Saskatchewan·First Person

'It is no longer about you': Why Indigenous dads are special

Indigenous dads are just built differently. Our traditional role — to provide, but most importantly survive — is in our DNA, passed down through generations.  

To provide and survive and restore what it means to be Indigenous is to honour our ancestors

Chris Ross hold his two sons. Ross says he learned from his own dad the sacrifices needed to raise children. (Submitted by Chris Ross)

This First Person piece is by Chris Tyrone Ross, a member of the Red Earth Cree Nation and freelance videographer, editor, graphic designer and emerging filmmaker.

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Indigenous dads are just built differently. Our traditional role — to provide, but most importantly survive — is in our DNA, passed down through generations.

Those generations had to survive cold winters in pre-colonial times. They had to survive 150-plus years of genocide — like residential schools, which broke down family institutions — from the government and churches.

Unfortunately, many did not survive. Those who did continued on without the language, culture or parenting skills that were taken away from them, leaving future generations to heal and recover.

Fortunately, many Indigenous people today have started to regain their language and culture, and relearn parenting skills.

There are many Indigenous dads out there who take fatherhood seriously. They are our modern-day warriors, the real models of our community, often forgotten because they never ask for credit and hold no ego. They do it for their kids and their families.

These Indigenous dads are not always (with all due respect) the chief or businessman you hear about most of the time. Sometimes, it is the janitor, the line cook or the university student, doing the work to provide and survive.

Ross, left, with his dad, Allan, in La Ronge in 1988. (Submitted by Chris Ross)

My father, Allan Ross, was one of those special Indigenous dads. He was a single dad, raising three children on his own on a budget while also going to university.

It wasn't always like that. At one time, we had a strong and loving family unit, but my parents got divorced when I was eight years old. For a short time, it was just me and my dad. Together, we healed and, eventually, reunited with my older sisters. Once again, we were a family.

My dad loved basketball. It was the one thing that saved him. He had a rough life growing up, but once he fell in love with the game, he started to thrive. He played organized basketball most of his life. He was even recruited by the University of Saskatchewan Huskies but turned them down to raise me and my sisters. That was his sacrifice.

He would go on to become a teacher. He coached numerous basketball teams and mentored young athletes who went on to become world champions.

He also inspired many kids through his teaching. They found success in life and became great dads and moms.

He also found love again with my step-mom, Ruby. They had four more children, who became my little sisters.

Ross, right, poses with his father. Chris says Allan sacrificed a lot for his children. (Submitted by Chris Ross)

He passed away in 2015. He was only 60 years old.

I never really knew how much I would miss having him in my life until my boys got older.

I have two children, ages four and seven. I'm raising these little men without the guidance of the man who raised me. Thankfully, I still have my loving mom, Helen Garvin, who has been very supportive.

All I have left of my dad are memories and the lessons I learned watching him raise three children on his own. I learned from the examples he set. This is why I take fatherhood seriously.

I now find myself in the same scenario, but with my loving partner, Tasheena, and my boys by my side. As my boys got older and their needs became more expensive, being an entrepreneur just wasn't financially reliable anymore. I needed stability. So I said goodbye to the fast-paced business life and went back to school full-time to master my skills in order to land a job in the creative industry.

This was the sacrifice I made for my children.

Ross poses with his two sons. (Submitted by Chris Ross)

As an Indigenous dad, I have come to learn this is what it is all about. It is no longer about you; it is about them and their needs. It is no longer about accolades or ego or reputation, because your kids do not care for any of that.

They only care about you. You are their superhero.

As Indigenous dads, we are the modern-day warriors, but in order to be that, we must go back to the traditional ways of teaching our sons and daughters about their culture and how to take care of their family. To provide and survive and restore what it means to be Indigenous is to honour our ancestors.

This is what it means to be an Indigenous dad. Those are the dad ways. That's what makes Indigenous dads special.

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Chris Tyrone Ross is a member of the Red Earth Cree Nation. He is a freelance videographer, editor, graphic designer and emerging filmmaker. As an entrepreneur, he ran his own media companies, like RezX, which is now a weekly TV show on AccessNow.