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Review

Masculindians: Conversations about Indigenous Manhood

By Sam McKegney, editor

August 25, 2015

Review By Eldon Yellowhorn

Judging a book by the cover, we are told, is never a good idea. In this case the artwork by Dana Claxton implies an ironic, wind-in-his-hair-style cruise down a testosterone highway. Twenty-three authors, including eight women, offer their words and perspectives about manifestations of the Y-chromosome and the gender that dares to speak its name. Within these pages, Sam McKegney distils the acumen of the scholars, journalists, playwrights, authors, poets, mothers, fathers, and sons who sat with him and identified, and commiserated on, the paradigms of maleness and manliness. He shoe-horns twenty-one dialogues into three sub-themes of Wisdom, Knowledge and Imagination, each with seven chapters.

This is not a treatise weighed down by extensive research. The thirty-five works cited are mostly those of McKegney’s colleagues plus a few classics in the genre of Native Studies. The bibliography is more of a suggested reading list. There is no overarching narrative to upset, so reading the book sequentially is not necessary and randomly selecting the essays does not disturb the cadence of interpretation. McKegney’s intention in editing the transcripts was to preserve the casual wisdom that emerges spontaneously from each conversation. This suite of semi-structured interviews, a method instantly recognizable to social scientists, concerns themes of being a man and filling life with meaning. Thus we veer through an array of male relationships including the obligatory bromance, the elder’s voice, and many a-vented spleen. From this cacophony we learn that Indigenous men, whether two-spirited or just plain spirited, live the spectrum of masculinity.

I recommend reading first the chapters authored by women because they illuminate some worrisome insights. Modern times have eroded the value of the brotherhood because contemporary male lifestyles have morphed beyond the vocations of hunting, warring, and politicking that once filled male lives. Exacerbating this theme of “warrior-made-redundant” is a cognitive dissonance rising from a warpath overgrown for lack of footfalls. Janice Hill Kanonhsyonni recognizes what an absence of the male implies in practical terms. As the mother of boys, she sees a sample of a generation who will be raised by women who cannot teach them how to be men. Indeed, the absence of men from families and communities, and especially from the lives of sons and daughters, is a trope visited here by Lee Maracle, Kim Anderson, Louise Bernice Halfe, Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, and Joanne Arnott. Their lamentable observations bring to mind the old adage that Soviet women told each other back in heyday of the USSR. “A man is like a suitcase without a handle. It is of no use to anyone — but what a shame to leave it behind.” Finding cause for this male malaise in the culpability of colonialism, residential schools, and traumatic stress may ultimately satisfy the desire for explanation, but finding the cure will take many more conversations.

Masculindians: Conversations about Indigenous Manhood
Sam McKegney, editor
Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2014. 248 pp. $29.95 paper