Moose on the Loose: Indigenous Men, Violence, and the Colonial Excuse


By challenging stereotypes of Indigenous men and Indigenous societies, Robert Innes, unpacks the direct influence of settler colonialism that inflicts violence on Indigenous women and men.

“If government actors are truly interested in assisting Indigenous communities in dealing with the violence in their communities, they should demonstrate this commitment by developing a national strategy to curb violence against Indigenous women. Special attention should be paid to the way race, gender, and power intersect in the violence faced by Indigenous women. To address violence against Indigenous women successfully, a strategy should also address Indigenous men both as victimizers and as victims.” 54-55.

"Although far from definitive, the data shows that Indigenous men are much more likely to commit, be charged with, and die as a result of murder than anyone else in Canada. They are also more likely than anyone else to be incarcerated. Joan Jack is correct in referring to these facts as the moose in the living room insofar as few are willing to discuss the high rate of violence in which Indigenous men are implicated. However, even fewer discuss the level of violence inflicted upon Indigenous men. In many ways, this is not surprising; as I will argue next, placing the emphasis on the violence of which Indigenous men are capable while at the same time ignoring their victimization is caused by a specific kind of race and gender bias many white people have towards Indigenous men. (51).

Understanding Indigenous Male Violence

From the federal government’s perspective, the evidence of the prevalence of violence among Indigenous men supports its contention that a national inquiry into murder and missing Indigenous women is unnecessary – the problem, according to government, is Indigenous men themselves. This view of Indigenous men only as victimizers acts to simplify a long history of complex colonial interaction between Indigenous people and Canadians. Indigenous people underwent an intense process of cultural genocide through federal and provincial governments’ formal assimilation policies and through everyday informal interactions with white people. The assimilation process used and continues to use the White supremacist heteronormative patriarchy as a means of colonizing Indigenous peoples’ bodies, minds, and lands, leaving a lasting and negative impact on Indigenous communities.

For Indigenous men, the assimilation process meant, among other things, that Indigenous ideals of masculinity had to be replaced to conform to a masculinity that upheld the White supremacist heteronormative patriarchy. A certain kind of hierarchy supports this patriarchy. Where someone is situated in the hierarchy is determined in relation to males who exhibit a combination of the masculine attributes informed by White supremacist heteronormative patriarchy. The notions of this masculinity are what all men must strive to achieve and maintain in order to be recipients of male privilege to its fullest extent. Indigenous men, like all men, benefit from male privilege. Not all men receive the same level of benefits, however; as Connell states, “the men who receive most of the benefits and the men who pay most of the costs are not the same individuals.” Benefits of male privilege that arise out of the White supremacist heteronormative patriarchy are based on multiple intersecting factors that depend on race, sexuality, class, and physical and mental attributes, among other considerations. Both men and women understand what the current masculine ideals are, as these ideals are ubiquitous, making it very difficult for alternative forms of masculinity to exist equally in our society. The hegemonic nature of current masculine ideals has been normalized, and as a result, most uncritically accept the male behaviours it engenders as simply “the way things are.”

The racialized and gendered perceptions that white people have of Indigenous men situate the latter within the hierarchy in a subordinate position to white men. Recognizing how race and gender bias intersect to disadvantage Indigenous men can assist our understanding of the nature of violence involving Indigenous men, and can also explain how viewing them as victimizers is relatively easy for white people. Khaled Beydoun is helpful here, as he outlines the intersectionality of race and gender bias men of colour in the United States face. According to Beydoun, men of colour in the U. S. face not only racial discrimination but gendered discrimination as well, although these two forms of discrimination are seldom discussed together in relation to men. Beydoun notes that 'The distinct tropes associated with black and brown masculinity . . . attract a distinct brand of gendered racism reserved for men of colour. Indeed, being both minority and male in the US today invites a brand of gendered stigma that is under-discussed in media and academic circles, and marginalised by a narrow conception of gender discrimination...'

White peoples’ fear influences how they respond to Indigenous men’s presence, whether through institutions or media, or in face-to-face interactions. This fear compels many white men to want to protect themselves and white women from Indigenous men. The interaction between white male police officers and Indigenous males is an example not only of the way in which the White supremacist heteronormative patriarchal hierarchy is protected but also of the way in which negative treatment of Indigenous men is justified and accepted because of their supposedly violent and dangerous nature....

The Indigenous community and the country as a whole must come to grips with the level of violence involving Indigenous men. In other words, to borrow Joan Jack’s phrasing, “the moose has to be let loose” on the subject of Indigenous male violence. However, it is also important to note that even though many Indigenous men are entangled in dysfunctional and violent situations, the majority is not. More and more Indigenous men like Paul Lacerte, who created the Moose Hide Campaign, are publically and actively taking a stance against violence towards Indigenous women. Indigenous male violence does not occur in a vacuum. Violence, contrary to the racial and gender perceptions Canadians have, is not a natural outcome of the Indigenous male psyche." (51-54).

Publication Information

Innes, Robert Alexander, "Moose on the Loose:  Indigenous Men, Violence, and the Colonial Excuse," Aboriginal Policy Studies 4, no 1 (2015): 46-56.

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