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Unpacking Fatherhood as a Black and Indigenous Man

Fatherhood

I grew up without a relationship to my biological father, a Black man. As the only Afro-Indigenous boy growing up in a small Haida village, the absence of my father, and particularly his absence as a Black man, was constantly emphasized. As the only half Black child in my village, I was frequently ridiculed and experienced racism from a very young age. I already felt a deep emotional wound due to his absence and the further emphasis of his absence by relatives and community members, always steeped in racial stereotypes of absentee Black male fathers, compounded my hurt. My father should have been there to show me the ropes of being a Black boy, but he was nowhere to be found. In place of the love and guidance young boys hope to find from their fathers, anger and resentment became my constant companions.


The pain I felt growing up without my father made me determined to be a better father in the future. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a deep desire to be father. You can ask my mom, even when I was young I was talking about my dream to be a loving and present father. While I may not have had the tools to articulate my vision at the time, I was imagining a relationship with my future children that could break the double intergenerational traumas Black and Indigenous children face.

Black American fathers have faced generations of ancestral trauma and separation – first from their homelands in Africa and then from their children throughout slavery, as families were picked apart, separated, and sold to different plantations. These initial separations set the stage. This history has built a culture for Black men that is steeped in wounded masculinity, where men are valued for their size and athleticism, but rarely their ability to present and compassionate parents.


My parent wounds were not just connected to Black ancestral traumas but also Indigenous cycles of trauma. Indigenous fathers have also experienced a deep separation from their offspring since the beginning of the residential schooling system. In what is now known as Canada and the United States, the colonial governments of both countries forcefully removed native children from their communities and families to “kill the Indian, and save the man” approach was widely known at the time. The residential schools were meant to separate these children from their culture and indoctrinate them in the ways of the west and white supremacy. Indigenous families were robbed of the right to raise their children. There was significant abuse that occurred at residential schools and girls and boys who returned to their tribes after schooling, often returned with sizable traumas. This legacy of trauma has perpetuated from generations, and still plays out today in the violence, alcoholism, and absenteeism that plague many Indigenous fathers.


As I grew up and re educated myself on the ways Black and Indigenous fathers have been systemically separated from the opportunity to be present fathers, I knew that my own journey towards fatherhood would require significant healing. I had to embrace both my Blackness and Indigeneity and address my fractured relationship with men and my fatherhood head on. This was not easy in any way, but it was the only way to ensure my future children would not suffer another generation of this hurtful cycle.

In 2013, I became a father. The arrival of Isaiah was one of the greatest gifts and challenges of my life. I was younger than I had expected to be as I crossed over the threshold of fatherhood, but I was as determined as ever to show up for my son. I proactively approached my responsibilities to heal as a father by:

  • Working with a therapist

  • Participating in men’s spaces

  • Attending ‘Fatherhood is sacred training’

  • Prioritizing mental health training


Even with intention and action, fatherhood has not been easy. My relationship with Isaiah's mother was not always smooth. We struggled to find harmony in our relationship during the first few years of Isaiah’s life. With patience, intentional reconciliation, open communication, respect, and a mutual commitment to putting Isaiah’s needs first, we have been able to build a strong co-parenting relationship to ensure Isaiah grows up healthy and happy. Resentment and pettiness can come into play when dealing with former partners and failed relationships. But at the end of the day, our little man comes first.

Isaiah is a beautiful and spirited boy, who continually teaches me the depths of fatherhood and manhood. I’m determined to allow his spirit to thrive and to infuse compassion into our relationship – this requires dedication, patience, and ego death. Isaiah is eight years old now, and each day he seems to grow more into himself and his own authority. I’ve had to grow emotionally to ensure I’m giving him enough space to flex his autonomy and express big and at times difficult emotions, even when they are directed negatively at me. Black and Indigenous fatherhood is not easy, but that’s not the point. If we are to reclaim our sovereignty as peoples we must allow our children to exercise their own sovereignty as they grow.



Each day I make a choice to be a better father to my son. Each day I make a choice to ensure my child does not feel the pain I felt growing up. Each day I prioritize my healing so I can break intergenerational traumas and create a better environment for my son, and our community at large. Each day I show up. I’m not perfect, but I am here and my son knows that will always be the case.

I welcome current and future Black and Indigenous fathers to join me in compassionate, sacred fatherhood practices. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years:

  1. Be patient with yourself and your children. We all mess up, but with patience, we can all grow into better versions of ourselves. Extend that grace to your children and yourself.

  2. Work on your personal traumas. Hurt perpetuates hurt. If you don’t address your own shit, you will pass that pain onto your children. Take accountability.

  3. Let your children see you cry. It’s so important that we redefine masculinity for our children – seeing their fathers express big emotions will give them space to do the same.

  4. Learn with your children. Children bless their parents with a new set of eyes to see the world, let your child be the teacher too. And always, teach by example, it’s better to be taught than told something.

  5. Get excited about the little wins. Parenting is hard work – you can’t climb the mountain in a day. Celebrate all the progress you make and celebrate your child’s growth with the same enthusiasm.

  6. Communicate clearly and often. A top-down parenting approach is aligned to western hierarchical thinking – challenge this in yourself. Create channels of open, bi-directional communication with your child.

  7. Challenge them to walk with love. Our children, especially Black and Indigenous children, are walking into a harsh world built to break them. Encourage them to develop their empathy and compassion, so they can bring more love into the world.

What has fatherhood taught you? What do you wish more Black and Indigenous fathers knew? Drop your experience in the comments!

Together, we can reimagine Black and Indigenous fatherhood – and we must – for our children.

Much love

Nangghaahlaangstangs


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