Reclaiming Indigenous Papahood, Masculinities, and Sexualities

Thursday, June 13, 2013

By The Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN)

Within our Indigenous communities there are many understandings of fatherhood and what it means to be a father, as well as many different roles available to us in our masculinities and sexualities. The different words for “father” in Indigenous languages are a representation of the diversity in meanings.

Some Indigenous words for father: 
Ndede or Noos in Anishnaabemowin
Marmung in Bundjalung
Ataata in Inuktitut
Rakeni in Mohawk
Nîpapa in Michif
Nôhtâwi in Cree

We reached out to two Papas in our network and asked them to share what fatherhood means to them. Here is what they shared:

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Elton Naswood, Navajo Nation—On Two Spirit Papas

I think for Two Spirit papas it is/was a responsibility for Two Spirit people to take care of our children. The role is to be nurturing and giving to the children and to the family/clan as a whole.

My responsibility as a father is by kinship and clanship. My duties are to the children of my family and extended family.

I am a father to my brothers and sisters’ children and a grandpa to my nephews’ children.

Father/Uncle: Azhe’e
Grandfather: Cheii or Nali

John Swift, Keeseekoose First Nation (Onakaw)—On Masculinities and Papas

What does Papa’s Day mean for Indigenous communities?
For me, Father’s Day means much more than acknowledging and honouring my role as a parent. I am constantly reminded of and grateful for the web of relationships that include family, friends, plants, animals, land, elements, ceremonies, the cosmos, my ancestors, my children, women, and the Great Mystery, which helped me develop as a father even before I was born. In other words, it is the energy from this larger web of relationships that has prepared a special place for me as a father in my sense of family and community.

What is the importance to the health of Indigenous communities of reclaiming Indigenous masculinities?
For me, I have had to go back to culture and ceremony to learn about what it means to be a man. I had to humble myself and listen to the Old People as they share their wisdom with me, and I continue to work hard to incorporate the teachings of the Original People into my daily living. I have learned that the roles and responsibilities for Indigenous men extend beyond being a protector and provider. We laugh, nurture, cry, share, heal, guide, lift up, and demonstrate gentleness and patience and thus make daily contributions to the health and well-being of our families and communities, but more work needs to be done to make our energy more visible. Living this way is not always easy, but if Bimmadiziwin (The Good Life) is the goal, then Indigenous men play a vital role in moving this Indigenous theory into reality.

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Indigenizing Roles, Responsibilities, and Sexualities 

This Papa’s Day we reflect on the additional roles of papas as identified above that go beyond mainstream Father’s Day messages of papas of strength and as being providers.

At the Native Youth Sexual Health Network we look at how Indigenous masculinities are a part of Two Spirit identities, how they are a part of healthy sexuality for youth, and how masculinities and the roles of young men can be strengthened positively through different nations’ traditional teachings and understandings.

Talking about sexualities in relation to masculinities is an important way for us to speak about safer sex with youth. When we are able to express and understand our sexualities in relation to our nations and cultures we can also feel more comfortable to ask questions about the realities of sexually transmitted infections, about relationships, and about knowing our bodies.

Healthy sexualities that are supported by healthy masculinities also help us to reclaim systems where our governance and leadership have a respect for balance between women, men, and Two Spirit community members.

While the role of Indigenous masculinities looks different for each nation, youth are reclaiming what masculinities means when resisting binaries about their bodies and identities. We see youth reclaiming these identities by using Indigenous words or understandings regarding their sexualities. We also see our Two Spirit youth facilitating the reclamation of these identities and balances within community.

We see young men providing for families and communities. This may include responsibilities such as educating other young people. We are a partner organization with the Indigenous Masculinities project, which is building onto our understandings of Indigenous masculinities and identities, while contributing to the health and wellness of Indigenous communities and peoples.

On Papa’s Day, we support all the ways that Indigenous papahood, responsibilities, masculinities, and sexualities are being reclaimed in our different families, communities, and nations.

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The Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) is an organization by and for Indigenous youth that works across issues of sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice throughout the United States and Canada. 

This blog post is part of the Strong Families' first Papa's Day celebration. You can read more posts in the series on the Strong Families blogStrong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.

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