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Healing From Dysfunction
by Dallas Goldtooth

I need to speak about an issue at hand.

A man I considered a close friend was recently exposed for being convicted of the crime of attempted voyeurism. This was a man many people looked up to in our community. He came from the people, rooted in the community and ended up working for the people in Washington DC. He is educated. He is proud of his heritage. He is an advocate for language revitalization. He is one the best traditional artists I know. And…he was caught trying take illicit photos up women’s skirts without their knowing or consent. Such voyeurism is sexual in nature, and causes women to be unknowing victims in the violation of their privacy and safety. And given how unsafe women already are in public spaces, this behaviour is not ok.

Like I said, many looked up to him. I looked up to him. However, given the recent news, much of that trust and respect has been lost.

Furthermore, this news has brought to light a few personal accounts of inappropriate behavior he exhibited towards other women as well. Women who often kept silent due to fear of losing their jobs. Women who are Native women. Women who now carry the emotional labor of processing this latest news and giving voice to their experience.

For many, this news gives credence to their trauma, acknowledges their testimonies and helps us speak to the greater issue of not normalizing silence when it comes to trauma experienced by women. Furthermore, it allows us to talk about the need for more accountability from our leaders.

Which brings me to some points I want to make.

The man’s name is Bill Mendoza. He committed a crime, he got sentenced and he is paying for it and he will continue to pay for it. He is going through treatment. His reputation is shot. He will have to carry the stigma of his actions for years to come.

Of course, via social media, we have a wave of vitriolic commentary, statements of focused anger directed at Bill for his crimes. And as demonstrated above, he is not free from critique. Again, we must not be afraid to speak of these things. We must not be afraid to hold men accountable. What he did was absolutely wrong.

Yet, I also feel an incredible need to pull the lens away a bit and argue that this individual issue exposes an immense need for greater discussion about masculinity on a macro level. Big community picture. Because truth be told, we are dealing with a pandemic of dysfunctional male behavior and we need to talk about it.

And let it be stated, I AM NOT EXCUSING the behavior of Bill, nor any other man who has exhibited dysfunctional behavior. As stated before, we must hold these men accountable.

However, from my experience of working (and living) in low-income, impacted Indigenous communities, when I encounter dysfunction traumatizing men, I often don’t see healthy balanced men:

-I see men who never developed the emotional intelligence to process experiences of grief, anger, and fear.

-I see hurt boys dressed as adults who never got the chance to heal from trauma experienced as children.

-I see an entire group of our society forcibly disconnected from their full emotional, spiritual capacity.

-I see trauma and fear manifested thru pompous pride, righteous arrogance, violence, substance abuse, sexual deviancy, etc etc.

But what I don’t see is a sustained drive to examine the causes of this behavior.

There is a tremendous demand to hold men accountable for their toxic damages. To call them out. To expose the filthy nature of the big “P” Patriarchy. To reveal perpetrators. To verbalize crimes. Which of course is all needed and serves as one form of justice and healing for victims and communities.

But such actions are shallow if we do not further interrogate the soil of our communities and root out the seeds of dysfunction that give rise to damaged adults.

We need to continue to support the space for women to speak out, to vocalize accountability, and as men, we must believe these statements to the fullest. But we must also look towards building the capacity for men to heal from the damage of being raised as to how settler society defines “men”. We must keep fighting for gender equity and exposing the cancerous expressions of dominant society Patriarchy, meanwhile giving space for dialogue on what alternative balanced patriarchy looks like. And by “we”, I mainly mean we Men. This is our responsibility right now. But we need support from others.

I am not attempting to sugar coat this. This shit is hard. It’s painful.

But I refuse to relinquish my vision of what it means to be a healthy functional Dakota man to the aspirations of what settler society wants from us. To bring it back home, I considered Bill a “kola” – a close friend. I cannot claim that anymore. There’s too much trust broken, too much pain. However, I am not afraid to claim him as a relative in our human family, and I am not afraid to claim him as a relative of my nation, the Oceti Sakowin. I sincerely, wholeheartedly, pray for the healing of those he affected, but also for himself and his family. Because I think his dysfunction is a part of our dysfunction as a people. He carries tremendous responsibility of course and he has his own path within the terms of justice – but ultimately, it is time for us to make the difficult strides to foster a better, healthier vision of what it means to be nephews, sons, brothers, uncles, fathers, and grandfathers.

And honestly family, we haven’t the spare time to lose.


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