Visiting Scholars - Interview with Albert McLeod

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FALL 2014

In Conversation: Albert McLeod and Rob Innes

Albert McLeod is a Status Indian with ancestry from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and the Metis community of Norway House in northern Manitoba. He has over twenty years of experience as a human rights activist and is one of the directors of the Two-Spirited People of Manitoba. Albert has managed youth programs at Ka Ni Kanichihk and more recently at the Youth Peacebuilding Project at Menno Simons College. He is a proud godfather to his godson, Walks Tall, who he has mentored since childhood. Albert also works as a consultant specializing in HIV/AIDS and Aboriginal peoples, cultural reclamation, and cross-cultural training.

Robert Alexander Innes is a Plains Cree member of Cowessess First Nation and an Associate Professor in the Department of Native Studies, University of Saskatchewan. He is the Co-Lead on Bidwewidam Indigenous Masculinities (see site bio).


The recorded interview begins part way through a story that McLeod was sharing with Innes, pertaining to gender fluidity.

MCLEOD:  They needed one of their daughters to become a hunter. So they consulted the community. This one girl would be able to transform into a male to be able to go with the men to hunt, so she could provide for the family. So, she dressed as a male, and then she went hunting with the men. She wore a belt of bear ovaries which was meant to balance her period or female power. And it only lasted a period of time where her gender was transformed to that of a male and she was allowed to do male things, hunting, specifically hunting. They said she got married; she had children. But that’s an example of how a gender can be traditionally transformed with the agreement of the community.

INNES: Right. Right.

MCLEOD: From my observation and research, there are people who are gay males and gay females, and then there’s what we would call transgendered, female to male and male to female, who are distinct from the gay community. And being at this two spirit gathering is interesting, because I kind of watched all the activities of the people throughout the four days, and I thought this could easily be attached to a community event. I could see the role, the function, the involvement of two spirit people in a community event just from seeing what we were doing and they were doing. So I think it’s present today, but it’s just not obvious the way we see it. Like when an event occurs, there’s so many facets of the community involved; you just don’t see the two-spirit role being identified or acknowledged whether it’s a powwow, or a Sun Dance, or a funeral. But two spirit people are there, you know, doing their traditional roles, whether it’s cooking or singing songs or that kind of thing.

INNES: Right.

MCLEOD: But I think the problem now is, because of colonization and Christianity, our role has become taboo, as it would have been in the early days of Christianity in the Americans. And that’s the political struggle that I have with the leadership is to get some kind of demonstration of inclusivity, politically, from the leaders of the day, because most of them, our Chiefs are males, right.

INNES: And what kind of response do you get from Chiefs?

MCLEOD: Silence.

INNES: Right.

MCLEOD: Well, part of it to me is, “Are gay people human?” Because that’s the role of the leadership is… to protect the rights of all the citizens, right, your band members. So if your band members are gay, how do you protect their rights? Because the thing is, if the only way that can be done is, if you assimilate to being heterosexual, that’s not respecting people’s rights.

INNES: Right.

MCLEOD: The only time I’ve heard a First Nation leader actually speak publically about gay rights was Clyde Bellecourt from the American Indian Movement. We had a conference here on decolonization in 2007. He talked about making alliances against racism in Minnesota with a  GBLT Committee, and he talked about gay people rights as well. And he was 72 at the time. So I’ve never heard a Canadian Aboriginal, First Nations, Métis, or Inuit leader do a comparable public announcement, and it needs to happen.

INNES: I just came across something in Washington.

MCLEOD: Yeah, the same sex marriage.

INNES: The same sex marriage. Yeah. Yeah. Just a couple days ago. But yeah, nothing close like that in Canada. I don’t… Yeah, that’s kind of interesting. …Go ahead.

MCLEOD:  So this starting me thinking about cultural reclamation. It is not about imposing these colonial, Christian based views of what gender should look like, what family structures should look like. And now we’re letting creationists or traditionalists take over. And whoever your child is, the family adapts to what that child is, and what that child needs. If you have a two-spirit child or a transgendered child, that is what your family has to relate to or become, as opposed to the child trying to assimilate into a family that is based on a colonial structure. So to me, I think, it’s difficult for people to understand that because we’re so used to a Western way of structuring family.

Whereas pre-contact, we lived in groups, three or four families, extended families, and roles were much more complex. And that within that role, children were enabled to become who they were meant to be and contribute what they were meant to contribute. Now, all families are segregated, and we are creating these groups of children who don’t know each other and don’t know their traditions and don’t know their family history.


In the two-spirit community, we created our own families to replace these traditions. And we parent each other. We adopt each other. There’s a society in Vancouver that has been there for 30 years, 32 years, and these are mostly two-spirited people from across Canada, who were shunned or neglected and they left their communities and went to Vancouver. And they created their own family groups. And to me, I believe that’s an Aboriginal tradition, that we do that with each other. Like I’m Cree from the North, but I mostly know Ojibwe teachings because I was adopted into the culture in the south. And to me, it wasn’t obvious, but it was a very deep feeling of belonging to the people.

And that’s what I mean when we say, you know, when you enter the Eastern doorway, that doorway’s open to everyone and we can’t say who can come in and who cannot come in. Because the strength of culture is based on that, whoever enters that doorway, we have the strength to accept that person and relate to that person. But for a long time, the doors have been closed because we don’t feel that we have that strength because we are still reclaiming our culture, our traditions, and identity.

So, transgenders for me, the male to female transgenders, I’m more familiar with and I see them transition between gender identities within a half-hour. For example, I once saw a transgender female pick up a big powwow drum and carry it across the room like a toy. And to me, that’s a classic example of a transgender, in that, even though the identity is female, the physicality is male.

So, that’s the gift of both.

INNES: So then, explain or talk about some of the challenges?

MCLEOD: Poverty. Artificial poverty. Usually, it’s because people, two-spirit people can’t or won’t assimilate into a heterosexual identity. In fact, in families where there’s still a lot of homophobia, a lot of streaming to male and female identities, pressure by families, like my friends, their family members will say, when are you going to stop being gay? So, it was like they saw it as a phase and that eventually, this person would become heterosexual, get married, and have children.

But what happens, many gay and lesbians do assume a heterosexual identity and get married and have children. There are a number of two-spirited grandmothers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and great-grandmothers who are two-spirited. They’ve always been. They have got married and they have children and grandchildren. There was a grandfather at the two-spirit gathering who brought his two-spirited grandchild, grandson. So, to me, those are just realities, and they are not unique. And to me, they are norms and they should be norms in our Aboriginal community, because what that says is, you can be gay and lesbian, or transgender and you can still be a father, a mother. And so the whole thing about parenting is a non-issue, because biologically, two-spirit people can still have children.

