It’s at every political “Indian” meeting.
It’s at the round tables, the dialogues, and the discussions.
Their behaviours are steeped in it. It’s in the way they speak, how they carry themselves, the way they look or stare.
Fundamentally, it’s the idea that because one is an indigenous male in colonial politics, camouflaged as “Indian politics,” then one has the right to treat women, specifically young indigenous women, as objects in toxic spaces.
It’s the idea that because an indigenous male is in a position of false colonially created power, they can speak to women how they want and when they want, even if women are uncomfortable, frightened, or feel threatened by their behaviour.
It’s even seen and heard at powwows – the emcee constantly cracking jokes that sexualize, objectify, and undermine women. And our children are hearing it, the normalization exists here.
The only time I went to the AFN Xmas gala it happened.
I was leaving to go back to my room for the night. I didn’t drink at the time (still don’t), and was leaving the lobby when I felt someone grab my wrist.
I turned to the side and saw this old Indian man holding onto my wrist.
He was probably in his late 60’s. He looked at me and said “come to my room with me,” with a lecherous look in his eyes.
I quickly pulled my wrist away from his grasp and said “no,” loudly. I looked around to see who was close by, and the people that were walking by were minding their own business.
“At least give me your number.” This old chief replied and laughed, he was obviously intoxicated.
By this time I was feeling scared and began walking away faster as he kept his eyes on my body, looking up and down.
I walked out quickly and texted some friends to let them know what happened.
I wish I got the name of that chief.
I also wish that these kinds of behaviours and mentality of the colonizer, the patriarchal one at that, weren’t normalized and accepted within these spaces.
Not one person stood up or said anything when the interaction, fuelled by patriarchy and sexual harassment, took place. Not the other chiefs walking through the hall and not even the other women who were walking by, blatantly ignoring the situation at hand.
However, it’s not surprising.
It’s not surprising because this particular group of Indigenous men have a name.
The “Old Boys Club.”
It should be the “Wannabe White Men Club.”
Or the “Turn Our Backs Against Our Nations to Comply to Colonialism Club.”
It’s within this “club,” more so this paradigm, where the “Indian” politics taking place are really just colonial politics disguised as “Indian” politics.
Go to any colonial, white, male-led political arena- the House of Commons for example, or any board for big companies, and the same behaviours will saturate the environment.
Patriarchy. Sexism. Dehumanization. Undermining women. Misogyny. And even white privilege.
Because even in this “old boys club,” white men are always bowed down to and praised, even after they have committed acts of genocide against our lands and our bodies.
Shit, it’s the “old boys club” who adorn these genocidal white politicians with head-dresses and appraises, smiling and cracking jokes like they are their bros.
Because that’s where these members of the club get their sense of belonging- by falsely belonging to colonial systems rather than to their own indigenous kinship systems and traditions.
The thing is though, the “old boys club” is made up of indigenous men who are doing everything they can to avoid feeling disempowered in any area of their lives. These men will do anything they can, and behave in any kind of way, to appease and abide by the colonizer and colonial norms. Even if it means threatening, undermining, and sexualizing our women.
Because if they don’t, they will no longer have their “bros,” or get their sense of belonging fulfilled by “the old boys club.”
Now, that’s not to take away the accountability that needs to take place for these men’s toxic colonial behaviours.
But, it does further normalize their behaviours.
Their behaviours have become so normalized that young indigenous women involved in these pseudo-political spaces will share stories of which “creepy” chiefs hit on them where, some behaviours of these chiefs more threatening than others. Young indigenous women will tell one another which ones to stay away from, in order to keep one another safe.
What is happening, and what has happened for generations since the process of attempted colonization began, is colonial patriarchy has worked to assimilate indigenous masculinities. This process has created this normalization within groups of indigenous men to dehumanize, undermine, objectify, and degrade indigenous women the same way that most white males do.
The outcomes of these behaviours are showing up not only in “Indian” politics either.
They are also showing up in our kinship systems where emotionally shut down fathers do everything they can to avoid their traditional roles and responsibilities as indigenous men within their family system. Instead of fulfilling their roles and responsibilities, they become busy complying and abiding to colonial narratives and norms of how “men” are to operate in the world, specifically in relation to their partners, their children, and to women around them. This leads to emotional shutdowns and the idea and belief that men and boys shouldn’t “feel,” and if they do, they are weak. Thus, comes the family breakdowns.
The outcomes of these behaviours are showing up in the false colonial structures of power and control between parents and children, where the belief is that parents are the only decision makers, and the voice of the child is non-existent, ridiculed, and never taken seriously. This can then lead to the dissolving of self-power, confidence, and self-esteem in children, furthermore maintaining a cycle.
Now, the “old boys club” aren’t the only ones to blame, though they are 100% responsible for the harm, trauma, and problems they are causing within the traditionally sacred relationship between men and women. Most of these men committing these behaviours are carbon copies of their colonial “masters” that surround their daily lives. Many of these men have layers of unresolved trauma and grief, and have never had anyone tell them “it’s ok to cry.” Many of these men have never taken one step in the direction of their “healing journeys,” and instead take 10 in the direction of colonialism.
The damage that is happening to our women by patriarchy, colonialism, and misogyny has gotten to the point where our women are saying “enough is enough.”
Rather than staying quiet in fear of being patronized and ridiculed, women are reclaiming their matriarchal roles and stating their truths for all the generations of women and girls before them who never had a chance to.
Our role as Indigenous women today is not just to speak the truth, but our roles are to also raise young boys in homes where it’s safe to feel all feelings, to carry the knowledge that being a boy means having important responsibilities such as honouring the girls and women in their lives, and protecting those girls and women if they ask, or need to be, protected.
Our role as Indigenous women is to practice vulnerability as ruthlessly as we can, to teach our young sons and daughters to be ruthlessly vulnerable themselves, no matter when and where.
Our role is to teach our sons what it really means to respect girls and women, and not just use it as a catch-phrase strewn throughout childhood.
Our role is to remind ourselves of our kinship practices that raised young indigenous men to fulfil who they were and where they come from 100%. To teach these boys to love the lands, and relate to women, the same way they do to Creator.
The weapons we have against the “Old Boys Club” come in the form of truth-speaking, authenticity, of raising young boys in spaces of vulnerability and love, and of rebirthing the systems of matriarchy that existed prior to colonization within our families, communities, and nations.
The things that we have, that the “Old Boys Club” don’t, is what will keep our nations strong.
Freedom from the cycles of colonially created trauma and behaviours will ultimately lead to the rebirth of generations of matriarchs and revolution in our kinship systems.
And that is something the behaviours is the “Old Boys Club” will never defeat, even with all the headdresses they give to colonialism.
Restore the Indigenous Matriarchy, dissolve the colonial patriarchy.
Artwork by: @chiefladybird & @auralast