. As Native men, we have to start getting back to providing for all of us as a nation, and that involves doing all those things that our grandmothers and grandfathers left here for us to learn.

“Taking care of our elderly. Respecting our land, our culture. Right from animals and plants to our reserves where we live.”

 

danielr@easterndoor.com

 

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