I really do think that there is a need right now for a more critical voice on indigenous issues. It is comfort that I talk about, and I think it has lured, and it did for me for a few years, I see this now in hindsight, a lot of us Indigenous intellectuals into complacency, and moderated our criticism to the level of theory. A lot of my non-academic friends say, “Oh, you want to leave the university, now you can be critical, you can say what you really think.” Shit, was that not always the case? And I realized, no it wasn’t because you have to play a certain game. I really do think it is necessary right now because the whole reconciliation thing with Indigenous people has become a salve on the guilt of white people and everything is to make white people feel better, as opposed to doing anything really meaningful for Natives. And the way they do that is by picking all the artists, the musicians, the intellectuals that they like and that are cooperative, and they bring them in and they reward them and they hold them up and they fund them, and say, “look! Natives can make it in Canada. We’re not racist. We’re not a discriminatory society.” We have all these people who are willing to come in and participate. And they do that organizationally. You go into the communities, and you talk to people, and there is a lot of dissatisfaction with our leadership and with the way things are going. And a lot of disgust with a lack of willingness of leaders to stand up and be openly critical, so I am looking forward to retaking that empty spot. There’s a lot of youth that are very critical, there’s a lot of artists, but they don’t have the platform or the vocabulary, and people always expect young people to be critical, they don’t take them that seriously. But when you have someone from a more established position, someone from my generation coming forward and saying no in a hard-hitting way, it adds to that, and I think it is an element that's missing. That’s what people expect of me, and I like the idea of doing that because I think that one of the things I have learned is how to do that without completely alienating the powers. You hit them hard, but you always show them that there is an opportunity. If you just say, “ go back to Europe,” or, “give us all the land back,” or, “give us all your money,” to me, those are morally justifiable positions, but they are not really going to resonate with anyone. I may believe that that is, in a fantasy world, what should be done, but my job is to really hit them hard with criticisms that are real and valid, and I don’t hold back from criticizing for fear of retribution. But, to also keep one foot in reality and say, “we are willing to work with you on a solution that takes us towards justice. If you are willing to admit that your society has fucked us over, and that your values, and your principles, and your government are colonial, let’s work together to fix that.” But, I am not going to work with anyone who defends everything the way it is today, and I am not going to say that Natives should just accept the way it is, and find a way to get validated in that system. I think that is the perspective that I brought politically for years, and people saw that as a really good, strong criticism through my writing, and I think it is one that needs to be brought forward again.
I haven’t written anything major, like a book or anything like that, in a few years and I have always said it’s because things are the same. Why would I write another book about the same thing, but that has changed now. While the colonial structure is still the same, the techniques are different, they’ve evolved, and our own peoples acceptance and participation in them is a new element… then there is a whole element of a whole new set of criticisms of our movement that have been brought forward. So, queer perspectives, indigenous women, and other people that have been marginalized bring forward these criticisms of the way resistance has been done, like of my work and of the work of everybody that has been doing it. So, that is a new element too. Not only new criticisms of the coopted process, but new criticisms of us. So, how do we respond to those criticisms of exclusion, of bias, of patriarchy, colonial masculinity? Those were all things that weren’t even part of the discussion ten to fifteen years ago, in general. Some people, of course, were talking about them forever, but you could go to a conference on Indigenous issues and never hear those words, and no one would expect you to say those things, whereas now, it is core to what we are doing.
There is a lot of suppressed rage from many generations among Indigenous women. It is all coming out. I am just really disappointed in a lot of the men who are not willing to stand up and take their shots, and be authentic. To say, “this is who I am, this is what I’ve done, this is me, and I still want to be a leader, and I want to engage with you on how can I support this struggle?” Most of them are not doing that. Most of them are trying to stay under the radar so that they’re not the targets. Part of what I see my job going forward is to open up that dialogue. From a person who has embodied it, and is confronting it, and who is trying to move beyond it, this is what colonial masculinity is. And you guys should all know that, and get in on this dialogue.
What you have is traditional pre-contact societies, which we are referencing as being ideal. For the most part matrilineal, or matriarchal. They at least had gender balance. Then of course, you had the imposition of imperialism and colonial patriarchy, which suppressed women, and elevated men. And so, we have been living that for 150 years. So that has worked its way into almost every Native community, even in people’s conception of what tradition is. The most difficult thing for Native intellectuals, who are men, to grasp, is that even though we were decolonizing and saw ourselves as allies to Indigenous women, we were still doing it built on the privileges of a patriarchal system. Now it has evolved to the point where Indigenous women are saying, “No, even though you are trying to do good, you are still standing on the privilege of the patriarchy and embodying that colonial masculinity in order to defend our nations.” That is the next thing you need to confront, and we need to challenge that and take it down. And then the whole element of, “we are a matriarchal society,” it should be women in charge. For me, the challenge always is to be committed to the restoration of our Indigenous governance systems, and not to hold on, because of ego of self-interest, to a position that is rooted in colonialism.
There is another book in there in terms of a memoir or autobiographical reflection on this transition from embodiment of colonial masculinity to this other thing. I think that is a necessary thing too. That is relevant to not only Indigenous, but I think all men. In particular, I see a basis for writing from the position of racialized man. Before it was just Indigenous, and it’s hard for Black, Chinese guys, or East Asian guys to relate to Indigenous male experience. But, we all are kind of similar in our experience as a racialized male in Canadian society, in terms of the way the institutions relate to us, the way white women relate to us, the way whiteness relates to us, we have a shared set of experiences. There is a platform there to say, “This book is from a racialized male perspective, not just an Indigenous one.” The more I talk to guys from other communities and backgrounds, who are not white, particularly Black communities, it seems like Black and Indigenous have a real connection. We (Black people and Indigenous people) are the two founding injustices of North America. Genocide and slavery. The other racialized peoples, for better or worse, came into that project, either as labor, or more recently, as investors and economic migrants. They all came to make their life as part of that project. There are other people that suffered injustices, but we are the two oppressed peoples of North America. That narrative and that reality is the thing that gives that connection to Indigenous and Black, and everyone else is kind of in that colonial mélange.There is a narrative coming about blackness from the United States, whether you are resistant and so forth, and people in Canada can’t ignore that. You have to engage with it somehow. Same thing with Natives. What’s coming from the US, culturally, on Instagram, in the movies, on TV? It’s such an overwhelming force in defining what it is to be Black or Native, or at least giving you cues and things you need to relate to construct your Native-ness or your Blackness.
One of the things I’ve thought is that there’s a lot of speakers, and a lot of people doing keynotes, engaging white people and other communities on these issues, but not a lot of people who have lived this experience, as a racialized male. And there’s a reason for that, we tend to not be educated, tend to be in jail, or shot, or whatever, and don’t live too long. And so, who gets to speak and shed light on that experience? It’s great, there are a lot of women who are articulating criticisms of the society and of movements, but there are so few Indigenous and Black males out there doing it.
The worst thing that the white people ever did was convince us that we are all different, and enemies, and competing. That’s the way they control us. But we are not tribes, we are Indigenous people, we need to be working together, not giving up who we are as tribal people. I’m proud to be Mohawk, but at the same time, let’s be smart and let’s recognize that we are all related, and let’s confront what the true threat to our existence is.