So interesting though, one of the things of, that I think is really important is about those spiritual power places, and I really see in the western society, we have shelters for women, for Aboriginal women where they can receive support and counselling and programming and culture, culture-based programming. But there isn’t anything for Aboriginal men who presumably experience the same degree of racism and trauma in our society, but there doesn’t seem to be any acknowledgement of that reality. That, men might need supports, those types of supports.

A lot of times, men get sent for treatment in prison. That’s the equivalent. Those are your options. You are expected to function as any other male in our society, which is to get a good education, which would be a university degree, get a good paying job, have one or two vehicles, have a house, have wealthy and influential friends. And that’s the norm in our society that is expected of males. Yet, for Aboriginal males, who experienced racism and poverty and the Indian Residential School era, there’s no acknowledgement that they might need some support to achieve those norms. You know, financial norms. And if you don’t, you are seen as a failure, you know.

INNES: And so, supports. What kind of supports would you think…?

MCLEOD: Well, I think some of the work that Greg Murdock is doing. What is the Aboriginal male identity and role in Canadian society? Other than being a Chief or a lawyer or a CEO, whatever.

You know, in 9/11, when they did the memorial, there was no First Nations involved in that first memorial of 9/11. Yet, it was First Nations who built those towers (World Trade Center). Although, they did include a memorial in Minneapolis; the First Nations were included in one of the memorials for 9/11. So to me, there’s that lack of spiritual recognition of the contributor role of Aboriginal men to North American society.

In some of the work that Sabine Lang has done, she noted that in most Indigenous communities, there was a men’s sweathouse. It wasn’t, per se, only a sweat lodge. It was a gathering place for males in the community. They usually went there once a day. Part of it was sweating, but it was also a ritual gathering place for males. And she noted, in terms of how women were integrated into that in some communities. In some societies, post-menopausal women could come into the men’s sweathouse and transgender males to females because they were seen as they couldn’t create life. Like there’s something about that, the female linkage to creating life that’s significant culturally around traditions and teachings. So in that instance, it was the women in the community who could come into the men’s sweats as long as that was no longer an option for them. So I thought that was interesting. But the irony though, with the transgender men, they could still create life because they had the equipment. They were biological males.

They could create life that way. But, so I think, in terms of urban centres, where a lot of Aboriginal people are concentrated, there is no sacred, spiritual place for a male to be a male, an Aboriginal Indigenous male. Where would that be?

INNES: You might get men’s circles

MCLEOD:  And they’re usually therapeutic.

INNES: Right. Right.

MCLEOD:  There’s a pathology attached to it (non-Indigenous perceptions of Indigenous men), so it’s like they are trying to fix you, or you did something wrong or you need be this to be that. So I think we have to realize that the landmass that Winnipeg is built on⎯there were ceremonies here. There were power places here, that men probably had their own sweathouse and that they had their own relationship to the land that’s underneath this concrete. From what I see, those men’s sweathouses need to come back where Aboriginal men can gather to be that identity that is connected to the land, to their history, to their roles.

You know, how many Aboriginal men go hunting today? Do they have linkages to the ecology, and to the animals? I did a workshop up in northwestern Ontario on HIV, and it was interpreted, translated to the Chief and Council. What they said was, these new diseases are coming because there has been a disconnect from the land and that historically, Aboriginal people accessed medicine through the animals and the ecology, water-based animals. And they said that the muskrat, the moose, the fish, the beaver, they all ate plants in the water, and these were medicine plants. So by them eating these plants, they ingested the medicine, and then they become medicine animals and when humans ate these animals, they ingested that medicine. They said, that’s the link, that’s the break, the link that’s been created. If you say to people, here’s some muskrat, they’ll turn their nose up to it, because it’s been removed from their experience for so long. But if you think about what they said, because to me, that’s the ecology. You’re connecting to the water, to the animals, to the plants, just by eating these plants. So that’s why the relationship to the animals are so ritualized.

My mother told me, she said that when she was growing up, if they ate an animal, they always returned the bones to where it came from. Like they would hang the moose bones in the trees, because the moose is always antlers against the trees. And they would put the fish bones and duck bones in the water. There was a way of honouring the animals.

That was a story from the Chief and Council. And so, from my perspective, I think we can reclaim some of history, but we’ll never know it all and it may not be possible to repeat or to replicate what is traditional practice, pre-contact or post-contact. And my position is, there is evidence that two-spirit people were integrated in and integral to societies. And that in terms of cultural reclamation, that aspect has to be a part of it. So if you’re involved in decolonization and cultural reclamation, including two-spirit people is a part of that process, otherwise you’re picking and choosing what you want to reclaim.

INNES: And how would you do that? How would you think it could be done?

MCLEOD: Well, I think we need to be at political tables. You know, we need to be part of decision making about community. We need to ensure there are programs for two-spirited people. Housing or education or whatever.

Because I think there’s still a lot of homophobia and transphobia as a result of this artificial poverty. A lot of youth quit school early because they are being bullied and harassed. That’s all about power. Like you know, you feel disempowered as a male, you will bully other people to become empowered. And you do that by seeking out vulnerable people. And so feminine boys or transgender boys or gays are the ones who usually get targeted by the bullies, and so they quit school. And right away, one of your determinants for health is missing from the equation, because what do you do with a grade ten education in today’s society.

INNES: That’s right.

MCLEOD: You come to the city, work in Burger King, right. And how do you get respected as integral parts of that community? Because otherwise, the community is not going to function.

INNES: What is, generally speaking, what is the relationship between two-spirited people/youth and non-queer people like today?

MCLEOD: It’s surviving the bullies. That’s the smart part.

INNES: Right. Right. Not facing them.

MCLEOD: The ones who don’t commit suicide. They make it. Many leave their communities, but many stay in their communities. Out of all the six hundred and some First Nations, there is two-spirited people who live in their communities, work in their communities, are accepted and function. But I think my work is more around the ones who leave their communities and live in urban environments to try and find a better life. But I know there are people in their communities, some are political, some have been Chiefs, are Chiefs, who are two-spirited in our country and in the United States. So it’s there, but it’s not spoken about or acknowledged.

I’m seeing it more and more like with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and their community events guideline for communities to apply for funding support, it asks, how are you going to include two-spirited people in your community event? So, that’s a precedent right there.

INNES: So how often is that part of funding events?

MCLEOD: Well, the gathering we hosted here in 2010, we received funding from TRC and then this gathering that happened in BC also received funding from the TRC. They sent Statement Gatherers to the event to gather statements of former students, or intergenerationally affected family members. So there’s that, then I think the National Aboriginal Health Organization whose suicide prevention toolkit has included a module on two-spirited people. And the Assembly of First Nations made a recommendation in 2001 in their HIV/AIDS Strategy to educate people about the traditionally respected role of two-spirited people in most First Nations.

I think at the University in Saskatchewan, at their powwow, they brought in the Pride Flag this year.

In terms of sexuality, because we have mostly been talking about social, cultural roles. In terms of sexual behaviour, like in the AIDS community, we use the term, men who have sex with men. We don’t say gay men, because there are gay communities in North America, around the world. And that’s a recent phenomenon, since the ‘70s. Well, I think there’s always been gay communities in urban centres, but mostly through the gay movement in the Americas, in the ‘70s, there’s much of gay areas of cities, like The Village in New York or on Church Street in Toronto. I think, through what we know now, and a lot of it has come through the HIV research about sexual behaviours, because it’s about using the condom or not, and who you’re having sex with. So the term, men who have sex with men, so that’s a broader identification of men who have a number of identities, but have sex with men. And there’s groups of men who identify solely as gay and that’s their social and cultural identity as a gay male.

And then there’s other males who are, bisexual, it’s a term that’s been used, but there really isn’t a broad bisexual community. It more refers to men who have primarily a heterosexual identity. Many are married, some have, you know regular male partners or casual male partners, but essentially their social and cultural identity is that of a heterosexual male. You can’t just assume by looking at someone whether they are gay or not. Like there’s the whole spectrum from very feminine looking female transgender to very masculine male heterosexual males who would have sex with other males. And what it means to them is quite a range. Like bathhouses in urban centres, that’s where a lot of bisexual or closeted males would go to.

INNES: But they’re not necessarily closeted right?

MCLEOD: Well, it’s difficult, especially to find a partner. You know, generally I think. But, so it could be a married bisexual male who goes to the bathhouse because it’s private. So to me, in the Aboriginal community, that’s the other issue.  I think it’s more of a struggle if you’re a very masculine looking Aboriginal male, to talk about your sexuality if you’re attracted to other males or had male partners.

INNES: Oh right. Because someone who is feminine, people will assume…

MCLEOD: It would be obvious. It wouldn’t be an issue. But if you, like the streaming that happens in high school is one about peer pressure. It’s the rites of passage. And I think that’s the other thing that is missing in terms of the Aboriginal male identity. A lot of the rites of passage are really, now it’s like you have sex with a girl, you get your car, you drink. So those rites of passage are a bit westernized. So traditionally, what would it be? What would a rite of passage be for an Aboriginal male? But you know, your first moose kill or something. And we don’t know. There’s so little research on that.

INNES: And you were just saying that, all those rites of passage are tied to heterosexuality. Right?

MCLEOD: Now they are.

INNES: Now they are, right. But you know, so perhaps maybe traditionally someone who hunted a moose, that didn’t necessarily mean they were heterosexual. That was just, okay, now they are going into the next stage of life. Where now, it seems a lot of it is…

MCLEOD: Well I think there is some blending there. There is one documented story by Alexander the Younger, who was in this area early in the 1800s, where he went down to Minnesota, where he observed an Ojibwe group. This Chief had this son whose name was Berdash, which was the European term for two-spirited person, male to female. And there’s a story that was recounted where they were being chased by another group and this  group was shooting arrows at them. So Berdash kind of became a hero, because s/he would gather all the arrows that landed near them and s/he would shoot them back, so it gave people time to get away. It said that the Chief had encouraged his son to become heterosexual, but it never happened.

And there’s another account, I think his name was Yellow Head. John Tanner was taken by the Ojibway in I think, the western Ontario area. He wrote a biography later, and he recounts a story about this two-spirit person, transgender person who approached him and wanted to be his wife. And John Tanner declined. But he noted that the woman-man was 50 years old.

So there are a lot of historical accounts.

S/he was still ready to get married, still a bride. It was about those rites of passage. There was someone who recounted a story about this two-spirited guy, that as he was growing up, his father took him moose hunting and he didn’t want to go. And he cried and cried. And then his father realized he was, you know, going to be gay. So he said “that’s all right my son.” But it was the way he said it. It was so funny, because it’s like the father realizing not to force the child to do something he didn’t want to. That was to be a rite of passage too. But again, there’s so little research about what would have been a rite of passage in the community.

So I know my uncle was making snowshoes, carving snowshoes, like making miniature snowshoes as children it was really something. Carving and stuff like that.

So to me, the sexual piece, and again, there’s very little research around Aboriginal male sexuality, sexual behaviours. They did a study here in the early ‘90s in Winnipeg of bathhouses and gay bars; they said the Aboriginal males found in these places were more likely to be bisexual than non-Aboriginal males, than other men found in those bars. So you could see there was acknowledgement that the Aboriginal males, you know to have a relationship with gay men or transgender men. Like it wasn’t as taboo I guess.

In terms of the suicide issue, we advocated with NAHO’s [National Aboriginal Health Organization] First Nations Centre on including two-spirit people in their suicide prevention tool kit because on their first print there was nothing or very little about two-spirit people. So we wrote a letter to them and they created a module and they’re going to roll it out with their new kit. But this really shows the inherent bias, which creates obliteration and inertia.

But you know, I keep writing this letter to the National Chief. I wrote him a letter in February 2010, reminding him of the AFN [Assembly of First Nations] recommendation from 2001, that First Nations be educated on the traditional role of two-spirited people in First Nations communities. We, [Two-Spirited People of Manitoba] are asking him how, with the repeal of Section 67, of the Canadian Human Rights Act, how they are going to include two-spirit people in the process. And he hasn’t replied. So it’s a year that’s gone by. So to me, that’s the challenge. You see, when you embrace people as allies in a human rights effort, you strengthen the process. You don’t weaken it. And that’s the shift that needs to occur with the Aboriginal male leadership, which is presumably heterosexual. That you demonstrate your strength when you protect the vulnerable. When you are protecting yourself, it just shows, you feel, you know you’re the one who feels vulnerable. So when they get to that place of inclusivity, that’s when there is that sense of strength and ability.

If you look at Adam Beach and the roles he’s played. Billy Merasty he’s played, Elijah Harper. Billy’s gay, so a role of a lifetime I guess. What is the role of Aboriginal males in our society other than the political?

And for me, I believe the solution is when you start to create, reclaim these sacred spaces where there is no interference. And I say this because there was an anti-gang project here with Aboriginal males, the Circle of Courage. That was the model that they created. It was for Aboriginal youth in trouble with the law. They created this home for them where they had cultural workers come in and they go to eat, and they got to study. They had their own space where they could be Aboriginal males without outside interference.

INNES: So, how’s it working?

MCLEOD: They just got refunded. It came out yesterday. It was a three-year pilot.

INNES: So they’ve gone through the first three years are done.

MCLEOD: Yeah, should maybe be talking to Leslie Spillett because she can talk about that project. Because that to me, that’s the gang prevention piece.  The gangs are attempting to replace the social determinants of health. Because you could go down that list of determinants of health and do one for society and do one for gangs, and you could match them up and, an example in terms of how it would be culture, economy, all of that. So it’s come out of the pressure of colonization, and all of these youth, Aboriginal youth didn’t have a place. There was a place in our society for Aboriginal men, right, because of that historical relationship to the land. It’s a political stance. So now they’re building prisons, right, to be these places.

