Carrying the Burden of Peace

22 June 2022

Carrying the Burden of Peace
by Sam McKegney
Published by University of Regina Press
Reviewed by Madonna Hamel
$34.95 ISBN 9780889777934

From the first sentence of his book, Carrying the Burden of Peace, author Sam McKegney poses questions big enough for all of us to embrace, questions asking for new ways to scrutinize our world: “Can a critical examination of Indigenous masculinities be an honour song?” he asks. Can it “celebrate rather pathologize”? How do we hold institutions accountable and yet still “validate and affirm” the people who need validating and affirming? How do we entertain change without “fixing new terms of engagement”?

His most pressing question: “Can an examination of Indigenous masculinities be an embodied enterprise?” Makes me think: If it can’t we are all doomed, because nowhere in the wider culture have I found a people more effective at embodiment – through humour, creativity, eros, and spirit – than Indigenous communities.

The title of McKegney’s book comes from the Kanien’keha:ka word for “warrior”, which when translated, reads: “those who carry the burden of peace.” (This gives me pause, once again, to consider what we lose and have lost, intentionally and unintentionally, in translation.)

McKegney quotes activist and artist Ellen Gabriel, who says: “A real warrior uses peaceful means first, and is one who honours, respects and practices peace in their daily lives but has the ability to protect the people and the land when a threat to their safety is imminent.”

The meaning behind the title is internal to the book and echoes throughout it, as does an insistence on maintaining and returning to the goal of embodiment. To “carry” is to embody, he reminds us. And a “burden” is a responsibility extending “beyond the individual” and – he adds, refreshingly, because we rarely address it in this context – into the “erotic”.

And then, there’s “peace.” McKegney is painstaking with language, especially with words like “peace”, which are often maligned or appropriated and disempowered. This review is but a summary of a deep and rich exploration that demands rereading. But what strikes me initially is how McKegney assures us and informs us that “peace” is only possible within an extended understanding and acknowledgement of present-day reality, an awareness of greater possibility, and a rejection of the old “impoverished imaginings of colonial masculinities.”

In his book, McKegney integrates poetry, prose, and discussions of artworks by male and female artists, Indigenous and otherwise. His method reflects his call to re-integrate the lives of children who were separated from kin, “whose minds and bodies were severed through Cartesian dualism” and “separated from sacred lands and waters through confinement within residential schools.” In doing so, McKegney’s book embodies integrity, by bringing the reader back to the fundamental need to integrate family, community, and nation.

Through many sources and voices, McKegney illustrates how a community helps us resist turning to “violence as a libratory instrument” and to question the concept of “a just violence”. In quoting author Richard Van Camp, he says: “There is magic here if you’re willing to look past the stereotypes.” He embodies the hope this book holds by saying that the “magic” is concerned with what it means to be whole, “to be a good man – a good lover, a good friend, a good father, son, uncle and brother.”


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