Native Dads: Recovery through Reconnection

Let's Talk: Addiction & Recovery Podcast
Native Drum Circle at a pow wow

Learn how the Native Dads Network helps indigenous fathers and families reconnect with culturally centered wisdom and ways—nurturing wellness, belonging and purpose. Counselor and healer Albert Titman, Sr., is your guide.

When we talk about whole person care, it's taking care of our whole self. Mind, body, spirit. Emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually.

Albert Titman

0:00:11 Andrew Williams
Welcome to Let's Talk Recovery Equity, a series of conversations around how we can reach and help more people find freedom from addiction. This series offers us a space to reflect on some of the complexities of substance use disorder and mental health. While also discussing new pathways to hope, recovery, and healing. My name is Andrew Williams and I serve as the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. And I'm the host of our series. Today, I'm excited to welcome Albert Titman as our guest. Albert serves as a Wellness Counselor at the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians. And also serves as Associate Director of Cultural Integration and Development at the Springer Behavioral Medicine for the TeleWell Indian Health MAT project. He also serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors with the Native Dads Network. He is also currently a trainer for the White Bison's Wellbriety Training Institute and has over 18 years of experience in implementing the Medicine Wheel and Twelve Steps program in Native communities. So thank you, Albert, for joining us today. 

I was really interested when I saw that you served on the Board of the Native Dads Network. And I wanted to ask you if you could to share a little bit around the inspiration behind the starting of the Native Dads Network and what is the vision and mission of the Native Dads Network?

0:02:14 Albert Titman
Sure. Yeah, so, thank you for that. You know the inspiration again behind developing the Native Dads Network was really driven by the work we've been doing in tribal communities. With a young man who had come to our center for help. His name is Mike Duncan who is now the CEO of the Native Dads Network. And it was through his journey of healing, wellness, and recovery, and coming to the center in the work that we were doing there, that he had a vision. That one day he said, 'I wanna do this work for our people!' And through his journey, he had experienced some barriers, some roadblocks. Because in recovery, he was a single father. And he was reaching out for resources—he needed help. And in many of the programs where he was reaching out for help, for example housing programs, there weren't any in our county for single fathers. They were all for mothers in recovery. And so, he overcame that barrier. And eventually found and became stable in his life. And came to me one day after you know going back to school, becoming Kikaydak, he started running Native 'Fatherhood is Sacred' circles. And said I wanna start a nonprofit. And he asked if I could help him with his vision and his mission. And I said, 'Absolutely, let's do it!' 

So, 2012, 2012 we received the 501c3 status. And the mission has been growing ever since. Since our mission is to reach out to Native American fathers and their families through the lens of cultural integration. Cultural, spiritual, ceremonial, emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, and bring back fathers to the sacred fire. Bring back fathers to the foundation of culture, spirituality and ceremonial practice. And the vision—we just evolved the vision, we just had a—I actually stepped down from being the Chairman of the Board of Directors after having been in that position for a decade. And we actually received a nice award through SAMHSA for the work that we continue to do. And I'm actually the Deputy Director now of the Native Dads Network and Director of Operations. And so, we just realigned our vision statement. [chuckles] So I don't know it by heart yet. 

0:04:35 Andrew Williams
All right, hey well I'm glad to hear that you're deeper into the work than ever before and I appreciate the window that you've given us into the very important and powerful and inspiring work of the Native Dads Network. And I'm sure others will be excited to learn about this Network and we'll explore ways that they can get connected to it as well. And in many ways, my next question builds on your response to my previous question where you identified some of the barriers that have been in the way to Native American men in particular in this case making their way toward treatment. Some of the cultural barriers that were real, some of just the logistical challenges. As one tries to find support and healing in the context of having other family and job responsibilities. So, I'm wondering if you could speak—it's kind of a two-part question as to what do you continue to kind of encounter as some of the challenges of doing your work, what sort of other resources and supports could benefit the work that you do? Another way to ask that more directly is how can an organization like the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation that I represent—how can we offer stronger support? [Both grin] How can we be a better ally to your efforts?

0:05:48 Albert Titman
You know, thank you, that's really an important question and it's a great question. I believe today this is a great way to support our work. Because honestly I wasn't really sure if we were gonna share about the Native Dads Network but it's—this is a great opportunity for us to really get the word out about the great work we've been doing over the past decade. And prior to that, individually working in clinics, in treatment centers, and so for us, here in the Native Dads Network, one of the barriers that continues for Native fathers, especially single Native fathers, are treatment—residential inpatient treatment programs for families—that allow fathers and their children. There aren't any that are culturally specific in the state of California. There's not one. And so that is a barrier in and of itself. You know, housing just period is a barrier, but when you have a single father who maybe has an open CPS case, needs to go to treatment, has kids, doesn't really have a safe place to leave his kids. [Andrew nods] I know a number of places that will take women and their children. I don't know any that will take a man with his children. I know places that'll take a man. He has a place—placement for his kids. And so, I think just in general we need more family treatment centers, I think that's important. But for us, we see that as a barrier. And always, one of the other barriers, for us in working in tribal community, is the complex and compound layers of trauma. Historical trauma, intergenerational trauma, generational trauma. And the stigma that is attached to men in our communities many times being weak asking for help. That stigma still exists today. It's plaguing our communities. Shame and guilt obviously are part of that. And, unresolved grief. We're seeing men struggle with resolving grief. Healthy ways of coping with loss in their lives. 