ROB INNES Right. You know exactly. The gangs and the prisons. Where are Aboriginal men going?

MCLEOD: Yep. You have to be locked up because you still have title to this land.

INNES: Right. Right.

MCLEOD:  Growing up in the North, I saw the independence. I saw the independence of men. You know, the providing that they did. You know, the contribution they did. The community organizing, their involvement and thirty, forty years later to see where we are; it had to be created. In four decades, to devastate a community, you know, it happened by policy. And that’s the work I do. You have shitty policy, because you’re [colonial state] afraid to share.

INNES: Who do you work with?

MCLEOD: Well, I have a part-time job. I work at the 595  Prevention Team. I work in harm reduction around HIV and Hepatitis C. I’m the community development coordinator. The other one, I am one of the board directors of the Two-Spirited People of Manitoba Inc.

We’re (Two-Spirited People of Manitoba) thinking of applying for funding because we’re  seeing the youth not getting the services they need, people living in poverty, a lot of bullying still, a lot of suicides still. And so we’re looking at doing some transitional housing for people. But yeah, this gathering was the 23rd [annual international Two-Spirit] gathering that we just went to.

There’s about 28 regional two-spirit groups in North America. There’s been an organization in Toronto since 1989 and it’s been funded by different governments and it’s still going strong. But to me, I am much more about the politics, being at the table.

INNES: Right. Oh I see. Right, right. Because you need these different forums. Yeah, you definitely need the different prongs. You can’t just…

MCLEOD: Well, because the community has to come from inclusivity, it has to begin at the beginning, right, with family. Before anything else comes, who is in the family? Heterosexual boy, heterosexual girl, maybe a transgender, maybe a two-spirit, and maybe that’s the basis of your community. Nothing else can be. So that’s how you move from there. And because that’s decolonization.

We have to get over the Christianity and the homophobia, because what I see being regurgitated is Christianity. It’s homophobia, based on Christianity. Yet the perpetrators were the Christians, the same sex perpetrators [in residential schools]. There were heterosexual perpetrators too.  One of the things I was told about one of the [residential] schools in the north was that the priests would come at night, and they’d go in the boys’ dorm, and they would masturbate the boys. And so it’s dark, you don’t know which priests, you don’t know which boys. Other boys would hear it, but no one would talk about it. It would be ritualized oppression or however you want to call it, trauma.

From a colonial point of view, if you think about how churches were involved in colonization, is that this group of religious, so-called sacred beings were sent to America to assist with colonization. And one of the things they got rid of was the [Aboriginal] traditionalists, like the medicine people, the medicine men, women, the shamans because they resisted colonization the most. So they got rid of them. How they did it was by bringing these Christian Catholic, Methodist churches, etc, as part of colonization.

But in the schools, undermining the person’s gender identity was a part of that process because the children were away from their parents. Tomson [Highway] calls it brainwashing or mind-fucking, as a part of colonization. Because whether it happened to you, if you knew it happened in the same school, you’re in that same place, so the whole thing becomes tainted with that act, and the lying, and the double standard of the priests, right, the powers that be.

In terms of colonization, there was psychological component to it. And from my perspective, what the priests were doing was they were taking the seed of these boys as a part of controlling the male, the very essence of their ability to give life. These priests would come at night and take their semen from them. Like if there’s no other classical demonstration of colonization. That’s it. Because the children then become complicit in the lie, right? - Because they’re pretending that this didn’t happen.

My mother once told me a story from up north where she said that when the priest asked [a family] to send their daughter to clean the priest’s house, it became a privilege. So the priest asked for the granddaughter of my mother’s great-aunt to come clean his house. And so she went. And the girl complained that the priest was trying to touch her. So when her grandmother found this out about her granddaughter, she went and had that priest kicked out of the community. And that really spoke to the power of the women at the time. That era. They were able to expel these perpetrators. Later on, I don’t think that was an option.

Then she told me about one of her uncles. The priest had called the boys to the church because he was going to do something with them, a presentation. Then she said her uncle came back. He was really upset. He was really angry. And he never said what happened. But what he said was, those are not holy people. He said, they’re humans. What we have to understand is that these priests were presented as  spiritual beings. I think what it was, he [the priest) started talking about sexuality with these boys, and my mother’s uncle realized he was human because the gods wouldn’t need to talk about human sexuality with humans, right.

And she said he never went back to the church after that experience. So I don’t think the [churches] are owning up to what they did, or what they were doing, or why they were doing it. And it’s a part of colonization to suppress the people, oppress the people, create secrets, create lies, keep secrets.

And you know, this healing thing we did in May. One of speakers, he was talking about the priests who would come, would select boys, and he was chosen one time, and they were abusing him physically abusing him. And he said later, he realized they were also, at the same time, sexually abusing him. And he was upset as he got older, because he couldn’t protect himself. And when he was sharing that, he was crying. This was in a schoolyard in Winnipeg. He was crying when he was telling the story. And this little boy came up to him with a Kleenex from the audience and stood beside him. That little boy wouldn’t leave him until he saw him and he gave him the Kleenex. It was incredible to watch, because it was like that was the little boy in the story. That was probably the same age as he was. It was strange because this little boy wouldn’t leave his side. It was almost like it was a spirit, like the spirit of this little boy hearing the adult, in his adult self, telling the story. It was quite awesome to see that. But to see a child who would, you know, help this man who was grieving. He wouldn’t leave his side.

INNES: Yeah, that would have been quite powerful.

MCLEOD: That’s what these things are. You can’t create them. They’re dynamic processes. That’s what that circle is. It’s what is the truth? When do people feel safe, protected enough to articulate what actually happened? And we have to be strong enough to hear it, to witness it, and to move forward from that point. So to me, that struck me with the recollection of those priests, you know, masturbating these boys in secret. And that sexual abuse is what, control of a lifetime, not just a moment. It’s a secret between the priest and the boy and the other boys in the dormitory.

Albert McLeod is a Status Indian with ancestry from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and the Metis community of Norway House in northern Manitoba. He has over twenty years of experience as a human rights activist and is one of the directors of the Two-Spirited People of Manitoba. Albert has managed youth programs at Ka Ni Kanichihk and more recently at the Youth Peacebuilding Project at Menno Simons College. He is a proud godfather to his godson, Walks Tall, who he has mentored since childhood. Albert also works as a consultant specializing in HIV/AIDS and Aboriginal peoples, cultural reclamation, and cross-cultural training.

