Sacramento group uses traditions to reach American Indian dads

Josh Hoaglen, Billy Ayala and Albert Titman attend the Native Dads Network’s seventh annual Native Unity Softball Tournament on Saturday..
Josh Hoaglen, Billy Ayala and Albert Titman attend the Native Dads Network’s seventh annual Native Unity Softball Tournament on Saturday.. Native Dads Network

Mike Duncan took his first drink when he was 8.

Duncan was living in an American Indian community in south Sacramento, where, he said, drinking was commonplace. Duncan, who is ConCow, Wailaki and Wintun, spent his teenage years moving between juvenile halls and boys’ ranches.

After years of run-ins with the law, Duncan was incarcerated in Folsom Prison in his late 30s. While there, Duncan realized he wasn’t thinking about booze all day, but of the five children he’d fathered over the years.

“I’d think, ‘I wish it wasn’t like that. I wish I hadn’t done those things,’ ” said Duncan, now 44.

In 2010, Duncan founded the Native Dads Network, aimed at helping American Indian men be better fathers, husbands and citizens. The network is scheduled to host its first convention Saturday at California State University, Sacramento.

“For a lot of the men, it’s about historical trauma. It’s what they call a genetic memory. (Feelings from our past) are passed on to a point when we don’t even know why we’re angry,” Duncan said.

Nine organizations are sponsoring this weekend’s conference. The event will be at maximum capacity with 180 registered attendees. The conference aims to educate men and women on issues ranging from domestic violence to bullying through workshops, speakers and youth events.

Duncan said his nonprofit is about change. American Indians in the Sacramento area are already aware of the social and health issues that plague their families, Duncan said, and now they need solutions.

The Native Dads Network runs a 14-week program for men that highlights Native American traditions but welcomes participants from all ethnic backgrounds. Weekly meetings start with the group participating in traditional rituals and prayer. Through the program, men rediscover principles like valuing others and educating one’s children for the improvement of future generations.

Alcohol is a pervasive issue in the American Indian community, as are domestic violence and drug use. Rates of alcohol dependence among American Indians and Alaska Natives are twice that of white Americans, according to a national survey of over 40,000 individuals above 18 years of age conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and published in 2006.

“We know it. We live it. We see it in our communities, in our homes. It may be next door or it may be a cousin. We know all the issues. We want answers, and we deserve answers,” Duncan said.

After his release from prison in 2005, Duncan said, his children from his first relationship wouldn’t talk to him, and the others were hard to reach. He was homeless and unemployed. But what weighed on him the most was that he didn’t know what it meant to be a father.

A few months later, Duncan discovered through acquaintances a program called “Fatherhood is Sacred,” run by the Arizona-based Native American Fatherhood & Families Association. He completed the program and has been sober since 2007. He is now a certified drug and alcohol counselor, and serves as executive director of his organization.

Josh Hoaglen, 35, has participated with the Native Dads Network for two years. In 2013, Hoaglen’s addiction was at its worst. His wife was leaving him with their children, and his family members, after years of trying to help in vain, weren’t speaking to him. Hoaglen discovered the Native Dads Network through word of mouth, and now he is devoted to the program that he said changed his life.

“I never thought I could have a relationship as it is. All my kids live with me. It all came full circle,” Hoaglen said.

Julia Hoaglen, 29, said her husband has grown more patient, especially with their three small children. At times, home life is “so overwhelming, but he is the one who brings us back,” to stability, she said.

Stela Khury: 916-321-1107, @stelakhury

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