The seed to grow distaste for the men of my people was planted at a young age. This seed was planted deep within my belly and grew alongside my desire to distance myself from the people whom most of my blood belonged too. As a teenager with heavy addictions, I was used up and mistreated to great lengths by Indian men. These events where I was consumed from the inside out were partly done on my own volition. I did not know that I was worthy of respect, did not know how to be valued, and didn’t even know until I was 17 years old that I was able to say “No”. These boys grew up in a same manner, the contexts shifting slightly but still matching the environments of many Indigenous families still grappling with historical trauma and loss of identity. How could they offer me respect if they didn’t know what it looked like in their home lives and grew up in a society that defined this as a masculine behaviour? I saw my own weaknesses and frailty reflected back at me in the brown eyes of brown boys. I didn’t find myself in them, and they couldn’t find themselves in me.
I was 15 or so when we were out one night at a bonfire party out of town. I was standing with a boy who was visiting from a nearby reservation when a group of drunken cowboys surrounded us. They asked him if I was his squaw, jeering and laughing. The boy stood silent and let his eyes burn a hole into the mud beneath our feet. The cowboys continued to call me squaw and poke at me. I swore at them and they laughed harder. They made obscene comments and grabbed themselves and grabbed at me. The boy had lost his voice. Finally the cowboys tired and walked away laughing into the darkness while the boy stood still looking at the ground. With my face still flush and stinging with shame I walked past him and knocked the beer out of his hand.
When I was 17 and had finally found my shaky voice to assert some boundaries around my body I was raped by a young Indian boy. I had tried to say no at first but eventually the fear of having to live through the trauma of something being taken from me rendered me silent. Instead I cried while I let him take what I knew he was going to.
A year later my younger cousin called me late into the night and I listened to her crackling voice on the other end of the receiver. She had been raped by an Indian boy. I remember how my body pulled into itself, forcing myself into a fetal position. The hollow ache of helplessness filled my bones and being.
Young Indian boys, a part of the same struggle, living in a world of a different violent shade.
A part of this hate and distaste for Indigenous boys was my own internal racism and questions of Indigenous identity. I didn’t know how to make sense of the world around me. The alcoholism. The sexual abuse. The rapes. The beatings. The belittling. The holes punched into walls as if the punctures would let the pain escape. The rage escape. In my mind we were defeatists, and I aimed this disdain particularly at Indian boys.
Even after I started my own reconciliation process between myself and who I was I still harboured this distrust and hate for Indian boys. I didn’t realize how deeply rooted this gnarled plant was until I ended up in Nova Scotia at a national training for Indigenous women.
The 20 of us stood in circle in the wooden floored hall with elegant white walls as the elder rose to offer the Morning Prayer. After the prayer she said a few words about how it was good that we had all come there to learn how to better our communities and work for our people. She said that this is good to do as women but we need to make room for our men. She said that they were searching for their place amongst us and because we have taken these roles we need to negotiate a new space for them.
“Before the men use to walk ahead of us and break trail, they did this to make it easier for us but also to protect us from whatever lied ahead. We took those places at the front of the trail and now we cannot go back. We must take them with us, we cannot leave them behind,” she said to us.
As soon as our session ended for the morning I flew into a raging thundercloud of cuss words.
“Doesn’t she fucking know that we took those places because we had too?!!” I yelled to my friend as we walked outside towards our dormitories.
“Indian men have only fucked me over and let me down. These men we are supposed to make room for have always left me behind,” I said furiously, shaking my head.
My friend walked silently beside me, knowing my wrath wouldn’t accept any opposition to these notions.
The next day I got news that my brother was still acting out from his pain and trying to commit suicide. I left the circle and went into the bathroom, twisted the silver handle, and broke down. I didn’t know how to save my own family, to heal the men that I love, and I was trying to work to empower communities. How could I love them if I held such a deep hurt and pain towards them? Furthermore, how could I raise my son yet harbour and continue on with this anger? My heart softened that day. I knew that I could not hold such a rage against men that were of my own.
I learned how to forgive. I learned how to see through their pain and into them. I learned this because it is how I learned how to see myself.
As I continued on my journey of remembering who I was as a Dane Zaa and Cree woman I began to see the beauty of Indigenous people. I began to hold a deep appreciation for the satire humor, sharp laughter, and the humble resiliency that often goes unacknowledged. I have met many Indigenous men with good hearts, strong teachings, and that hold an abundant love and respect for Indigenous women and Creation.
You cannot see the beauty when you are busy hating.
Indigenous men are beautiful creatures to behold, even when they think they are not.
This morning my heart weighed heavy as I have been meeting Indigenous man after Indigenous man reaching out to me as if I was a beacon of healing and light. As if my hands and kisses could heal them. For a moment I could see them in the middle of this struggle… I could see them trying to step into their place beside the women. I could see them trying to move into the roles as Indigenous men that they were meant to fill, and I could see the honest desire to do so alive in them. Then I could feel their pain in my chest. I could feel their past tugging on them and sensed the colonial Indian context refusing to let their feet step into new ground. I seen that a lot of the time they were alone in this, that they had no one to show them how to step into the role of the healthy Indigenous man. There was a lot of confusion and the path ahead was not always clear.
I cried this morning. I finally got it, I understood. I prayed for my brothers and for their healing. I prayed that their burdens be light and the transition be made a little easier for them. I prayed that they were given strength and guidance. I prayed for their freedom and for their flight.
We need them. I need them. I need you.
You are not alone.