1 Gregory Murdock coordinated a series of Indigenous men’s healing gatherings in Manitoba in the mid 2000’s.
2 Lang, S. (1998). Men as women, women as men: Changing gender in Native American cultures. Austin: University of Texas Press.
3 New light on the early history of the greater Northwest. The manuscript journals of Alexander Henry ... and of David Thompson ... 1799-1814. Exploration and adventure among the Indians on the Red, Saskatchewan, Missouri and Columbia rivers by Henry, Alexander, 1765?-1814; Thompson, David, 1770 1857; Coues, Elliott, 1842-1899, Published 1897, Pages 53-54.
4 Before it was defunded in 2011, the NAHO First Nations Centre released a separate document addressing suicide and First Nation LGBT/Two-Spirit people.
5 As a result of section 67, some First Nations people living on reserve are denied full access to the human rights complaint resolution system available to other people in Canada. Section 67, part of the original 1977 CHRA legislation, was to be a temporary measure, a short-term expedient. Retrieved from
6 May 26, 2011: “Moving Forward Together” – A Day of Healing and Reconciliation, Children of the Earth High School, Manitobans for Healing and Reconciliation, Winnipeg, Manitoba

What is Indigenous Masculinities Studies?

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By Robert Alexander Innes

March 2016


Indigenous masculinities was not an area of research I had originally planned to pursue.  I had focused my research on the ways contemporary Indigenous people put into practice traditional kinship. I had been working on starting some new projects when Kim Anderson contacted me and said that she was looking for an Indigenous male scholar to partner with her in a project on Indigenous masculinities. I was a little hesitant to agree to participate mainly because I had my name on a number of research grants and wasn’t sure if I could manage all the work if they were all successful.  One of the grants I was a part of was to explore how kinship obligations played out between Indigenous men and their female relatives with HIV/AIDS.   In the end however, the draw of working towards addressing issues facing Indigenous men was too great to turn away from.  As it turned out, the other grants were not successful, which allowed me an opportunity to focus on this project.

There have been scholars researching and writing about Indigenous masculinities, but with little contact with each other.  The recent move to bring together and share information, develop networks, foster research relationships points to an emerging field of study.  In 2007 at a conference at the University of Oklahoma saw the first panel on Indigenous masculinities with Vince Diaz, Lloyd Lee, Ty Tengan and Brendan Hokowhitu.  These scholars had been writing about Indigenous masculinities for a number of years prior to appearing on the panel.  Hokowhitu is probably the leading scholar in the area publishing many articles on Maori masculinities with Tengan, on Native Hawaiian masculinities, and Lee, on Navajo masculinities, publishing the only two monographs to date on the topic.   In 2008, The Contemporary Pacific journal published a special issue titled, “Re-membering Oceanic Masculinities,” ( here is the link ) highlighting how much further ahead the Oceanic region was compared to Canada and the U.S. in exploring Indigenous masculinities studies.  In North America, there had been studies undertaken on Indigenous men, but for the most part they were narrowly constructed from a deficiency model, with researchers working in isolation from each other. 


In 2012, Kim Anderson and I organized three panels on Indigenous masculinities for the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association one on ‘Identities,’ one on ‘Queer Indigenous masculinities,’ and a roundtable for ‘dialogue and networking.’ The participants were from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the U.S. and were queer, female, cis-gendered, gender non-conforming, males, Indigenous, non-Indigenous, straight, grad students, professors, elders, and community partners, with 8 queer panellists, 5 cis-gendered straight Indigenous men, 1 cis-gendered straight Indigenous woman, and 1 cis-gendered straight white man. The diversity of the participants reflected the degree in which a range of people recognized that the time had come to address issues of Indigenous men and masculinities that impact our communities as a whole.  Many of the participants on these panels contributed chapters to our new book on Indigenous men and masculinities ( Indigenous Men and Masculinities: Legacies, Identities, RegenerationUniversity of Manitoba Press, 2015).  .

Indigenous masculinities, as we envision it, “seeks to deepen our understanding of the ways in which Indigenous men, and those who assert Indigenous masculine identities, perform their identities, why and how they perform them and the consequences to them and others because of their attachment to those identities” (Innes and Anderson, 2015: 4). It builds on theories and praxis of Indigenous feminist and queer scholars to question the hegemonic nature of the ‘masculine’ to work towards finding ways that acknowledges the existence, significance, and legitimacy of the multiple, overlapping, and sometimes contradictory gender identities of Indigenous people. Central to Indigenous masculinities is the examination of how the depth of Indigenous male dysfunctional behaviour has been caused by their internalization of the ideal masculine traits and characteristics, based on the white supremacist heteronormative patriarchy, imposed on them through a variety of colonial mechanisms.  Indigenous masculinities theorists ask how, and to what degree, have Indigenous men adopted and adapted the western heteronormative notions of maleness that serve to subjugate and erase Indigenous women and queer people in violent and non-violent ways, and leads many to inflict violence on each other, while leading others to become trapped in the carceral cycle, with the results contributing to the maintenance and strengthening of colonial structures that oppress all Indigenous people. 

At the same time, Indigenous masculinities scholars look into how Indigenous men are trying to overcome the negative and toxic masculinities that have engulfed them. Indigenous men lead in various categories indicative of the social conditions they have to overcome. For example, in Canada Indigenous men have the lowest rates of life expectancy and education attainment, while their suicide, murder, and incarceration rates are the highest.  As more and more Indigenous men become aware of their situations many strive for change by creating pathways for themselves and others to address their issues so they can turn their lives around and become positive contributing members of their families and communities.  There are some communities and organizations that have started to institute programs designed specifically for Indigenous men, typically around violence against women.  The movement among Indigenous individuals and communities toward creating healthy men coincides with the rise in the number of researchers who want to detail and assess these initiatives to determine the effectiveness of the methods utilized to counteract the toxic masculine behaviours and create spaces for the expression of multiple masculinities, whatever that may mean to individuals.

There is an understanding within Indigenous masculinities that gender is socially constructed to be attached to a particular sex and that those who do not fit that constructed narrative are in some way deviant.  Indigenous masculinities scholars accept the idea that this narrative is a fiction, which does not fit the realities of many Indigenous people.   At one point we were going to title our book “Indigenous Masculinities.” This seemed to account for the potentially various ways a masculine identity can be asserted, no matter what sex a person is born with.  However after I conducted a focus group in Winnipeg, with assistance from Albert McLeod, the co-director of Two Spirited People of Manitoba Inc., with two spirit participants who identified as men but not as masculine, we realized that Indigenous masculinities was not quite inclusive enough for those men who identified as feminine, however they defined that to themselves. Therefore we changed the title of the book to Indigenous Men and Masculinities.

Those in this new and emerging field do need to be cognizant of the fact that within mainstream masculinities studies there are two streams.  One stream is guided by feminist/queer theory and praxis.  The other stream is basically the intellectual arm of the Men’s Rights Activist movement.  Many working from within this stream take a decidedly anti-feminist stance.  This is illustrated by the number of academic articles in their journal that contain discussions about the toxic environment for men created by feminists. 

