Not enough help and support for Indigenous dads in Winnipeg's North End, says front-line worker

The end of a three-month project focusing on supporting Indigenous fathers highlights the need for resources for dads in Winnipeg's North End, says a front-line worker in the inner-city.

3-month project researched need for and benefits of helping fathers

Isaac Richard with his four-month-old son. He said the Super Dads program at Mount Carmel Clinic helped him to prepare for fatherhood. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

The end of a three-month project focusing on supporting Indigenous fathers highlights the need for resources for dads in Winnipeg's North End, says a front-line worker in the inner-city.

"There's just nothing. There's nothing for them. There's no resources," said Daniel Hidalgo.

Hidalgo is the program facilitator for the Super Dads program being run out of the Mount Carmel Clinic.

Earlier this year, Mount Carmel Clinic was one of three organizations in the North End, along with Andrews Street Family Centre and the North Point Douglas Women's Centre, to participate in a three-month test project run by the Winnipeg Boldness project. 

The Winnipeg Boldness project was given $150,000 from the federal government to run a programming and research project known as Supporting Dads in the North End. The project wrapped up earlier this year.

According to Hidalgo, the Mount Carmel Clinic dedicated a pot of funding to keep a scaled-down dad program operating on less time, but still once every Tuesday.

Isaac Richard is one of the dads who participated in the project earlier this year.

Richard grew up in foster care and was 17 when he found out that his girlfriend was pregnant. He wanted to keep it a secret from his family and friends. His biggest worry was the financial responsibility of being a dad.

Hidalgo knew Richard and asked him if his girlfriend was pregnant. Richard told Hidalgo that he was expecting a child.

"He said, 'Well, do you want to join the Super Dads?'" said Richard.

"'It's for fathers, but you're about to become a new father, so if you want to get in a program to see what it's like having a kid and what people go through having a kid....'"

Being a Super Dad

Richard is now 18, with a four-month-old baby. He credits the program for preparing him for what life would be like when the baby was born.

"[Super Dads] just got me ready for having the baby in general, just getting up at night and some of the guys gave me tips," said Richard.

Isaac Richard (left) and Super Dads program facilitator Daniel Hidalgo. Hidalgo encouraged Richard to start attending the Super Dads program. (Submitted by Nikki Black)

Richard said he appreciated being able to go into sharing circles with other dads in the community to not only learn about what it means to be a dad, but also to normalize talking about the daily struggles.

"It shows you a side you didn't know you have, which is like the emotional side of you," said Richard. 

"Fathers aren't just the providers and protectors, they can get emotional if they want. They can talk about their feelings and there's nothing wrong with that."

Hidalgo said Super Dads is a curriculum-based program where they talk about parenting skills and healthy coping mechanisms. The program brings Indigenous fathers together for two hours and features cooking classes, parenting workshops, traditional teachings and sharing circles.

"Men are able to come there and... be vulnerable and share their experiences, their difficulties and their challenges and what works for them," said Hidalgo.

Hidalgo said around 10 dads show up on a regular basis and the smaller number of participants allows for relationships to be built among the dads who attend the program. Often, the men attending the program have grown up in marginalized communities and face barriers to learning how to parent.

"These men are really seeking out a way to break the negative cycle, so it's it's been really good in that sense," said Hidalgo.

Identifying problems and finding solutions

The Winnipeg Boldness project is a social innovation lab that focuses on the health of Indigenous families in the North End. Social innovation labs bring together multiple community stakeholders to research, experiment and prototype solutions to social problems.

"What we're trying to do is look at the complex challenges that our families face, for me that's families in the North End and there's a real predominance of Indigenous families in that," said Winnipeg Boldness Project director Diane Roussin.

The goal of the lab is to get the people who live in the community to identify the problems and challenges they face, but also to come up with solutions to the social issues.

Roussin said the question the social lab asked the participants of the Supporting Dads project was 'What is it going to take to make it better for the babies and children?'

Diane Roussin is the director of the Winnipeg Boldness Project. The social innovation lab helps to research, identify problems and solutions using community knowledge. (CBC)

"There's a lot of structures out there that just keep families apart," said Roussin.

She said that inner-city dads face barriers that can sometimes make it difficult to maintain a role in the family life. The social assistance system can split families and so can the justice system. She said participants found the project helped them.

"Men talked about understanding the needs of their children better… being a better partner to their significant others, to just knowing that they need to be there to support other men, too," she said.


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1