An Aboriginal Approach to Social Work Introduction Before I begin I would like to share an Aboriginal quote: “The Circle has healing power. In the Circle, we are all equal. When in the Circle, no one is in front of you. No one is behind you. No one is above you. No one is below you. The Sacred Circle is designed to create unity. The Hoop of Life is also a circle. On this hoop there is a place for every species, every race, every tree and every plant. It is this completeness of Life that must be respected in order to bring about health on this planet. ~Dave Chief, Oglala Lakota~ The reason why I chose this quote was because I felt that it represents and symbolizes the key concepts and values of the Medicine Wheel in this chapter. An aboriginal Approach to social work emphasis on how it can inform, enrich, and enhance the generalist social work practice. Its goal is to offer a contribution to the helping professions involved in promoting health and wellness for individuals, families and communities.
There are many different Aboriginal cultures which means that there is not just one approach to the Aboriginal helping process. The Strength Approach from chapter 10 that was discussed before and the Aboriginal Approach reflects on the helping principles that are most commonly used by the traditional cultures in the North American plains and prairies. This chapter indicates how an Aboriginal Approach incorporates historical facts about the social and psychological effects of colonization. Chapter 11 focuses on 2 important aspects.
One is the importance of the Medicine Wheel which models and guides the Aboriginal Approach as one of its teachings and the second is the journey toward Minopimatasiwin (the good life) which is a goal that is pursued by all and is the highest level of goals of the helping process made by client and social worker. Chapter 11 also introduces key concepts and values that guide an Aboriginal Approach as well as describes the healing and helping process and the helping relationship using an Aboriginal Approach and at the end compares the Aboriginal Approach with conventional social work.
Although there are an increasing number of Aboriginal social workers the majority of them still tend to be from the dominant North American cultures. The Aboriginal Approach is culturally supportive in the sense that it avoids enforcing specific treatment and cultural values and beliefs on clients. Helping and healing occurs according to the needs and wishes of each individual client Ameliorative action takes place within the culture of the client and in the context of the clients own background. Clients are encouraged to use their capabilities, strengths and life experiences in order to reach their goals.
Understanding Aboriginal History We cannot change the past political and historical events that took place in the healing process but we can definitely learn from them. It is difficult for many people who have gone through colonization and alienation to deal with expressing their thoughts about their life experiences. But by studying the process of colonization and the policies and practices that took place we can better understand the effects of oppression on people. In order to work with Aboriginal people social workers need to have an understanding of the effects of colonization on the Aboriginal people.
Michael hart provides examples of how Aboriginals were viewed and treated since colonization. He also talks about how the past attempted to assimilate and suppress the Aboriginal people and how it has affected their current lives today. I will emphasize on a few points that explains the experiences that have led to the devastation and destruction of the Aboriginal people’s social institutions and internalized oppression. One of the first issues that led to the oppression of the Aboriginal people was the changes to their economic system.
There was a time when the Aboriginals were self-sufficient and independent. They participated in the Euro-trade economy by incorporating their skills and abilities. They also participated by trading with one another. When the fur trades subsided and the European wars ended, the settlers began treating the Aboriginals as burdens rather than economic partners and military allies. Laws were passed by the settlers that banned fundamental aspects of the Aboriginal economy such as the potlatch and the give-away ceremonies. The potlatch is a festival or ceremony practiced among Aboriginal people.
The main purpose was the redistribution and reciprocity of wealth (a relationship between people involving the exchange of goods and services) Potlatches would also involve fasting, spirit dances, theatrical demonstrations, feasts and the distribution of gifts. The give-away ceremony is one of many traditional Aboriginal customs. It is performed at religious and social gatherings such as the pow-wow, grass dance, and rain dance were again the distribution of gifts took place. The giving away of gifts showed the appreciation to the visitors that traveled long distances in order to take part in their festivals.
More importantly a give-away may also be held in memory of a loved one who has passed away. Even when Aboriginal nations attempted to adapt to and accept the new enforced system making alterations to their economic system, new laws were introduced to keep them from fully participating. Potlatching was made illegal in Canada in 1885. Largely because of missionaries and government agents who considered it “a worse than useless custom” that was seen as wasteful, unproductive which was not part of “civilized” values.
The potlatch was seen as a key target in assimilation policies and agendas. Missionary William Duncan wrote in 1875 that the potlatch was “by far the most formidable of all obstacles in the way of Aboriginals becoming Christians, or even civilized. Thus in 1885, the Indian Act was revised to include clauses banning the potlatch and making it illegal to practice. The Aboriginal economic system was also subjugated and exploited by laws not allowing farmers to sell their produce unless it was for survival purposes.
