Hanky Panky

“My latest work Hanky Panky highlights the problems with the Canadian (in)justice system: the criminal targeting and disproportionate incarceration of Indigenous people; the victimization of Indigenous women, who experience violence and sexual assault at rates three times higher than other women in Canada; and the legal neglect of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people. Indigenous people do not put each other on trial in the same way the settler (in)justice system functions.

An all-woman council gathers to witness Miss Chief’s “hanky panky.” Miss Chief is not new to encounters with settler males such as Mounties and politicians. We see a red hanky in the right rear pocket of a handsome, grinning young man which indicates that he is a willing participant. Hanky code was widely used in gay subcultures in the 70s and 80s whereby hankies or coloured bandanas inserted in right or left pants pockets signaled a wide-ranging variety of sexual preferences and fetishes as an invitation to compatible and consensual partners.

These women are loosely inspired by the okihcitâwiskwêwak, the traditional council of Cree women law keepers who held authority over matters relating to the land. In my own reimagining, through their laughter, a group of Indigenous women reclaim their agency from the colonial patriarchal society which has suppressed the leadership roles women have always held in our communities. The women also represent Indigenous acceptance of fluid gender roles, including the Two-Spirit traditions embraced by most First Nations communities on Turtle Island.

This is not a punishment, but rather a consensual act that Miss Chief willingly delivers. This image employs a sense of humour drawn from Cree storytelling. I chose the title Hanky Panky to reflect on the playful nature of Miss Chief’s character, the exuberant laughter of the Indigenous women, and the trickery and deceit of each successive colonial government since Canadian Confederation.”

– Kent Monkman

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