Reclaiming Identity

Reviewed by Yusuf Varachia

“Who’s Walking with our Brothers?” is both the title of the introduction to Robert Alexander Innes and Kim Anderson’s edited collection Indigenous Men and Masculinities: Legacies, Identities, Regeneration, and the central question posed by the editors. The editors open by noting that while much-needed attention has been devoted to the murdered and missing Indigenous women, and the experiences of Indigenous women more broadly, there has been comparatively little attention paid to Indigenous men even though they also undergo experiences of violence and are murdered at a disproportionate rate. In drawing attention to this situation, Innes and Anderson ask us to reflect upon the lack of political will and scholarly attention devoted to Indigenous men and masculinity. They suggest that an intersectional lens that brings together race and gender is needed to understand the experiences and identities of Indigenous men given how they overlap in crucial ways with both those of Indigenous women and men of colour.

Indigenous Men and Masculinities provides readers with a much-needed entry point into the emerging dialogue around Indigenous masculinities. The book is a collection of sixteen essays written by prominent writers, scholars, artists, activists, and community practitioners that collectively explore Indigenous masculinities by providing historical context for these discussions, an overview of the central issues that shape the identities of Indigenous men, and insight into the current movement devoted to the “regeneration” of Indigenous men’s identity and sense of self. The book is divided into four sections and the essays in each of these sections interconnect even as they take very different directions in order to explore their subtopics. The first section, titled “Theoretical Considerations,” theorizes Indigenous masculinities by exploring the differences between colonial influences and Indigenous traditional knowledge and values, and how colonial and Indigenous knowledges impact Indigenous men. As Leah Sneider argues in her essay from this section, colonial pressures sought to unbalance the Indigenous traditions of gender equality and social balance. Sneider uses examples from Iroquoian cultures to bring attention to the fact that within Indigenous cultures, women have occupied positions of power and influence and that the relationship between men and women was seen in complementary rather than oppositional terms. This differs significantly from gender norms found within a Euro-Western patriarchy that has left a damaging impact on Indigenous cultural values.

“Representations in Art and Literature” is the book’s second section, and it centres on the question of how Indigenous men and masculinities are portrayed in art and literature. The essays in this section engage with matters of self-representation, resistance, queer studies, and violence as they pertain to Indigenous men. Erin Sutherland’s essay in this section examines the contribution of art and culture to analyses of Indigenous masculinity by showcasing valuable dialogue between Indigenous peoples and settlers about the constructions of Indigenous male identities that is generated in response to artistic performances. The essays in this section make compelling arguments about the power of art and literature to reconceptualize Indigenous identities.

The third section, “Living Indigenous Masculinities,” examines Indigenous masculinities in lived contexts such as sports and prisons. The essays in this section challenge colonial structures by examining how Indigenous men define their own masculinity through programming in prisons or by defining their own futures. Philip Borell’s essay “Patriotic Games: Boundaries and Masculinities in New Zealand Sport,” for example, furthers this conversation in useful ways by addressing the

‘decolonial’ option for Maori athletes to reclaim their masculinity outside of the colonial boundaries established by the nation-state . . . from negative stereotypical imagery to representing the nation on the pitch.

“Indigenous Manhood and Conversations,” the final section of the book, consists of conversations and interviews that have taken place between prominent scholars, activists, and former gang members. These dialogues develop the book’s theoretical concepts by illustrating how Indigenous masculinity can play out within communities. These conversations represent a diverse range of voices, experiences, and approaches that help further examinations of Indigenous men and communities.

This volume should attract a diverse readership of Indigenous and settler readers, scholars, and activists. A major strength of the collection is that these interdisciplinary contributions provide multiple ways of understanding how Indigenous men are trapped within a violent and destructive colonial narrative that makes it difficult to attain balanced and positive lives. This book is a must-read and collectively, these essays help us to conceive of ways that the ideals and social structures that shape Indigenous masculinities can be transformed, individuals can be healed, and positive change can be enacted within communities.

This review “Reclaiming Identity” originally appeared in Lost and Found Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 236 (2018): 160-161.

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