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Man Crush Monday, Pt. 2: Wab Kinew, Renaissance Native From Up North

Gyasi Ross's latest man-crush is on Wab Kinew, a journalist/educator/musician from Canada.
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I don’t only get man-crushes on models. I also crush on artists, activists, and all-around amazing dudes from Canada; no, man-crushes don’t recognize arbitrary borders that separated Indigenous homelands.

That’s right, I’m gangster with these man-crushes.

Every single one of these #MCM Man Crushes are people whom I truly admire and wish I were more like. Inspirational. I read one time, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I started keeping track of my Man Crushes so that I could, like Serpentor in GI Joe, find traits and attributes to emulate amongst a lot of different amazing people.

That made sense to me; how could I be that much different than the company I keep? If I want to be a great dancer, I would probably hang around James Brown (RIP) or Shawn Scabbyrobe or MC Hammer or James Jones or Thosh Collins. Likewise, if I wanted to be a great writer, I’d hang around Sherman Alexie or Robert Chanate or Kurt Vonnegut. Or if I wanted to be a great cook, I’d hang around Emeril (BAM!) or Paula Deen if she didn’t chase me out first while calling me racist pet names like “My sexy ass, bushy, buckskin savage!”.

You get the point; you resemble the company you keep. You TAKE ON the attributes of the company you keep. Some white folks even say that your ANIMALS begin to look like you (I’m not convinced though—what do you think?).

Mom and me.

But what about those young folks who want to do everything? What if you’re a young Native person who has NO interest in giving up ANY of your dreams—you plan to accomplish them all—who do you spend time with and emulate then??

I have an answer for you, young Native folks who want to accomplish everything: Wab Kinew. An Indigenous brother who DOESN’T KNOW how to NOT do what he wants. 

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Let me rephrase that: Wab Kinew is an Indigenous man who does EXACTLY what he wants to do. That’s powerful. Native people have been taught over and over again—through such devices as forcibly having our children removed and being prevented from practicing our religious beliefs at the risk of going to prison—that we have no control over our destinies. We are victims.

That is wrong. We are not victims unless we choose to be.

Folks like Wab Kinew show that this lesson, that we cannot determine our own fates, is false. We CAN be in control—we have every tool and ability to do so. It’s a matter of self-determination. It’s a choice.

This is Man Crush Monday and success is sexy as hell to me. Self-determination is sexy as hell. Ambition is sexy as hell. Most importantly, being successful, self-determining, and ambitious while CONTINUING to work hard for ALL Native people, instead of just a privileged few, is amazing.

Plus, any Indigenous man who’ll sing a round dance song while wearing a Euro-cut suit is just alright with me. 

Mom and me.

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So who is this “Wab” character? What does he do? I thought you’d never ask.

He’s younger than me, but like me, he’s also a father. That’s key; amongst men whom I admire, that relationship with family is crucial. How can you be a leader of many if you cannot lead your family? That’s big. He’s also educated, BA in economics. That’s cool, but he’s not one of the Natives who got educated to only help himself. Nope, he’s using that education to help his community and Native people generally. To wit, he started an Anishinaabe Children’s immersion program at the University of Winnipeg. 

Mom and me.

Community. Language. That’s a lot. But that’s just the beginning.

He also hosted the CBC show 8th Fire: Aboriginal Peoples, Canada & the Way Forward, a documentary series focused on the changing nature of Canada's relationship with its First Nations communities. He is an activist, having been involved in the Indigenous rights struggle since he was a child, and working with the Idle No More movement that sprung up last winter. He is a writer, a journalist (now a correspondent on Al Jazeera) and a musician. Oh yeah, he also has a 9-to-5 as the Director of Indigenous Inclusion at the University of Winnipeg.

That’s a lot of hats. 

Mom and me.

I take inspiration when I see Natives—men AND women—doing exactly what they want to do. It’s inspiring because I know that those powerful and resilient Natives did not get to that point easily; no, I know they likely had to work twice as hard as non-Natives to achieve their goals to overcome those obstacles that we talked about earlier. I’m thankful for brothers like Wab who compel me to expect more of myself—never get painted into a corner. You can do it all. History REQUIRES us to do it all.

"…history is not confined to the past. Someday, our descendants will look back at today and consider this day to be 'history.' What then, will our words and actions today tell our children, grandchildren and generations unborn tomorrow?

I hope to make them proud."

We CAN do it all. We CAN make future generations proud. Traditional. Business. Mainstream. Community. We don’t have to sacrifice who we are or our places within our communities to “succeed” in the eyes of the outside world. In fact, our traditions and homelands and families will help us to accomplish even more. Those spirits guide us.

Thank you to all who show us that we can do it all. 

You can watch Wab on Al Jazeera America’s Fault Lines Saturdays at 7PM Eastern time, 4PM Pacific. You can just generally follow this bad brother at @WabKinew

Let’s support these brothers in all of their endeavors. 

Mom and me.

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
New Book, How to Say I Love You in Indian—order today!!
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi