In Defense of the Native Man by Twyla Baker-DemarayTweet
I recently listened to a young woman’s diatribe against Native American men (and more or less, Native people in general). This woman railed against Native men, calling them aggressive and drunks. She claimed they get free money and that essentially they are worthless good-for-nothings who never leave the reservation. This woman, of Native descent herself, claimed to have been raised close to the reservation, but did not stay there or associate with those people, because she did not want that life, -whatever that was supposed to mean.
Ever since hearing her words, I’ve been stewing. I’ve turned her words over and over in my head, and in all honesty I can say that it is probably for the best that I am not in a position to speak to her directly. I realize that hers are the words of an imbecilic, superfluous walking contradiction; however her rant is not the first I’ve ever heard speaking so poorly of Natives or of Native men in particular. Indeed, I’ve been guilty of such rants of my own in the past. As I’ve grown older I have thought more about my words, and those of my Native sisters, when we speak of our men. For the most part, negative words sprang from some immediate hurt that occurred; venting during some painful episode that typically resolves. Now that I am older, however, I realize that I cannot continue this pattern. Hurt can fade and relationships mend, but my words are still out there. They hang in the air, infecting the minds of those I may have spoken to and impacting their view.
Native men have been a part of my world since I first entered it. My father, brothers, and other male relatives all played critical roles in my upbringing. Though my mother played the role of primary caretaker, it was a man who provided for the both of us. It was a man who taught me how to ride a bike (and wreck one gracefully, incidentally). It was a man who taught me to drive, fish, and hunt. It was a man who instilled a love for the Earth and my people within me; so much so that it forged the path I walk in my professional life. It was a man who mentored me, and gave me my first real shot at leadership as a professional. While Native women may make concessions or state exceptions during our rants about Native men for our male family or close friends, what we don’t realize is that when we may say oh, my brothers/dad/etc. don’t count, in the end when we speak ill of Native men, we also speak ill of those we love, regardless of any modifiers we may throw in at the last minute. I am absolutely guilty of doing this very thing. I am humbled and glad to admit that I have changed my thinking.
I don’t perceive myself to be some sort of traitor to my gender when I say that I think we as Native women must build up our Native men – not degrade, denigrate, and criticize them. What makes me grasp this, more so than being a sister, a daughter, or even a wife – is that I am a mother. I look at my three sons and realize that though I may have suffered hurt, pain, and sadness through my relationships with men, Native or otherwise, in whatever capacity, I now understand that their hurting me likely stemmed from someone else hurting them – including from other females.
As a mother, I shoulder as much responsibility for raising respectful, responsible, and caring young men, as my husband does. How can I model this behavior to my sons (and really, to my daughters) if I teach them through my actions and words, that Native men are second-class citizens, irresponsible, loutish drunkards who can be expected to disappoint you at every turn, and that they are not even worthy of the respect of Native women? I cannot. When I look at my sons and I see their innocence, joy, affection, and their abounding love for me, for their sisters, their aunts, grandmothers, and female friends. I can see the companions they will become- the wonderful fathers to so many children that they are destined to someday be. For the love of my children, and the generations they will create after me, I can see no other path, except to foster that.
I can say the same things for my brothers, my father, uncles, friends, and most importantly, my own companion; those men who I am lucky enough to know and to walk with, Native or otherwise. They must be treated with as much respect, honor, and love as they bestow upon me, a Native woman. I think there are certainly enough people who are willing, just as that young, ignorant woman was, to throw our Native men under the bus; why on Earth would I want to ally myself with such people?
Yes, there are “bad men” out there. This is a certainty. However, keep in mind, there are also “bad women” out there. I think what may be closer to the truth is that humans are humans. Neither gender is more predisposed to cause hurt than the other. Yet, the Native man has become the “enemy”; a predatory, dark figure of sorts, not to be trusted with our children, our money, our homes, or our hearts. In the eyes of the people, Native women have become martyrs, or fallen angels of sorts, while Native men are just fulfilling their destiny; the absolute worst of all stereotypes that even we Native people perpetuate! I cannot accept this. I would declare in fact, insist that this only becomes truth when we allow it to!
What I would ask of my Native sisters, in the end, is to think again when speaking about our Native men. As we women build each other up, so should we build up the spirits of our brother, the Native man. He who throughout history, has protected us, provided for us, prayed for us, raised us, loved us, and died for us. If we as Native women are unwilling to fight and speak up for our men, who will? Speak words of kindness, respect, and love for our brothers. Let nothing but good come from your spirit to theirs. Yes, there are instances when this may not be possible; but ask yourself,- truly ask yourself Native sister – for every one of those instances, aren’t there so many more Native men in your life who are the very definition of honor? I know you can think of many of them. I certainly can.
In the end, I begrudgingly thank that young woman, for with her words of hate, ignorance, and lateral violence. She caused me to think about myself and how I interact with the men in my life. I am thankful for that humbling, and offer my prayer that someday her eyes will be opened to the beauty she now rejects; if not as a companion (for I don’t know that she now possesses the strength to walk with a real Native man); then at least as a fellow human being worthy of respect. I write this for my brothers, my father, my friends and relatives. Most of all, I write it for my beautiful sons, and of course, my best friend, their father and my companion. I also write it for my lovely mother, daughters, sisters, aunts, and female friends, for without one, the other cannot exist.