Msīt Mijua’ji’j Kesite’tasitFlag design by Paulina Meader
Every Child Is Cherished
Original artwork (petroglyph and double curve) by J.R. Isadore
Translation by Jane Meader
Additional consultation by Rebecca Cope, Raven Augustine, and Barbara Low
On September 30, as part its commitment to the reconciliation process, Canada now marks a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This day is recognized to “honour the children who never returned home and survivors of residential schools, as well as their families and communities.”
As social workers, we understand that this sentence conceals deep and painful truths about intergenerational trauma and systemic injustice. In his recent visit, Pope Francis described the actions that took place and continue to take place as “genocide,” affirming the prior work of Indigenous Elders, scholars and advocates, and of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The work that still must be done toward reconciliation and justice is monumental, and this day is but a drop in that ocean.
The responsibility of the social work profession
Our profession has a unique responsibility to understand what was done and do what we can to work toward decolonization. In its statement of apology and commitment to reconciliation, the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) acknowledges its role in supporting the implementation of residential schools, and in affirming the approach to child welfare that led to the 60s scoop through the promotion of discriminatory policies. The underlying motivation in the development of these policies was to dispossess Indigenous peoples from their land.
The CASW has apologized for contributing to the injustices imposed on Indigenous peoples and, in this statement, seeks to highlight some of the ways in which CASW was – and in many ways still is – responsible for the systemic denial and inequality that has been apparent in the field of social work. As such, it has begun to reach out to Indigenous communities across Canada, to partner with them in beginning the work of decolonization and reconciliation.
The responsibility of the NSCSW
The Nova Scotia College of Social Workers (NSCSW) joins with the CASW in this apology and affirms its commitment to do the necessary work called upon by the TRC, as well as that which has been clearly identified by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
In particular, the NSCSW acknowledges our role in the violent colonization of Indigenous communities through the ways in which social workers have worked on behalf of colonial systems to implement policies that have contributed to the destruction of Indigenous communities, and perpetuated the racist ideology implicit in those actions.
This recognition is done within a larger context where the NSCSW joins the CASW in re-examining our historical and continued role in colonization of indigenous people and lands as part of our commitment to decolonize social work. We also continue working to address the multiple intersectional forms of racism, heteronormativity, prejudice and oppression that have accompanied the dominant lens of the colonizer and embedded themselves in policy and practice.
NSCSW’s commitment to decolonization
Specifically, the NSCSW council, committee and staff are committed to undertaking this journey toward decolonization. As stated in the CASW apology, acknowledging the truth is hard, but the work of reconciliation is harder. This work requires that the paternalistic and racist foundations of our policies be rejected, and that new policies and guidelines be developed in partnership with Indigenous communities.
It is in this spirit that we commit to embarking upon this journey. We are grateful for the guidance and wisdom of first voice representatives and allies who are willing to share of themselves and their perspective in order for the NSCSW to govern the social work profession in Nova Scotia in ways that ensure justice for Indigenous people. We also acknowledge that truth and justice are necessary steps prior to reconciliation and affirm our responsibility in working towards these ourselves as well as advocating for those steps that are beyond our control. We welcome the input of Indigenous Elders, scholars and others who can guide us in this journey.
We are especially grateful to the growing work group for decolonization of the profession that is led by Jacklyn Paul, RSW; this group has organized itself over the past year in order to begin to consider concrete steps that can be done to decolonize the profession and the College. We are proud and eager to be sending a cohort to attend the October conference of the Mi’kmaq Wolastoqiyik Association of Social Workers, and to be in dialogue with their leadership about ways to move forward in this important endeavor. We welcome the input of all of our members in this process and encourage everyone to take this day to learn and reflect. If you would like to learn more or be involved in this work, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Goal of social work decolonization
The NSCSW is committed to dismantling structures that impede the full, equal, and just participation of Indigenous peoples in all aspects of economic, social, cultural, and political life. Specifically, we are committed to applying a decolonization framework to polices, programs and services in the authority of the NSCSW to strive towards reconciliation with Indigenous people.
This past year, the NSCSW Council has committed resources to ensure:
- Education of all staff and committee members on the goals of decolonization and impacts of colonization and genocide through the profession of social work.
- NSCSW’s governing documents (Social Work Act, Regulations, By-Laws, Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice and policies) are updated through the framework of decolonization.
- All social workers embrace reconciliation and commit themselves to decolonizing their own practices.
- Development of regulatory tools and processes to ensure social workers are accountable to the goals of decolonization.
As we prepare to develop a new five-year strategic plan for our College, we look forward to bringing these commitments to life. We also recognize the opportunity to develop a two-eyed seeing approach to social work that will focus on decolonizing and indigenizing. We look forward to gathering feedback on the new code of ethics that was developed by the CASW in collaboration and consultation with Indigenous communities as well as other communities who have been historically marginalized and oppressed by the pervasive damage of colonization and racism in Canada.
On this day of Truth and Reconciliation, we recognize that this is a time of change and transformation. We invite our members to learn and unlearn; we have transformed our professional development requirements to ensure that all members of our profession in Nova Scotia take part, and have planned several free online learning opportunities to support them in this process.
This is just the beginning of our journey, and we are grateful to know that our members join us in our desire to do better and be better moving forward. Social workers across Nova Scotia are invited to join us on October 26 for a session on what to know when visiting a Mi’kmaw home or community, part of a Mi’kmaw culture and heritage series led by Gerald Gloade. We are committed to transforming words into actionable change and to doing what we can, as individuals and as a profession, to begin to work toward justice, reconciliation and healing.
Resources and activities
Many events in Mi’kma’ki planned for the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on September 30 (including our own) and for Treaty Day on October 1 have been cancelled or postponed due to the effects of Hurricane Fiona. Those of our members who work closely with Indigenous communities will be focused on recovery efforts in the coming days and weeks.
If you are not occupied with these efforts, and are looking for opportunities to support your personal learning and reflection, we have collected some suggestions:
- Native Women’s Association of Canada is hosting celebrations in their Gatineau office, and will be livestreaming on Facebook intermittently during the day.
- Book launch of the 4th edition of We Were Not the Savages, by Daniel Paul
- A Day to Listen: Amplifying Indigenous Voices
- TRC Calls to Action
- Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
- Learn the Mi’kmaw name for where you live
- Canadian Association of Social Workers webinars
- The Road to Safety: Indigenous Survivors Speak Out against Intimate Partner Violence during the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Indigenous Perspectives & Social Work series
- National Film Board residential schools collection
- Learning from Knowledge Keepers of Mi’kma’ki
- Doctrine of Discovery: Stolen lands, strong hearts
- Respect our Boundaries: A conversation on land, bodies and consent