When TRT got the tip that that Hayehe:s Matthew Joseph Myke was facing trial by jury for repeatedly raping a child on charges dating back to 2016 with the potential of 40 years in prison everyone was stunned. How did this information not make it into the public sphere for so long?
When news broke, the response from the indigenous community was that of shock and anger. People were caught off guard that a person so versed in ceremony and tradition would commit such a heinous act. More were grateful that he was being held accountable. Others shared they were eyewitnesses to his arrest.
One woman, a family member, threatened to sue, demanded we silence public commentary on the story on our website and social media. They claimed the child was truly the one to blame and attempted to convince us that Myke was the true victim.
Another woman, also family member, came forward and claimed we included Myke’s Haudenosaunee name to punish him and get more visits to our website.
Another person came to Myke’s defence claiming the upcoming trial was “nobody’s business”.
Hear this: child sexual assault by a man being positioned as a carrier of traditional knowledge is everyone’s business. Claiming space as a traditional knowledge keeper while you are a child sex offender is an abuse of power.
Myke was being placed into positions of public authority. Some Cayuga families told TRT that his name was being tossed around as a possible candidate to become a hereditary chief. The hereditary chiefs and clan mothers had recently delegated him to act as a speaker on their behalf and sanctioned him to begin developing a new department in their administration.
Were they aware of the charges he was facing?
Traditionally, a person accused of such crimes would never be considered to serve as a leader. Iroquoian nations took harsh justice against those who committed sex crimes like rape, sexual abuse or incest. Means of punishment varied from public humiliation to deep facial scars that would disfigure the accused for life and at times, banishment from their community.
Colonial occupation of indigenous nations combined with systems of oppression like residential schools, the reserve system, and the Indian Act all brought with them things like patriarchy and rape culture.
At the same time, indigenous governments became destabilized and lost the authority to carry out justice, uphold ethical standards and reinforce traditional values.
We don’t talk about it enough: patriarchy is a problem on reserves and so is rape culture.
The Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres estimates up to 80% of indigenous girls on reserves under the age of 18 have been victims of sexual assault.
But rape culture is more than just assault itself. Silence, enabling behaviors, victim-blaming, and worse play out on First Nations reserves across Canada. We all know it. We’ve all seen it. Many of us have lived and participated in it.
The practice of willful blindness or making excuses for people accused of child sexual abuse are a part of rape culture.
Wikipedia defines rape culture as the normalization of behaviours such as “victim blaming, slut-shaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, refusing to acknowledge the harm caused by sexual violence or some combination of these things.”
Silencing situations of child sexual assault in First Nations communities are our first problem. A root problem that infects absolutely everything else in our lives.
Indigenous people in Canada have the highest rates of traumatic childhood sexual assaults across the country.
Combined with the plague of silence — childhood sexual assault is the root trauma for indigenous men and women who end up statistics among MMIWG or in Canadian prisons.
In 2016 the Canadian Press did an investigative series on the issue, reporting that sexual abuse and incest on reserves were rampant and something indigenous people often kept a secret.
Author Kristy Kirkup wrote, “Within indigenous society, the knowledge that children are being molested is often an open secret — but one to which few are willing to give voice. Instead, they dance around the words, talking about child welfare, bullying, substance abuse, intergenerational trauma, and community conflict.”
Indigenous leaders reacted across Canada, confirming that they knew unreported sex abuse on reserves was rampant. AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde said it was an issue community leaders need to address and claimed he was having a meeting with cabinet ministers about it. Justice Murray Sinclair identified it as part of the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s deputy grand chief called it the source issue of most indigenous people’s addictions.
“If somebody’s going through trauma or addicted to alcohol or drugs, there’s a reason,” said Jason Smallboy, “And probably 80 percent, 90 percent is related to sexual abuse.’’
Indigenous children’s advocate Cindy Blackstock told the Canadian Press, “One of the first steps in addressing sexual abuse is acknowledging its existence and saying it is not OK. We have to make sure that our kids know that elders are the keepers of the traditions and no one in our community, including elders, ever has a right to harm a child.”
Blackstock went on to say that indigenous people must get to a place of allowing stories of sexual abuse to come into the light and be spoken about. “We have to, as a group, embrace what hurts and we have to say to those young people that ‘We know that’s part of your experience and we are not going to deny it. We know it is there and we want to be there with you to do something about it.’”
Sexually assaulted children learn that they don’t matter. And people who grow up believing they don’t matter and are told by colonial systems that they don’t matter end up vulnerable.
We aren’t born more likely to be murdered, go missing, commit suicide, addicted to drugs and alcohol or commit crimes because of our indigenous-ness. We follow a pathway of trauma and disadvantage — beginning with childhood sexual trauma.
Silence is the link of this chain that needs to be broken. Silence about child sex abuse is bad medicine.