Carrying the Burden of Peace: Reimagining Indigenous Masculinities Through Story
January 11, 2022
Review By Josh Cerretti
Sam McKegney’s Carrying the Burden of Peace seeks to bridge the gap in between the “insistence that neither individual Indigenous men nor concepts of Indigenous masculinity are irredeemable” and the recognition that some forms of masculinity “will stand forever in the way of Indigenous resurgence and decolonization” (xxvii). Situated in both literary theory and Indigenous Studies, Carrying the Burden of Peace should appeal to scholars interested in the study of Indigenous masculinities as well as those concerned with how to read Indigenous literatures in critical context. McKegney’s work also delves into some of the ethical complications that emerge in doing research that attempts to confront dominant power, though readers may come to different conclusions about his success in this regard.
Carrying the Burden of Peace makes a case for fostering Indigenous masculinities resistant to settler colonialism through reading recent works by Indigenous authors not only for their critiques of toxic masculinity but also for models of non-dominant masculinities. McKegney’s approach draws upon authors from across Turtle Island, with individual chapters highlighting work by Haudenosaunee, Cree, Metis, Anishinaabe, and Northwest Coast writers. Profound influence from the work of Daniel Heath Justice and Leanne Betsamoke Simpson is woven throughout. McKegney does not confine his inquiry to prose, examining poetry, film, testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and even social media posts with the same critical yet compassionate tools. Throughout, he highlights moments of “integrity” within representations of Indigenous masculinity and frames them as necessary resources for counteracting the gendered processes of settler colonialism (175).
McKegney is well aware of the potential for such an argument to be drawn towards the direction of recentering men in decolonial resurgence, denying the pervasiveness of gendered violence, and downplaying the concerns of Indigenous women and those who are Two Spirit or otherwise unconventionally gendered. He mitigates against this by engaging Indigenous feminisms and Queer Indigenous Studies throughout in pursuit of masculinities that reject biological determinism and seek “consensual vulnerability” (92). At the same time, McKegney may be regarded as too cavalier in how he approaches ethical conundrums that he recognizes but proceeds through anyway, including paraphrasing a Residential School survivor’s testimony (63), advocating for a model of Indigenous kinship that allows for non-Native relationality (155), and publishing this book with a press that he critiques for promoting the work of an author after a highly public incident of domestic violence (xxiv). Carrying the Burden of Peace is not the kind of work that aims to resolve all the contradictions that are present but can be appreciated for openly acknowledging and leaning into these difficulties.
Overall, Carrying the Burden of Peace: Reimagining Indigenous Masculinities through Story makes a meaningful contribution to the field of Indigenous masculinity studies, within which the author has already played an important role. Work such as this not only intervenes in ongoing discussions about what ‘reconciliation’ looks like in the North American context but also calls for further examination of the non-Indigenous masculinities that haunt the margins of this study.
McKegney, Sam. Carrying the Burden of Peace: Reimagining Indigenous Masculinities Through Story. Regina: University of Regina Press, 2021. 288 pp. $34.95 paper.