Adam Jones, a non-Indigenous political scientist at the UBC Okanagan, who is a highly regarded comparative genocide studies scholar, illustrates this line of inquiry to gender studies.  Jones wrote an op-ed piece for the National Post (Here is the link - newspaper and then later appeared on the CBC radio show Unreserved (Here is the link - in which he mentioned that though rates of violence experienced by Indigenous men are much higher than those of Indigenous women, the rates are seldom mentioned in the media. He explained the reason behind this as follows: “The campaign to highlight the victimization and extermination of aboriginal women has become a feminist cause célèbre (including an aboriginal-feminist one), in a way that has suffocated consideration of even more pervasive patterns of violence among and against all aboriginal Canadians, including men and boys” (2015).

His insistence that Indigenous feminists are the reason murders of Indigenous men have not received attention not only highlights his lack of knowledge of the Indigenous context in Canada but also his approach to gender analysis. He does not mention that the relatively recent high profile of the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada is due to the efforts of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), who have been working on this issue since at least 2003. NWAC is an organization that lobbies government to address the particular kind of racism and sexism directed towards Indigenous women, including sexualized violence that has lead them to call for the national inquiry.  Jones’ insinuation that non-Indigenous women have made MMIW an issue flies in the face of the reality that this has been a movement led by Indigenous women (many who would not consider themselves to be feminists) and the families that have lost loved ones. In his interview on Unreserved, he told host Rosanna Deerchild  “that it concerns me that Aboriginal feminists have towed this line and advanced this project…it is not clear to me why they would not want to see similar attention paid to their [Indigenous men] particular and perhaps even greater plight.”

Deerchild challenged Jones’ assertion by informing him that it has been the “families and friends of missing and murdered Indigenous women [that] made this an issue after relentless activism, after rallies, after movements, like the Sisters in Spirit…” His response—that we should not set it up so that women advocate for women and men for men—fails to acknowledge that this is not currently the case. There are a number of Indigenous men working as individuals and in organizations to advocate for ending violence against Indigenous women. Paul Lacert started the “moose hide” campaign to raise awareness, and Chris Moyah, a former gang member has gone on walks toward ending violence against Indigenous women. The Kizhaay Anishinaabe Niin–I am a Kind Man program developed by the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres has been taken up in other provinces by organizations keen on developing initiatives where men can show leadership in ending violence against women. In addition, there are many women advocating for men, including Beverly Jacobs and Michele Audette, both prominent leaders and former NWAC presidents, who have said that the national inquiry into MMIW should include examining the violence experienced by Indigenous men (though the current president, Dawn Lavell-Harvard favours an inquiry that focuses on women). 

Even though Adams has no research experience with or for Indigenous people and has acknowledged that he had not talked to any Indigenous people before reaching his position, he nonetheless felt compelled and qualified enough to speak to the issue. Whether or not he is a card carrying men’s rights activist is difficult to tell for sure, he has stated he considers himself to be a feminist, the fact that he sees Indigenous men disadvantaged by Indigenous feminists does fall in line with MRAs views.  The premise of his critique is to place Indigenous feminists in opposition to Indigenous men because he believes that healthier lives for Indigenous men are sabotaged by the Indigenous feminists’ agenda. There is no basis for his contention that Indigenous feminists are purposefully ignoring Indigenous men, as if advocating on the behalf of your constituents, as NWAC has done, automatically silences the concerns of others. The reality is that no one is Canada was talking about murdered and missing Indigenous women prior to the work of NWAC.  Without this awareness people would not now be talking about the level of violence Indigenous men face. 

We don’t know if Indigenous masculinities will follow the same pattern as mainstream masculinities studies, but we should be aware that that is a possibility.  There have been some criticism, or perhaps suspicion, that Indigenous masculinities as a project will simply reinforce and maintain the white supremacist, heteronormative, patriarchal male power structures that disadvantage and disenfranchise Indigenous women and queer people.  At this point, however, these criticisms have not been well articulated but nonetheless, the gist of the criticisms is evident.  Therefore Indigenous masculinities scholars need to be continually prepared to be self-reflexive, self-critical and to be clear that Indigenous masculinities should act to challenge and dismantle rather then reify and strengthen the white supremacist heteronormative patriarchy internalized by many Indigenous men, to varying degrees, to the detriment of our communities. 

Indigenous lives are complicated by multiple and varied factors and Indigenous masculinities studies scholars, like Indigenous Studies scholars in general, aim to complicate as it is through understanding and clearly articulating the intricacies that inform Indigenous people’s lives is when we can start to come to a better understanding on how to regenerate our families and communities in positive ways.  

VISITING SCHOLARS - Interview with Brendan Hokowhitu

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In the interest of Bidwewidam (sounding out ideas and gathering voices), this section profiles Indigenous masculinities researchers and thought leaders through dialogue. 


FALL 2012

In Conversation: Brendan Hokowhitu and Kim Anderson

Brendan Hokowhituis an Indigenous person from Aotearoa/New Zealand of
Ngāti Pukenga descent. Brendan grew up in the small rural community of
Opotiki, on the east coast of Aotearoa where both his parents were
teachers. He has just begun a term as Professor and Dean of the
Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta. Hokowhitu has
written on indigenous masculinities, indigenous critical theory,
indigenous media, and Māori sport and physical education.


Kim Anderson is a Cree/Metis writer, scholar and educator and the Co-Lead on Bidwewidam Indigenous Masculinities (see site bio).

ANDERSON: To start off, can you tell me a little about who you are and where you’re from? I’m also curious about how you got interested in masculinities. I think it’s interesting for those of us just beginning to explore this subject to hear from somebody who has been doing it for some time.

HOKOWHITU: Well, I grew up in a small, rural community that was predominantly Māori, about 70 percent I think, something like that. It’s called Opotiki. But I’m not from that area. Where I am from is very close, about an hour’s drive away – that’s where my marae, my traditional place is. So I’m Ngāti Pūkenga from Welcome Bay and Maketu. The small town I grew up in was a farming community, a rural community.

ANDERSON: So what led into you thinking about masculinities?

HOKOWHITU: I started off doing a Ph.D. in physical education and sport, but I changed focus after my first year and decided to look at historical and sociological understandings of Māori in sport. The predominant sport in New Zealand is rugby. So I was looking at Māori mainly playing rugby, and that led me down the line of masculinities.

In relation to my upbringing - where I grew up was very sports-oriented. All of New Zealand is I guess, but it’s especially popular in rural communities. The rugby clubs I was part of were like a community. Different sub-tribes would align with different rugby clubs. So there was a different kind of community aspect to playing sport. That’s kind of how I got into thinking about masculinities, was through my interest in sport.

ANDERSON: Can you say anything about how your thinking and writing about masculinities has evolved over time?  How have your interests changed in terms of the subject?

