Sam McKegney on Land, Literature, and Indigenous Masculinities

From 2010 to 2013, Sam McKegney interviewed leading Indigenous elders, artists, and activists on the subject on Indigneous manhood. The end result is Masculindians: Conversations About indigenous Manhood on Thursday March 6.
Detail from book cover for Masculindians: Conversations about Indigenous Manhood by Sam McKegney launches on Thursday March 6 at McNally Robinson Books. (University of Manitoba Press)

From 2010 to 2013, Sam McKegney interviewed leading Indigenous elders, artists, and activists on the subject on Indigneous manhood. The questions probed topics such as self-worth and gender relations.

The end result is Masculindians: Conversations About indigenous Manhood which is being launched on Thursday March 6 at McNally Robinson Books in Winnipeg.

McKegney is an associate professor of English and Cultural Studies at Queen's University and has written extensively on environmental kinship, masculinity theory, Indigenous governance and prison writing.

SCENE asked him to provide other literary recommendations on this topic:

And Grandma Said… Iroquois Teachings as Passed Down through the Oral Tradition by Tom Porter (Xlibris Corporation)
And Grandma Said… Iroquois Teachings as Passed Down through the Oral Tradition
by Tom Porter (Sakonkweniónkwas)
As a non-Indigenous man who consciously settled in the traditional lands of the Iroquois Confederacy and the Anishinaabe nation, I’ve been eager over the past six years to enhance my knowledge of those lands’ Indigenous histories and those peoples’ storytelling traditions. Mohawk elder Tom Porter’s accessible, capacious, and often hilarious collection of teachings passed down from his grandmother offers an indispensible archive of Iroquoian knowledge, both describing and embodying Mohawk thought.
Part oral narrative, part critical gloss, part political treatise, and part sacred text—and all the while undeniably Tom Porter—this book rings with the cadences of the elder’s voice as he narrates with great sensitivity the creation story of “Woman Who Fell from the Sky,” delineates with great patience the political implications of the Great Law of Peace, and recites with great passion the “Thanksgiving Address.”
Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto by Taiaiake Alfred (Oxford University Press)

Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto
by Taiaiake Alfred
A couple years back, Kanien’kehaka scholar Taiaiake Alfred visited the university at which I teach and was interviewed by the campus radio station. At the interview’s close, he was asked if there were any words with which he’d like to leave the listeners. He calmly responded, “Give us our land back.”

“What about words for Indigenous listeners?” the interviewer followed. “Take your land back!”

Alfred’s pathbreaking Indigenous Manifesto is an intellectual and activist tour de force. It doesn’t just theorize escape from the yoke of colonial rule in an abstract, scholarly way; rather it shows what Indigenous self-determination looks like in practice. At the heart of this emancipatory vision is land, and according to Alfred the vision is to be actualized through the reinvigoration of traditional models of governance and leadership.

Peace, Power, Righteousness was one of the first critical texts that encouraged me not only to hunger for, but indeed to believe in, the potential for radical political change on Turtle Island.
Traplines by Eden Robinson (Vintage Canada)
by Eden Robinson
I first encountered Eden Robinson’s Traplines when I was an undergraduate student and just testing the deep waters of Indigenous literary art with my toes. In those days—and we’re talking about the mid-to-late 1990s—there were no Indigenous literary texts on curriculum at the university where I studied, so I had to seek out Robinson’s inauguralshort story collection on my own.

What a find! Robinson’s muscular prose grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me to my very core. In fact, I don’t think these stories ever let me go. Darkly honest yet cautiously hopeful, brutally funny and relentlessly believable, each story explores complex economies conditioned by violence, and I hung on every word.

Although I was unaware of it at the time, I think that the story Queen of the North—still my vote for the best short story in all of Canadian literature—pointed me in the direction of the work on residential school survival narratives that became my first book Magic Weapons. Once you’re hooked by the finely wrought stories in this collection, move on to Robinson’s novel Monkey Beach, then Blood Sports, and then whatever Robinson publishes next!
Native Men Remade by Ty P. Kāwika Tengan. (Duke University Press Books)
Native Men Remade: Gender and Nation in Contemporary Hawai‘i
by Ty P. Kāwika Tengan
As of the time of this posting, Ty Tengan’s Native Men Remade is the only full-length study of Indigenous masculinity. This work of participatory ethnography tracks with sensitivity, care, and critical rigor its author’s time as a member of the Hale Mua, an Indigenous Hawaiian men’s group dedicated to the invigoration of traditional Hawaiian knowledge, while simultaneously fostering masculine self worth through embodied practices like the fighting arts.

Tengan’s role as a member of the Hale Mua with reciprocal responsibilities to the group indeed complicates his position as an anthropological observer, but it does so in ways that generate alternative horizons of possibility for participatory community-based research.

Tengan’s struggles with the ethics of his scholarship constitute essential reading for anyone seeking to engage in community-centered work in the field of Indigenous masculinities studies.
When Did Indians Become Straight? by Mark Rifkin (Oxford University Press)
When Did Indians Become Straight? Kinship, the History of Sexuality, and Native Sovereignty
by Mark Rifkin
Rifkin’s scintillating analysis of eroticism, kinship, and colonial dispossession constitutes a landmark in Indigenous gender theory. The first study to combine Queer theory and Indigenous studies in a manner not focalized through Two-Spirit analysis, When Did Indians Become Straight? gifts the reader with the utterly compelling argument that colonial interventions in Indigenous systems of gender and sexuality were calculated to disrupt Indigenous modes of territorial persistence.
In other words, colonial attempts to discipline non-binary systems of gender and sexuality were largely a strategy for gaining land. Rifkin’s assertion that land, sexuality, and sovereignty are intricately interwoven is enormously persuasive and sets the groundwork for a radical politics of reclamation. And in case anyone is keeping score, this erudite, knowledgeable, and sensitive work of criticism is just one of the four books Rifkin has published in the last five years!
Love Medicine and one Song by Gregory Scofield. (Kegedonce Press)
Love Medicine and One Song: Sâkihtowin-maskihkiy Êkwa Pêyak-nikamowin
by Gregory Scofield
If Rifkin demonstrates how colonial regimes of power have disciplined Indigenous eroticism to take over land, Gregory Scofield’s Love Medicine and One Song reclaims the land through poetic valorization of the body. These erotic poems are a multisensory feast of image, touch, and sound that reinforces the embodied experiences of the reader.

When you’ve heard Gregory Scofield read aloud from his poetry, you’ll never again be able to encounter it without the echo of his rhythmic voice in your mind’s ear. Scofield’s work kneads flesh and enters the marrow of bone. These are poems aching to be read.

When I asked him recently about the pathway toward healthy masculinities, he said, “The pathway back is for men to know their own bodies, to know the vulnerability that lives within their bodies, and to honour that vulnerability.” These poems honour the vulnerable power of male bodies, and in this way they honour Indigenous lands while pursuing Indigenous sovereignty.

Sam McKegney launches Masculindians: Conversations About Indigenous Manhood on Thursday March 6 at 7 p.m. at McNally Robinson. The launch includes a reading by Duncan Mercredi followed by a conversation between Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Warren Cariou and Sam McKegney on what it means to be an Indigenous man today.

Sam McKegney will also speak with host Ismaila Alfa on Up to Speed at 5:45 p.m.