Cherish her: A message to my First Nation brothers

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Lori Mainville: friend, mentor and advisor to Robert Animikii Horton. Photo: Robert Animikii Horton

Spoken-word poet Mark Gonzales once said that he understands how so many women "have a story that's been told to a maximum of one soul -- maybe less."

I agree with his sentiment entirely.

We are at a time of irony in the legacy of our People, in our history linking to our future, and within our First Nation communities.

In this time of irony (and what I can only describe as an era where too many of our indigenous men have become walking contradictions to the very cultural affinities that we claim to respect, protect, and place pride within), a step backward with open eyes would suggest to the very contrary as one examines the experiences and realities that too many of our Indigenous and First Nation women wake to on a daily basis.

Our Daughters, Granddaughters, Mothers, Sisters, and Friends.

Our women*, whose legacies were traditionally respected as our life givers and strength in our communities for generations, are now (in great and significant numbers across Turtle Island) being pulled beneath a contrary and contradictory legacy at the hands of a number of our men. These all-too-common currents in our river of time are those of reprehensible domestic abuse (from physical, to verbal, and emotional and beyond), to assaults, rape, to our men stepping into the deplorable wake of 'The Deadbeat Dad.'

Spousal abuse and victimization in the family darken the picture, driving many of our women's pride downward.

I see far too many of our women looking downward as they walk while their opinions, strength, concerns, and perspectives existent in our communities are hushed.

One thing is not "becoming crystal clear", it has become clear: too many of our indigenous men are not respecting our women.

Avoiding the assumption that there are not numerous indigenous men of character and conviction who adhere to our cultural foundations and who respect our women in our communities (as well as taking into account that there are countless of our women are fortunate not to experience such conduct or experiences in their lifetime) -- the reality exists that too many of our men have become walking contradictions while claiming to respect and protect our teachings.

Statistics demonstrate, in areas ranging from domestic violence to assault to the alarming rates of single mothers left in the wake of Deadbeat Dads, that we (First Nations) have many cycles to break, a dynamic legacy to maintain, examples to demonstrate, and many, many of our sisters, daughters, wives, and mothers to empower in alignment with the respect and reverence granted to them as our life-givers and the centre of our communities in our sacred and timeless teachings.

Until then, a sobering contradiction remains to be seen by our sisters who may feel the cold fists of abuse stemming from a body adorned with a shirt that reads 'Native Pride', a community meeting where the true strength in our community is hushed by adopted patriarchy and rigid colonial gender 'norms', and those who strip respect and dignity from our women within the home or community while rehashing spoken rhetoric about placing personal focus on "Seven Generations forward" at a faraway podium.

True, one cannot deny that our communities have inherited histories of multigenerational trauma through colonization, pluming forth many of the realities we see. This, nor the trickle down cause and influence across generations, should never be downplayed, minimized, or forgotten.

However, our personal responsibilities, individual choices, and collective conduct should (and must) overcome the afterglow while many seek to heal the breaks from past to present and carry our strengths into the future.

I believe that addressing these contradictions and empowering our teachings to address this lack of respect towards too many of our women, our life-givers, will equate to the healing of our communities.

To break the legacy of trauma and victimization in communities must begin with the "too-many" of our men breaking cycles in our own conduct.

Increasing the well-being and pride of our women will increase the messages of resiliency and strength adorned in the words they give to their children.

Strong women make strong families.

Strong families make strong communities.

Strong communities will re-create strong Nations.


Because if we can agree that the woman is the centre of the family, they are also the centre of the community and likewise the centre of the Nation.

Men, the longer our conduct and contradictions go unexamined, the longer we place the fundamentals of our culture onto the historical rungs of endangered vulnerability, creating a tragic disconnect between a sound history and a strong future.

I believe now is the time for our men to reflect, to examine, and to question our current attitudes, our current actions, our current way we speak to, and our conduct towards our women.

Do these things adhere and align with the fundamental and foundational teachings at the core of who we are, in the character of those that came before, and at the cultural heart of that which we claim such "Native Pride"?

I believe now is the time to come to terms with the well-being of the relationship we are building between our People and generations to come. This begins with the respect and the value we place on our women, aligned with our traditional teachings. As our women are our children's first teacher and leader; the message, the pride, and the character than our women give to the child is that which will be brought into, and spoken into, the world.
This message is one which will speak to all of us, in the future, as well.

And finally, I believe that;

Humbly but directly put, now is the time to come to the realization, to solidify this awareness, and to separate the rhetoric from true integrity of what is clearly and logically self-evident. And that is...

One cannot respect the future, our future, or Seven Generations forward without truly respecting those that make the future, our future, and Seven Generations forward possible; our women.

Men...all indigenous women should feel respected, appreciated, beautiful, and valued.

And real men know how to treat women with value and respect; no question and no excuses.

In a very real way, our happiness and collective futures are greatly tied in with theirs.

Step it up, Fellas.

*Author's Note: The term "our" in the preceding lines and message is meant to contextualize only, not by any means to objectify through possessive terminology.

Robert Animikii Horton, "Bebaamweyaazh", an Anishinaabe member of Rainy River First Nations of Manitou Rapids and from the Marten Clan, has built a reputation as a progressive and outspoken activist, contrarian writer, and respected orator on an international scale, speaking on topics such as community organizing, political/social/economic justice, and youth empowerment. He is a sociologist, social and political activist, and spoken-word poet. This written work was featured in Ryerson University's "Protecting the Circle: Aboriginal Men Ending Violence Against Women." It is dedicated to all women upon Turtle Island and also dedicated to Sisters in Spirit.

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