HOKOWHITU: I think the main way that things have changed for me is around looking at power. When I was first exploring masculinities, I was very much interested in how colonization had subjugated Māori men, or Indigenous men. The move in the last couple of years has been toward looking at how Indigenous men are more involved in the colonial system than we might think. That would be the major shift in my work.

ANDERSON: Can you give some examples about how that works? Also, what has the uptake been at the community level -- or any level, for that matter.

HOKOWHITU: Well I think my work has always been kind of a challenge. You know, challenging in the idea of naturalness of Māori men playing rugby or Māori men being physical, which is a predominant undertone.  Challenging the idea of physicality within Māori men and understanding how that runs through and limits what Māori men do.

Academics who have picked up my work have used it a lot; reaching to the communities is probably limited, but I don’t know. You don’t really know what’s being taken back into the communities, what kind of ideas are being generated. Hopefully, different ideas are.  I know it’s really influenced the way I think about my father and how these notions of masculinity ring true for me, and how I can see him differently now.

ANDERSON: The reason I ask is because most of the work that I do is applied - related to the Aboriginal healing movement. Our research project on masculinities (Bidwewidam Indigenous Masculinities) is in partnership with the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres (specifically their Kizhaay Anishinaabe Niin/I am a Kind Man Program). And I’ve found a lot of interest in exploring what you might call decolonizing Indigenous masculinities. So I like to see how this critical work gets taken up at the community level, or how it gets resisted.

HOKOWHITU: Yeah… I guess for my part, it’s about theorizing things, and trying to break ideas down, and trying to understand where they come from. Hopefully that kind of knowledge will disseminate.  It can be problematic because of academic language and so on, but in New Zealand, I have seen it being disseminated. What I was writing about ten years ago is being taken up - talked about and written about.

ANDERSON: Well from what I have seen with men involved with Kizhaay Anishinaabe Niin, I think that there is a readiness and an interest in looking at men’s roles and identities outside of a patriarchal framework. The men involved in Kizhaay men are working in a very specific context around ending violence against women and so they talk about power and control and so on. But I think there is so much potential for cracking it wider than that.

HOKOWHITU: I think there is a readiness and a willingness in Māori communities, and from many Māori men. But violence is still a huge issue. And I guess that’s one of the reasons I got into thinking about masculinities - was because of that very issue of violence and colonization, and the interrelatedness.

Starting out, what I was particularly interested in was the idea of physicality. I think many Māori men have lost their voice, their ability to kind of speak, to communicate. So what happens from my perspective is that some use their fists when they can’t communicate, whether that would be with other people or whether that be with spouses, or their children. So yeah, I think communication and colonial violence are closely tied to Māori masculinities.

ANDERSON: And at the same time, you have written about how Māori men have been unfairly characterized as violent – in film, for example.

…But when you talk about voice, it makes me think about how the name of our project is Bidwewidam which is an Ojibway word that one of our Elders, Rene Meshake gave us. It means he/she comes speaking, or he/she is sounding is out. So that’s what we’re trying to do. You know, not to be prescriptive, but rather open up space for sounding out of those various healthy masculine identities, however they are expressed.

HOKOWHITU: That’s cool, because in my work I try to deconstruct ideas or limits that colonization has put onto men. I think that’s one of the reasons that physicality is important to explore, because our men are very much limited to these physical roles in New Zealand - at least of being a sports person, or a manual labourer, or whatever. We’re always seemingly in the physical realm. I think that’s one way that colonization has enacted itself, through of being limited to these physical roles.

ANDERSON: Yeah. -- You know, reading your work made me think about the physicality of Native men in Canada. I don’t think our men are stereotyped as sports figures in the same way you write about Māorimen, and I’m not really sure why. If you think about the stereotypical Indigenous male in North America, it’s not the sports hero. We have the noble savage and the bloodthirsty warrior, but that translates today into the wise elder and the criminal or the “warrior” or gang member. Have you looked at our stereotypes and thought about why Indigenous masculinities are expressed in a different way in Canada or North America?

HOKOWHITU: I think New Zealand’s probably quite a rare case because of the population. Māori are aboutfifteen percent so it’s quite high. But the policy from 1920s on was assimilation, and sport was seen as one way to assimilate Māori into a community. So I think that might be one difference.

ANDERSON: Well when it comes to assimilation and training boys I think about residential schools - but I don’t think they used sport in the same way. There was certainly the physical element. As one of my Elders said, “They weren’t training us to be CEOs in those schools” -  they were training our men to be labourers or the servant class for the settler population. If you think about the underlying project, it’s the same thing, right?

HOKOWHITU: Yes. Some of my earlier work definitely touches on that, the manual labourer idea. But the criminal is also definitely a stereotype in New Zealand.

ANDERSON: As well, eh?

HOKOWHITU: Yeah. There are these high profile cases of Māori kids that have been killed by their fathers, so child abuse has become “a Māori issue” in New Zealand. Now, being the fifteen percent of the population means that Māori are, they are always in the news for various crimes, even though statistics show that the child abuse cases are not particularly different between whites and Māori. But it’s always the Māori kid that gets the front headline news.

ANDERSON: It’s really worthwhile to start thinking about Indigenous masculinities in other contexts, and try to figure out and try to understand what’s going on in our own locations by comparison.

HOKOWHITU: Yeah, it is really interesting. I look at the Hawaiian example. You know we’re both Polynesians cultures. Very similar pre-contact cultures, I think. But the way they were colonized, and because they became such a tourist spot, their men are constructed very differently to Māori men. Their men are constructed as much more easygoing. You know: Come over here and just colonize us. Don’t worry. We welcome you. Whereas, Māori men were definitely constructed as violent, as a challenge, as something that needs to be overcome, a kind of burden to colonization. So yeah, the different settings are important. The different colonial discourses that go on in the different settings are important to understand.

ANDERSON: I read that special issue journal that you had an article in – and I remember there were articles about Hawaiian men. [The Contemporary Pacific, 20(1), Spring 2008, Special Issue: Re-membering Oceanic Masculinities.”] When I was reading it I was thinking that our stereotypes in Canada usually include some elements of the physical, but not the same elements. I think in the Hawaiian context there was also the feminization of men –I guess that serves the tourist industry.

HOKOWHITU: Yeah. The only thing I can really think of that would probably be ubiquitous would be stereotypes of the unintelligent, which I think would relate to the physical as well. You know, anything that was kind of “anti-civilization.” Whatever being “civilized” was at the time – which was whatever the white man was in those various contexts. We were the “other” person -- the opposite of. I think that is one of those constants.

ANDERSON: Before we finish up, I was wondering if we could talk briefly about engaging with culture based understandings of “the masculine” and “the feminine?” Do you see the role for those notions in terms of decolonizing and in particular towards reclaiming and constructing Indigenous identities (in the way I have done with Native women in my previous work)?

