By Elizabeth Howell
Photos by Chris Roussakis
To move forward with Indigenous reconciliation, a class of Carleton University master’s students has created a pledge promising to educate themselves about what happened in the past and help prevent such a tragedy from occurring in the future.
Under the residential school system, an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were separated from their families and placed into government-run schools intent on assimilate them into European culture. They forbade children from speaking their native languages and separated them from community role models. Many children were abused, underfed and poorly clothed. The last school closed just 20 years ago, in 1996.
Under the leadership of Carleton Prof. Susan Braedley, the 28 students spent the past year studying Canada’s role as a settler nation, as well as historical and contemporary responsibilities, to redress the harm done to Aboriginals. Four students presented their work on March 6 at the Rheal Brant-Hall Annual Lecture.
On behalf of the class, they also received the first Rheal Brant-Hall Award, which the School of Social Work created to honour work done with Indigenous communities.
Indigenous Reconciliation: Challenging the Status Quo
“While we might move into careers and be juniors in those careers, the onus is in fact upon us to become the people who challenge the status quo,” said student Katie McLaurin.
“We’re learning a lot and having a great time doing it together,” added student Katherine Dwyer. “We have a wide variety of backgrounds and are passionate about a lot of different things.”
The class examined two questions: how to actively reject discriminatory practices in social work, and how to take tangible actions to help Aboriginals – both as students and future social workers. They were also tasked with convening an event to address issues faced by the entire social work community.
While working under a normal graduate student course load, the students felt so inspired by their classmates and their readings that they sought opportunities to make the event as memorable as possible.
Inspirations for the class work included:
- Recommendations of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission;
- Senator Murray Sinclair, a First Nations lawyer and chair of the commission. He gave a speech at Carleton last year that the class attended;
- Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. The class studied her book, “The Occasional Evil of Angels: Learning From The Experiences Of Aboriginal Peoples And Social Work.”
Building from the Bottom Up
The students created a one-day event in November 2016 – “Building from the Bottom Up” – to discuss best practices to help Indigenous people and to create the pledge. Speakers came from Carleton’s School of Social Work, the AIDS Commission of Ottawa, the Shepherds of Good Hope and the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa.
“We aspired to create something tangible, something you can take away from this event,” said student Susan Lee. “We acknowledged there is a lot of reconciliation talk, but not a lot of action, and we wanted action at this event.’”
The students, who are finishing their first year of a two-year program, are recruiting other social work schools in Canada to sign the pledge. They also plan to present their work at a March 18 conference hosted by Carleton’s Centre for Indigenous Research, Culture, Language and Education, which will feature graduate student research.
Here is the Social Work Pledge for Reconciliation:
- I will remember the Social Work profession’s past harms against Indigenous peoples in my daily practice and remain ever vigilant against future harms.
- I will commit to being reflexive in my practice and being aware of my own cultural/historical location.
- I will acknowledge my own limitations, remembering not to position myself as “expert”, but to remain open and curious.
- I will embrace situations of uncertainty, will educate myself, and will seek guidance from Indigenous leaders, the TRC Calls to Action, organizations and other sources of Indigenous knowledge available to me.
- I will value, honour and respect stories, and the privilege and responsibility of listening to stories.
- I will acknowledge the diversity of Indigenous cultural groups and individuals across Canada.
- I commit to following the leadership of Indigenous nations’ knowledge holders.
- I will challenge institutions and organizations – including my own- to drop colonial practices that continue to marginalize and oppress, and to integrate Indigenous knowledge into Social Work practice.
- I will remember the critical importance of having Indigenous nations in decision-making capacities to ensure that Indigenous knowledge is reflected and respected in sector-wide policies and policy-making.
- I will walk in parallel with Indigenous nations to nurture a new relationship based on best practices.
- I commit to pursuing the co-creation of a set of respectful core values, wisdom and structures for best practice.
- I pledge to continue working towards reconciliation with the understanding that it is a process that will require time, patience, compassion, courage, and persistence.