‘Invisible’ aboriginal dads under the microscope: The Current

'Fathers may very well be the greatest untapped resources in the lives of aboriginal children," said Edward John, lawyer and Grand Chief of British Columbia's First Nation Summit, in 2004.

‘Fathers may very well be the greatest untapped resources in the lives of aboriginal children,” said Edward John, lawyer and Grand Chief of British Columbia’s First Nation Summit, in 2004.

Seven years later, the issue of “invisible” aboriginal fathers remains largely unexplored, said Anna Maria Tremonti, host of CBC’s The Current.

She wants to get Canadians talking about it and she’s planning to do it from Whitehorse next month.

The Current will be hosting a town hall at the Yukon Arts Centre on Jan. 10. It will be recorded and turned into an episode and aired Jan. 12.

So what is an “invisible” father?

While terms like “deadbeat dads” tend to have a negative implication, generally referring to men who have shirked their family responsibilities, “invisible fathers” are not there for their children because of things that are largely out of their control.

In Canada’s aboriginal communities, the list of causes is lengthy.

“A lot of men are very committed fathers – and that includes in aboriginal homes,” said Tremonti in a telephone interview from Toronto this week.

“But you’ve got other circumstances. You do have the legacy of residential schools. If you look at traditional aboriginal parenting, there was more of a sense that fathers were providing for and protecting children. And then, something got broken.”

Residential schools didn’t just separate aboriginal children from their cultures, they raised them away from any semblance of a nurturing and healthy family setting. The century-long school regime was based on government policies of mass kidnapping and assimilation.

And the schools’ legacy includes the fact that generations of aboriginal students never learned how to be parents.

The traumatic experience of residential school and the extensive cases of physical, mental and sexual abuse also led to, and continues to lead to, rampant alcohol and drug abuses and high rates of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

In what are often related circumstances, aboriginal people are grossly overrepresented in the Canadian prison and justice systems.

“We were in Saskatchewan and I sat in a circle of young, aboriginal prisoners at the Saskatchewan institute,” recounted Tremonti. “Several of them had infants and young children. They spoke in really poignant terms about their children but they couldn’t be with them, obviously. And they talked about their own fathers. Anecdotally, you saw the connections to where they were, compared to where their fathers were.”

Predominantly, the traditional role of men in aboriginal cultures has always been one of the provider. They hunted and fished, made tools for hunting and nets for fishing, and set traps and snares. He made sure his family was fed and taken care of.

Perhaps the reserve system, loss of land and urbanization of aboriginal peoples has hurt the men hardest.

“That is certainly something we’re going to look at,” said Tremonti. “I think that that’s a factor in how we have this conversation. That will be something that’s on the table in this discussion.”

Tremonti said no one has the answers, and that’s the problem.

Most of the research and work done on family development and parenting tends to focus on mothers. And for good reason.

Single moms outnumber single dads, especially in aboriginal households where single mothers make up 70 per cent of single-parent homes, said Tremonti.

And there’s nothing wrong with focusing on women, but it’s time to talk about how fathers fit in, she added.

“It’s not either-or,” she said. “It’s not to the exclusion of women. It’s not to say, do this for the men and marginalize the women.”

The Fatherhood Institute in the U.K. points out that by focusing support services only on mothers, negative assumptions about the fathers are inadvertently made and men are continually pushed out of the situation. In other words, the lack of support and attention given to fathers means they are less likely to take hold of their roles.

Although there is a disparity between the amount of work done with mothers and fathers, there has been some work done on fathers, said Tremonti.

Extensive work has been done on absentee fathers in African-American communities in the United States and attempts to re-engage young black men, she said.

“There are those who say we can learn from what’s gone on in African-American families and fathers specifically,” Tremonti said. “And if that’s the parallel, what is going on in this country?”

The hope is not just to get the issue out in the open, but to bring forward ideas on how to address it, Tremonti added.

“I want people to think and I want them to think differently,” said Tremonti. “When you tackle some big issues, people have thoughts on them already. It’s always good to give a voice to people we don’t always get to hear.”

And that is exactly why the show decided to hold this discussion in Whitehorse, she said.

Northern aboriginal groups rarely get in the national spotlight, even though they face greater challenges, like isolation.

“Specifically on this issue, we hear statistics, but we don’t hear voices,” said Tremonti.

“I want this discussion to be for people in Whitehorse to be a part of and I want people across Canada to hear them.”

Tickets for the town hall on Jan. 10 at the Yukon Arts Centre are free and can be obtained by emailing cbcnorth@cbc.ca. It begins at 7 p.m.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (yfned.ca)
Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Most Read