Reconnecting with one another and with our purpose 

Plan to join us this spring:

In 2020, the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers’ annual conference was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The College has not had an in-person conference since.

Much has changed since then. The CASW has developed a new Code of Ethics, which we are in the process of adapting for the Nova Scotian context. We have a new approach to professional development, which mandates members to engage in critical reflection on their chosen activities, and participate in learning about mandated topics that support safe(R) practice. And our College has benefited from the generous efforts of a committee of Indigenous social workers —Mi’kmaq, First Nation, Inuit and Metis— who have gathered to help us to decolonize and indigenize our approach to social work, as part of our commitment to the ongoing labour of reconciliation.  

We are therefore very excited for this year’s annual conference, Celebrating Courage, where we look forward to reconnecting with one another in a new way.

While planning this event, the Professional Development Committee has been informed by the guidance and recommendations of the Decolonizing Social Work Committee and by feedback that we received from last year’s conference. We heard from some members who could only participate online, and others who have yearned to reconnect face-to-face.

And so, while it is possible to attend this year’s conference virtually, we are also creating opportunities for our members to meet with one another in regional hubs and create community, reconnecting to our sense of purpose as social workers, celebrating our strength and resilience, while also harnessing our collective creative wisdom to begin to reflect upon what it truly means to begin to decolonize the social work profession to ensure safe(r) practice. We have also planned two free pre-conference online sessions (on April 30 and May 10) to prepare us for the learning ahead. Decentralized in both time and space, the conference seeks to reflect in its structure and content the goals that we have set for ourselves.

Our hope is that this innovative approach to decolonizing our annual conference will meet the diverse needs of our membership. We aim to social work values and meet everyone where they are at, through this innovative new approach to re-imagining our annual conference in a way that is accessible and affordable, inspiring and invigorating. We hope to grow, challenge ourselves and yet create opportunities for healing, connection and fun.

Our goal is to help ourselves begin to unlearn our assumptions and unconscious bias, to cede our reliance upon colonial constructs such as keynotes that teach us that some voices or perspectives are more important than others, and to challenge the idea that professional development learning activities are separate from self-reflection, support for self-care, or advocacy to make safer the structural/community contexts we practice within.  

The construction of this conference intentionally integrates all of these goals while embedding them in community and relationship. This reflects the NSCSW’s commitment to reclaiming the social work group method as part of its decolonizing our institution and our profession, and will help social workers in each region of the province develop collaborative relationships to support education and advocacy in the future. We’re excited to celebrate courage and authenticity, foster community and connection, and help social workers decolonize themselves and their practice to ensure safer outcomes for themselves, for the people they work with, and for their communities. 

The title of this year’s conference reflects the courage that is needed to face our truths, speak our truths, and create truthful praxis. Our two-part theme also reflects a decolonizing shift to ensure safer social work practice by reducing burnout and dismantling unconscious or colonial bias. 

  • You are not alone:
    • The conference seeks to decolonize and help attendees unlearn the colonial myth of individuality which contributes to burnout and unsafe practice. Together, we can create the conditions to begin to heal ourselves and each other.
  • We are all connected:
    • An Indigenized approach to social work invites us to align social work practice in this region of unceded Mi’kma’ki with land-based Mi’kmaq values as part of our treaty responsibilities and our commitment to reconciliation. Msit No’kmaq means all my relations and refers to the traditional understanding that everything in the universe is interconnected. Everyone and everything has a purpose and is worthy of respect.
    • An Africentric approach to social work can also invite us to align our praxis with Ubuntu principles and philosophy: I am because you are; I am because we are. 

The Mi’kmaq word Mlkna literally means the state of having a fearless heart. By decentring our conference and learning to hear the voices that have been marginalized, erased or silenced (both externally in the world, and internally, due to the ways we have absorbed colonial violence through unconscious bias and through trauma), we seek to empower ourselves to step into a place of courage and authenticity that aligns with the Seven Grandfather Teachings: Nsituo’qn/Wisdom; Kesaltultimk/Love; Kepmite’teken/Respect; Mlkna/Bravery; Koqaja’teken/Honesty; Wanqwajite’teken/Humility; Tetpaqa’q/Truth. 

This year’s conference seeks to create spaces for social workers to gather together and restore faith in themselves and the transformative potential of their practice. We hope to support practitioners in developing deep and nuanced understanding of how their positionality affects the work they do, and create opportunities to learn from those with lived experiences of intersectional marginalization and oppression. Our intent is to build community for our members and to help us learn from one another, even as we work to liberate ourselves. We will be celebrating the courageous voices of our members and learning from them, as we learn how to decolonize our practice, as part of our commitment to safer social work.