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Position Statement of the Thunderbird Nesting Circle (ISWEN)

Position Statement of the Thunderbird Nesting Circle (ISWEN) to the Canadian Association for Social Work Education.
University of Victoria, June 5, 2013

The Thunderbird Nesting Circle is pleased to present this position statement to the Canadian Association for Social Work Education. We first acknowledge and give thanks to the Coast Salish people of this territory including the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations. We are pleased to first share a bit of our history.

The Thunderbird Nesting Circle (formerly WUNSKA, and the Indigenous Social Work Educators Network) was founded in 1990 under the name WUNSKA, becoming the Indigenous Social Work Educators Network in 2003 and the Thunderbird Nesting Circle in 2006. We acknowledge and give thanks to the early founders of WUNSKA including Richard Vedan, Kathy Absolon, Lauri Gilchrist, Michael Yellowbird, Mac Saulis, Jim Albert, and Yvonne Howse. The first name of our organization WUNSKA was given by Lauri Gilchrist’s grandmother in 1992 and our current name was given by Dan and MaryLou Smoke in 2006. The Thunderbird Nesting Circle has had a seat on the CASWE Board of Directors since the mid 1990s and our collective represents the interests and aspirations of First Nation, Métis, Non-Status, Innu and Inuit social work Educators and students from a majority of Indigenous regions and territories across Canada.

In the early 1970s, our predecessors were mandated by our Elders to work towards creating schools of social work and social work pedagogy that reflected traditional Indigenous worldviews and approaches to helping. In 1972 social work programs in Alberta and Saskatchewan were developed. We were instructed to first become social workers, and then to become Educators so that we could train our own people in culturally relevant social work practices because our people had seen several generations of mainstream social work imposed upon us in ways that were extremely destructive to our families and communities, and ultimately, destructive to our languages and cultures. As a result, we have sought to decolonize social work and since that mandate, we are currently into the second and third generation of Educators who have worked tirelessly to include Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing [1] into generalist and clinical social work theory, research, and practice in order to better reflect Indigenous socio-economic and political realities and thereby more effectively meet the unique needs of Indigenous clients in our neo-colonial context.

As a result of those collective efforts, we are pleased to see a willingness on the part of many CASWE schools to include Indigenous social work courses and content in curricula, both core and elective options. We applaud the development and delivery of Indigenous focused BSW programs and several Indigenous specialization MSW programs, and give recognition to the many First Nation colleges that have Indigenous social work diploma and social services programs that provide paths for students to enter into our BSW programs. Programs that deserve special recognition for their intensive Indigenous based pedagogies and approaches include the Master’s programs here at the University of Victoria, at Wilfred Laurier University, and at the First Nations University of Canada. We encourage all CASWE schools to join our efforts at increasing Indigenous content in generalist social work curricula, and where the need exists, to develop Indigenous knowledge based specialized programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Indigenous educators are used to working alone and often in isolation from each other and so we wish to acknowledge and give thanks to those allies who have also tirelessly worked to support our efforts to combat racism and discrimination that confront many of us on a daily basis, and who advocate for our goals at every turn. You know who you are.

As Indigenous social work Educators mandated by our Elders and representing our families, communities and sovereign nations, we present this position statement to the Canadian Association for Social Work Education and we respectfully assert the following eight points synthesized from current discussions:

  1. Indigenous social work theory, pedagogy, and practice are based upon our cosmologies, ontologies, epistemologies, and axiologies, and Indigenous social work is fully aligned with and furthers the moral and ethical aims of generalist social work pedagogy and practice in Canada;
  2. We continue to adhere to the mandate given by our Elders to create a social work pedagogy and practice that reflects Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing, and that will meet the socio-cultural needs of our families and communities;
  3. We challenge schools to actively adopt anti-racist and anti-oppressive stances in organization, in pedagogy and in practice, to augment theory, and in this regard, we welcome and encourage the support of colleagues and allies;
  4. We aspire to continue the work of decolonizing the social work academy by working towards the inclusion of Indigenous voices and knowledge into social work education and practice;
  5. We are firm in the position that social work accreditation standards should mandate the inclusion of Indigenous content in all generalist social work pedagogy in schools of social work in Canada with a minimum standard of one Indigenous themed course at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
  6. We assert that Indigenous people, alone, are the only ones who can be “experts” on Indigenous lives and Indigenous social work and thus, where practicable, Indigenous faculty should teach Indigenous themed courses;
  7. We assert that we must be consulted in meaningful ways on any changes to the national organizational, governance, and accreditation standards and procedures that will affect or have the potential to affect Indigenous Educators and students.
  8. We assert that as representatives of our Indigenous territories, nations, communities, and families, who comprise a large proportion of social work service users across all social work arenas, that we have a right to equitable representation in the CASWE, and more specifically:
    1. that we have a right to representation on the CASWE Board of Directors as well as representation on the CASWE Commission on Accreditation

In closing, the Thunderbird Nesting Circle is a collective of Indigenous social work Educators and students representing the interests of Indigenous families, communities, and nations across the country. We are dedicated to contributing and centering our voices in social work educational development and delivery in Canada. We are grateful for the support we receive in our efforts and we encourage colleagues and allies to join us in our efforts. In this way, we can learn from each other and work together towards a transformational social work that will serve the highest interests of us all and most importantly perhaps, better serve the people for whom we have all dedicated our careers to helping.

Meegwetch, Kinanaskomitinawaw, Kuk’stamc, Thank you, Merci.

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Prepared by Raven Sinclair for the Thunderbird Nesting Circle
Victoria, BC June 2013


[1] Karen Booran Mirraboopa Martin, 2003

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