June 1 marks the start of National Indigenous History Month. The NSCSW encourages social workers across Nova Scotia to take time this month to learn, and reflect on ways that we can all work toward implementing the calls of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and those of Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Given the unique role that social workers have played in perpetuating violence toward Indigenous communities, we collectively bear a responsibility to work toward this pressing goal. At its last meeting, the NSCSW Council unanimously passed a commitment to working to decolonize itself and the profession of social work.
Because we are embedded in colonial systems that perpetuate racism and discrimination, the necessary labour of reconciliation will also require each of us to reflect on the ways in which we have absorbed unconscious messages and biases, and perpetuated harm.
This unlearning and decolonizing process will take time, and there will be mistakes along the way. These mistakes will likely cause harm and pain, but hopefully we can utilize them as opportunities to grow, learn and change. It may be helpful for us to work toward the creation of a just culture that focuses on safety first. Like medical staff in a hospital setting who are committed to working to heal their patients, but may unintentionally cause patient harm due to the systems within which they work, so may each of us unintentionally say and do things that cause deep harm. Recently, our College recognized that it did so at our general meetings in May.
Rather than respond defensively, we believe that we should work to transform situations such as this into learning opportunities. A just culture within a hospital setting would use patient safety events to reflect upon ways to change the systems that enabled these events to occur, and work to ensure greater safety moving forward. Indeed, much of our annual conference this year was focused on this topic.
There is a long road of unlearning and decolonizing ahead, for us as individuals, as a College and as a profession – as well as collectively as a nation. This should not deter us; it should rather fuel our commitment to continue this necessary work.
As a College, we are grateful to a growing group of Indigenous social workers and allies who are helping us to reflect upon the necessary next steps to decolonize ourselves and our profession. It is vitally important that Indigenous social workers and elders help to lead this work, and if you are aware of anyone that would like to join this work, or would like to support this work, please reach out to N at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are many ways to honour this month, especially for those of us who are not Indigenous to Mi’kma’ki, and we look forward to sharing more with you moving forward. Here are a few resources which may be helpful:
- You can’t get an Elder in an app; Elder engagement for Mi’kmaw and Wolastoqey post-secondary education
- Halifax Public Libraries: Mi’kmaw history & culture
- CBU: Mi’kmaq Resource Centre
- Dalhousie University Indigenous connection
- Horizons Community Development Associates
- National Indigenous History Month, by Shannon Monk