And we can say historically as many of us have been disconnected from our language, our ceremonies, religious beliefs, and we've assimilated into the dominant society and when that doesn't work and we have for example a place where men can come and sit around the fire, sing, pray, and then learn about maybe Twelve Steps in the Medicine Book teachings, or some cognitive behavioral therapy or some brain spotting techniques. They're like, 'Oh, I don't know about that, I've heard bad things.' Stigma. And so the shame I think is real, that's one of the biggest barriers. And the stereotypes about Native people, that we all have casinos and money, is just not true. Tribal people across the United States live in poverty. Ten percent actually have successful gaming. And just because the tribe has gaming doesn't mean every Indian in the United States benefits from it. 

0:09:36 Andrew Williams
Absolutely. [chuckles, nods] Right, right.

0:09:38 Albert Titman
[grins] It's not true. It's like saying Bill Gates shares his money with all, you know, everybody, and it's just not how it works. So those are the things. Historical trauma, the impacts of intergenerational, generational, financial, and in terms of treatment, treatment beds for men and their family.

0:10:00 Andrew Williams
Again, I appreciate your very rich response, which I really think gives us an opportunity to really deepen our understanding of the complexities of some of the barriers that both Native leaders offering treatment, individuals and families confront, right, as we try to kind of expand hope and healing in Native communities. And of course I'm struck knowing there are very real historical and cultural differences though between--what you've highlighted in some ways is that grounding for solidarity between Native communities and Black communities and Latinx communities. Where I think I know in the Black community that I identify as being part of, right that stigma of being weak as a man, right, is one of those significant psychocultural barriers that we have to navigate. And taking that step, right, toward walking the path, toward healing. And so I appreciate how you highlight some of that common ground along with the very real financial barriers. And the ways in which traditional treatment kind of modalities also can be very alienating for African-American people as well. But I also, to kind of bring it back to Native American views, I also really appreciated the complexity of how you explain trauma. It's not just something that's historical trauma from the past, but you named intergenerational trauma, and like some of our other guests, remind us that trauma is ongoing. That based upon different types of racialized oppression and discrimination, Native peoples continue to be traumatized, you know, daily. And as they encounter diminished life chances and other challenges as well.

So appreciate, you know, you deepening our understanding of those complexities including that last one of course. Which resonates with me as a father as well. On how we really need to think more divergently, very creatively, you know, around how we really support men. And being able to move through treatment with their children and other family members. And I think that will be one of the real take-aways that I leave here with. As part of the medicine that you're offering us today. Albert, I can't believe we're already almost out of time. So I'm gonna move toward asking the last question that we ask all of our guests. Which is what might be a message, a word of care or motivation, that you can share with anyone listening, in Native communities or even beyond, who are struggling with addiction, who have loved ones, friends, family, who are struggling. Any words for them?

0:12:28 Albert Titman
Absolutely. You know, the road of life we call it walking this Red Road. We lay it on the foundation of culture, spirituality, and ceremonial practice. For all human beings. For all human beings we lay that foundation there. It could be burdensome at times. It could be a blessing at times. So what we're learning is we're drawing all of that knowledge forward through the layers of trauma. Intergenerational, generational, and we're calling on the spirit of those ancestors as well that survive. That brought resiliency, that kept our language alive, kept us—these ceremonies alive. For us to have. And so, we're working on intergenerational healing. Generational healing. We're sharing this message for the next seven generations forward. We learn from the generations behind us the experience, the lot of shame, guilt, trauma, that they pass forth these teachings so that we can begin the healing. So that our great, great, great grandchildren, may they live in wellness, they live in harmony, they live in balance. And so, we learn from the polarity up, down, high, low, brings balance, harmony, back to our life. That's what walking this Red Road is. That's what we say. And we do that—we do that every day. There's not a day we can afford to take off anymore. On this journey of healing, wellness, and recovery. Specifically from substance use disorder. But just in general, when we talk about whole person care, it's taking care of our whole self. Mind, body, spirit. Emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually. And there is a way we do that every day. Every day. Don't take a day off. So I share—I say [speaks in Native language]. From my heart to your heart. Thank you, in gratitude. 

0:14:57 Andrew Williams
Mmm-hmm. [smiles] No thank you, Albert, for that response. And I think, you know, giving our listeners and those who are viewing, right, this vision of hope, this hopeful vision, and this reminder, right, that there—there is support out there, there is help. And help that's specifically kind of designed or envisioned, right, to help support folks on that Red Road. And that there are real, you know, wrap-around, holistic services that can help people move toward greater healing. So I appreciate those caring words, those inspirational words, that reminder to people that help is available. Help that is aligned, right, with one's own kinda worldview and cultural orientation. As well. And your words with us today have truly been medicine for all of us and I feel like the spirits of the ancestors are with us right now. [Albert grins] And are letting us know that they're here and supporting us in the work that we do. So thank you, Albert.

And to all of you listening or watching today, I want to express my appreciation for you taking the time to join us for this very important and meaningful, soul-growing conversation. And Albert, thank you again, for sharing your wisdom, experiences, medicine, and tremendous insights. And please know that we recognize and appreciate the advocacy and life-changing healing work that you do, as you say, every day. [smiles] So thank you.

0:16:28 Albert Titman
[smiles, nods] And visit the Native Dads website (

0:16:32 Andrew Williams
Yes. Now I'm certainly gonna revisit it today and I hope everyone who's listening will visit it as well and that Dads out there will get connected to the Network as well. And to everyone else out there, again, please let your friends and colleagues know about the Native Dads Network. About these conversations. And please come back often and catch more episodes of Let's Talk Recovery Equity. Together, we can advance recovery equity for all those in need. As we also work to change how the world thinks about addiction. Thank you again for joining us. 

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