Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Masculindians - the Violence and Voyeurism of Male Sibling Relationships in Recent First-Nations Fiction

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Masculindians - the Violence and Voyeurism of Male Sibling Relationships in Recent First-Nations Fiction

Article excerpt

Growing up 'Indian' in this country is very much about not having the power to define yourself or your own reality. It is being denied the right to say, 'I am!' - instead finding yourself saying 'I am not!'1

THIS ESSAY EXAMINES A CRISIS OF MASCULINITY ENGENDERED, at least partly, by the projection of externally constructed, dehumanizing, and incongruous models of Indigenous masculinity on FirstNations communities and the coterminous corrosion of viable masculine roles and responsibilities within the communities themselves. The Métis writer Kirn Anderson argues that "[Native] men's responsibilities have been greatly obscured by the colonial process," adding that "it is more difficult for men than it is for women to define their responsibilities in the contemporary setting and reclaim their dignity and sense of purpose."2 The Mohawk activist Sakej Ward contends that, although Native people "try to bring back roles and responsibilities, [...] we always fail to bring back the traditional role that encompasses half of our people: the male population."3 Thus, in the words of Timothy Sweet, the expressed "project" for Native communities "of 'recovering the feminine,' [. . .] must be complemented by an endeavour to recover the masculine."4 This essay argues that understandings of Indigenous masculinity (or, better, masculinities) have been problematized by rhetorical and semiotic configurations of Native-ness as either impossibly masculine or impossibly feminine, neither of which supports, validates, and undergirds male lived experience. Many young Indigenous men are thus drawn in conflicting directions by images that either exclude them or misrepresent their experience in the same moment those images claim to identify what Native-ness is. Young Indigenous men can be thus shown by the semiosis of Native-ness to be not masculine enough or not feminine enough and all the while not Native enough.

On the one hand, young Indigenous men are subject to the hypermasculine images of the Hollywood Indian, which identify Native-ness through a closed system of masculinist traits, from emotionless stoicism to rugged virility to rage, fury, and bloodlust. According to Brian Klopotek,

For at least the last century, hypermasculinity has been one of the foremost attributes of the Indian world that whites have imagined [...]. Indian tribes are populated predominantly by noble or ignoble savages, wise old chiefs, and cunning warriors. These imagined Indian nations comprise an impossibly masculine race.5

Such images - the products of a settler imagination - dehumanize, even as they offer potential feelings of empowerment for men in the short term, because they are radically one-dimensional, humourless, and tied to a simulated past. The Kanien'kahaka scholar Taiaiake Alfred told me recently in an interview: "There's no living with [the image of the Hollywood Indian], 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."6

On the other hand, young First Nations men are subject to a postcolonial or traditionalist response to European patriarchy that holds aloft femininity or gynocratic power as the core of Indigeneity. In The Sacred Hoop, the Laguna /Sioux writer Paula Gunn Allen argues that "traditional tribal lifestyles are more often gynocratic than not and they are never patriarchal."7 As a result, the Dine critic Laura Tohe argues that there is "no need for feminism" in Indigenous societies, "because of our matrilineal culture."8 In the Canadian context, the Cree writer Tomson Highway has depicted the colonization of the Americas as "the killing of one religion by another, [...] the killing of God as woman by God as man."9 Each of these Indigenous intellectuals champions the feminine as integral to Indigenous lifeways in a manner that de-emphasizes the masculine. And although these are, in many ways, strategically essentialist responses to the particular conditions of colonial domination, they can lead young Indigenous men to wonder, as a Cree student asked in one of my classes, "Where am I in all of this? …

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