A new book, Indigenous Men and Masculinities: Legacies, Identities, Regeneration, challenges how media typically links indigenous masculinity to criminal activity and violence, and takes a critical look at what it means to be an indigenous man. 

Indigenous people come from a tradition of gender equity, where the sacred feminine is celebrated, so it is no surprise that indigenous masculinity is viewed differently than in some other cultures.

"Maybe it's time to think through, to be able to build healthier communities as a result of what we know about... the sacredness of men and masculinity," said editor Kim Anderson, who is a Cree and Métis educator and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.

The book is a compilation of essays written by indigenous men from all walks of life, including war veterans, ex-gang members, fathers, youth and two-spirited people.

The aim was to "collect really powerful and positive stories about indigenous men because the stories that we see in the media and elsewhere are often about criminality, you know we don't see the positive stories," said Anderson.

Taking up responsibility

Book Cover

A new book is taking on commonly held misconceptions about what it means to be an indigenous man. (Courtesy of University of Manitoba Press)

"There are some specific differences, but there are a number of similarities in terms of how indigenous people relate to each other, as relatives, and how they relate to the land," said editor Robert Alexander Innes, who is Plains Cree from  Cowessess First Nation, and a professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

During the course of researching for the book, Anderson and Innes saw one theme appear several times, regarding the need for men to take responsibility for their own understanding of masculinity and how it impacts those around them.

"As opposed to mainstream masculinities where discussions might be around power and how it's deployed, all the conversations we had were around responsibilities, and how men can take up those responsibilities to the natural world as well as to all their human relations," said Anderson.

Anderson believes that indigenous masculinity has become linked with violence and criminality because of the long history of colonialism.

"Prior to an interference from colonization, indigenous men were embedded within families and communities where they had tremendous responsibilities that they exercised on a daily basis," said Anderson.

"Those are the things that were disrupted, and those are the things that contribute to the levels of crisis and traumas in our communities and the violence that people experience."

Beyond defining what masculinity is, Anderson and Innes said the book highlights what needs to be changed to ensure a positive future for indigenous boys.

Among those changes are a need for positive role models and a promise that positive pathways are available.

The launch for the book is on Saturday March 19, 7 p.m. at McNally Robinson in Winnipeg. Editors Robert Alexander Innes and Kim Anderson will be in attendance, along with writer Warren Cariou.

with files from Information Radio, CBC Radio One