I ask because you have been critical in your writing about essentialist notions of identity. And I always joke when I find myself in academic circles, saying “We like our essentialist identities.” They are part of our healing. We find comfort in going back to discover men and women’s “roles and responsibilities,” and often there is a spiritual grounding to these understandings of the masculine and feminine. But how do we work with those notions to move forward without being essentialist? Or can we?

HOKOWHITU: Well I think we would agree that what masculinity and what femininity mean morph constantly and are different in different cultures. So you know they’re just constructs to me; the idea of masculinity and femininity. And I would think of myself as non-essentialist. But at the same time I do think there is a place for essentialisms in terms of using examples of how men can be productive and can communicate and can be good role models, and healthy people. I don’t know if that answers your question…

ANDERSON: Yes, well, if you think about land-based communities, there are non-patriarchal models of exercising masculinity and men’s roles and responsibilities. So that’s why I think there is something valuable there.

When our Bidwewidam research team did oral history with some of our Elders, for example, they talked about men’s responsibilities of “protecting” and “providing.” But what does that mean? That didn’t mean you were the master of the household. That didn’t mean you were at the top of the pyramid. It meant that you had responsibility to community. So our research is about trying to rethink those roles and work with that.

In the case of Kizhaay, it means engaging in campaigns to end violence against women. It’s not that you are somehow or other stronger or more powerful than women. It means that you have certain responsibilities. And this might include protecting the environment and Mother Earth, which is conceived of in the feminine.

I was impressed by what one of our Algonquin Elders [Dominique Rankin] said to me about masculinities. He said “It is man’s job is to protect the medicine. And women and the earth are the medicine.” And I’m good with that, because when I think about it, that’s not a dominant relation. It’s not something that presumes powerlessness in women. It’s something that speaks to gendered responsibilities coming out of a land-based culture. And our people will always say that gendered roles were also flexible.

HOKOWHITU: What you’ve just said is really important, that we need to not throw the baby out with the bath water for sure. Use concepts that people might be able relate to, and that might change behaviour. Absolutely.

ANDERSON: Yeah, and then there are notions of what is “masculine” and what is “feminine” – what is the spirit of those things - and it doesn’t always have to do with your sex. Some will talk about how gender is framed by a continuum between the masculine and the feminine, and we fall in different places along that continuum. And two-spirit carry those things in a different way.

Anyhow, moving forward. I think about this for our boys. Where are they headed? How can they find masculine identities that are healthy, that are culture-based and help our communities become strong? What do those things mean? How does the work that we do help them unpack those things?

HOKOWHITU: I totally agree. I mean most of the work I have done has been breaking down colonial stereotypes and understanding where they come from. But that would lead to the same kind of questioning. Well, what does this all mean then? But I completely agree with you, that just because we’re challenging these notions and breaking them down doesn’t mean there aren’t notions there that we can use within our communities.

ANDERSON: If we think about men’s responsibilities for “protecting” and “providing” - for sure, those can be seen as problematic and essentialized notions. But perhaps only if looking at it through a western lens. In other words, is there something there that speaks to a distinct sacredness and power that men might have, and that we can draw on to inspire, to encourage our young boys and young men to do things in a good way?

HOKOWHITU: Yeah, for sure. I can give one example. In Māori culture, tikanga is important. It basically means the right way of doing things. But to my mind, a lot of the so-called tikangathat we see nowadays has been essentialized.  Much of what we think of today as 'traditional' cultural formations are in reality post-colonial formations. This doesn't mean they are lesser, but nonetheless Indigenous people need to be aware of their own desire to put pre-colonial culture on a pedestal. Which gets me back to the idea of tikanga

- which may mean the correct way to do things, but that doesn't mean that the correct way to do things is set in stone.

But for an example  - I talked to this guy about men and masculinities and that kind of thing. He said, “Well back in the day, the God of War, Tūmatauenga was [for war]-- when you were violent, that was when that kind of thing was called up within men. That was the place for it. You know, the home environment was not appropriate for it.


HOKOWHITU: I think that kind of stuck with me; how we can possibly use these ideas to explain to men the appropriateness of activity or the appropriateness of behaviour. The appropriateness of behaviour at certain times.

ANDERSON: Yes, and over h

ere there are discussions about what it means to be a “warrior,” which is a masculine identity but can be applied in many different ways and contexts.

Okay, well I don’t want to take up too much more of your time. Is there anything you’re interested in asking me, or talking about further?

HOKOWHITU: Well I’m really interested in your [Bidwewidam] project. My work has focused on Māori men, so I’m really interested in just hearing what you find. I very much want to look at various contexts that are in Ca

nada and North America.

ANDERSON: Okay. THANKS! I really appreciate you taking the time. We will talk again soon!


Bibliography of Hokowhitu’s work on Indigenous Masculinities

Hokowhitu, Brendan. (2012). 'Producing elite indigenous masculinities'. Settler Colonial Studies.   Special Issue: Gender, Sexuality, and Settler Colonialism, 2, 2, pp. 23-48.

--- (2012). Educating Jake: A genealogy of Māori masculinity’. In Bowl, M. et al (eds.). Gender, Masculinities and Lifelong Learning. London: Routledge Education.

--- (2008). 'The Death of Koro Paka: “Traditional” Maori Patriarchy,” Special Issue, Pacific Masculinities, The Contemporary Pacific 20,1, pp.115-141.

--- (2008). “Authenticating Maori Physicality: Translations of ‘Games’ and ‘Pastimes’ by early  Travellers and Missionaries to New Zealand,” International Journal of the History of Sport 25,10 pp. 1355-1373.

--- (2008). “Understanding the Maori and Pacific body: Towards a Critical Physical Education Pedagogy,” Journal of Physical Education New Zealand 41,3, pp. 81-91.

--- (2007). “Maori Masculinity: Overcoming Discourses of Savagery in Working with Maori Men,” New Zealand Journal of Counselling, Special Issue: Working with Male Clients, 27, 2, pp. 63-76.

--- (2007). “Indigenous and First Nations Masculinities.” In International Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities, 1 vol. Edited by Michael Flood, Judith Kegan Gardiner, Bob Pease, and Keith Pringle. London: Routledge

--- (2005). “Rugby and Tino Rangatiratanga: Early Maori Rugby and the Formation of  Maori Masculinity,” Sporting Traditions: Journal of the Australian Society for Sports History 21,2 pp. 75-95.

--- (2004). “Tackling Maori Masculinity: A Colonial Genealogy of Savagery and Sport,” The Contemporary Pacific 15, 2, pp. 259-284.

--- (2003). “Maori Masculinity, Post-structuralism, and the Emerging Self,” New Zealand Sociology, 18, 2 pp. 179-201.

--- (2003). “Maori Physicality: Stereotypes, Sport and the ‘Physical Education’ of New Zealand Maori,” Culture, Sport, Society 6,2 pp. 19


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Biidwewidam will serve as the theoretical lens in which to understand how programs are assisting Aboriginal men to re/gain positive lifestyles.