Social work, assimilation and a challenge to my colleagues
As a social worker, I have witnessed firsthand a small portion of the reality the chronic lack of resources/funding has created within Indigenous communities that are faced with the daunting challenges wrought by assimilationist policies. I also found it deeply troubling that Harper’s apology was little more than a photo opportunity. After Harper’s apology many of us expected a highly visible national truth and reconciliation campaign, where all of us would learn about this awful legacy of racism.
We have instead seen heightening glorification of colonization/war from our federal government, and underhanded efforts to undermine the hope of Indigenous peoples. This is epitomized by the recent “baffling” issue of a new twenty dollar bill (see below), the dictated stain glass window memorial, the mocking up of our environment with a costly fake lake, or the lavish spending glorifying the War of 1812, and of last but definitely not least, Bill C-45.
In some recent discussions about Idle No More I was very disappointed to still hear debilitating/harmful stereotyping against Indigenous peoples. This includes a colleague who touted integration as a solution for the challenges Indigenous groups face. My polite inquiries revealed, not unexpectedly, these people have a very poor understanding about treaty rights, the ongoing struggle for sovereignty, and the breadth and extent of the harms created by assimilationist policies in North America.
As a Caucasian woman, I can hardly pretend to understand the full scope of these issues put forward by Idle No More, but I can point out some useful resources that have aided me in my own development as a person and professional. I think every social worker would benefit from being introduced to Sue Campbell’s philosophy. She stressed the importance of attending to the role of our social and political relations in the shaping of our personal experience. You can find an audiofile here of her lecture at the Breaking the silence : International conference on the Indian residential schools commission of Canada (2008).
Another great resource is Fournier and Crey’s book Stolen from our Embrace: The Abduction of First Nations Children and the Restoration of Aboriginal Communities (1997). I had the good fortune to meet both these authors in the final year of my undergraduate studies. As Fournier and Crey explain, though children were abducted and incarcerated for 10 months of the year in residential schools, at least they were kept with their own group. In foster homes, however, indigenous children were often, and to some extent continue to be, completely cut off from their family and culture.
During the Sixties Scoop, the basic principles of intrinsic human value and the right to self-determination were erased by a government intent on cultural genocide. By forcibly reassigning First Nations children to non-Aboriginal families, kinship affiliations were obliterated. Its multi-generational legacy of grief and loss in relation to family, identity, culture, heritage and community profoundly is still being felt today. (Emily Alston-O’Connor, 2010)
As Fournier and Crey teach in their book, appropriately resourced community and school programs are necessary to revitalize indigenous communities where assimilationist policies have left such a painful legacy.
The Idle No More movement is, in part, about the hope for Indigenous communities to have control over their own (properly resourced) education and community programs. For just some of these reasons, I fully support the Idle No Movement and wish for/challenge all my social work colleagues to take the time to learn about these issues, and also show their support in whatever way they can.
The Sixties Scoop: Implications for Social Workers and Social Work Education: http://www.uwindsor.ca/criticalsocialwork/the-sixties-scoop-implications-for-social-workers-and-social-work-education
Anti-oppressive social work practice in child welfare: Journeys of reconciliation: http://www.uwindsor.ca/criticalsocialwork/anti-oppressive-social-work-practice-in-child-welfare-journeys-of-reconciliation-0