Oppression also occurred on a political level when the Canadian government imposed systems for the Aboriginal peoples to govern them- selves. Aboriginal people were no longer allowed to follow their traditional forms of governance and the Indian Act Chief and Council System. This meant that all matters that had to be discussed had to be approved by the government appointed Indian agent before a chief and council could address the matter. Once matters were discussed any resolution had to be agreed upon by the appropriate federal minister before being enacted.
When people attempted to address grievances or complaints they had with the government and the Indian Act System, new laws were passed to stop them from organizing and effectively dealing with the issues brought to their attention. These were also laws put into effect to fine or imprison anyone receiving money for the prosecution of claims on behalf of a First Nations Band which meant that a person could not legally represent a First Nation and receive payment for services rendered. Other barriers were also in place to stop people from organizing such as a need for a pass from the Indian agent to leave a reserve.
These laws were meant to directly attack the Aboriginal culture. Many of the Aboriginal tradition ceremonies were banned without the non-Aboriginal knowing the exact meaning of these ceremonies and their purpose. Indian agents, priests, ministers, and law enforcement officials also encouraged the pass system. Many aspects of Aboriginal culture were seen as “evil, barbaric, and uncivilized. ” Deputy Superintendent General of the Federal Government decided to eliminate Aboriginal culture and control them by implementing these strict laws.
One example from the book illustrates the banning of a First Nations person from public pool rooms by fining or imprisoning the person or the owner. Before the Aboriginal social institutions were attacked they had access to their own schools, medicine, and justice system. Many generations of Aboriginal children were forcefully taken from their homes to attend residential schools. Lands that had access to medicinal purposes for healing and ceremonies were also banned. The Aboriginal people no longer lived in a just society nor had a justice system that they could relate to.
The Aboriginal communities were torn apart and restructured through government laws, policies, and practices. The Present Context Unfortunately many similar past events still continue to happen today. Using the example from the text, “the Canadian government has recently attempted to introduce the Governance Act without the proper and full participation of First Nations. ” From the First Nation’s people’s point of view The Governance Act was more for the benefit of the government’s needs rather than the people it affected.
Today Aboriginal people are still fighting to repossess their land entitlements which would help them re- establish their economic base. Aboriginal people are also still struggling to use their treaty rights. Although the Federal Government has settled some claims there are many that have not been attended to. It is also imperative to note that the Government decides on which settlements will be considered. Aboriginal people still deal with racism on a daily bases. These examples from the text demonstrate some of the ways Aboriginal’s are mistreated. Police officers leaving Aboriginal people on the outskirts of town in severe winter conditions or a court that represents an Aboriginal women who has been killed but views her killers sympathetically. Because of the ongoing social inequality and discrimination towards Aboriginals they remain among the poorest group of people living in Canada. The text reveals some disturbing facts about what is happening to Aboriginal people today. •Off reserve First Nation and Metis people have the lowest level of education •Earn the lowest house hold income compared to the average •Are more likely to be unemployed They are at a higher risk for health conditions such as tuberculosis, diabetes, arthritis, long term activity restriction, and major depressive episodes •They are more likely to smoke and drink alcohol more than non-Aboriginal •Be overweight •Also Aboriginals with contracting the Aids virus is on the rise. •First Nations people have higher rates of suicide •Are more likely to be incarcerated compared to non-Aboriginals •Aboriginal women are more likely to experience violent abuse from their partners •Most Aboriginal people live at or below the poverty line and children over the age of 15 consider alcohol abuse a problem in their community.
Social work’s participation in the Oppression Process Although the original intention of social workers in the past was to help the Aboriginal people they ended up doing more harm than good. In the 1960’s child welfare workers set out into Aboriginal communities to provide guidance and support by following their own values and beliefs without considering the colonial background and the values and life practices of the Aboriginal people. As a result of this the outcome had devastating consequences. Aboriginal children were taken away from their families and communities and were adopted out to far off places.
The Aboriginal community suffered a devastating loss of thousands of children. This event in the 1960’s is know or referred to as the “60’s scoop”. Back in the day when traditional social work was practiced social workers used authority and control to regulate circumstances and events without understanding or appreciating Aboriginal cultures. The social work profession has also contributed to the oppression of Aboriginal people through the theories and approaches based on and developed from non-Aboriginal perspectives. An Aboriginal Approach
For centuries Aboriginal people have been using their own methods to helping one another. Many Aboriginal social workers have been incorporating the Aboriginal approach in their practice even though it hasn’t always been respected by the social work profession. In recognizing this concern the Canadian Association of Social Workers has acknowledged the need for greater understanding and respect for Aboriginal practices. It is important to be aware of the fact that Aboriginal people differ in their world views and that there are many diverse groups of Aboriginals that live through out Canada.
There are more than 50 nations, including the Innu, Mikmaq, Maliseet, Odawa, Kanien’kehaka, Anishinaabe, Cree, Dakota, Blackfoot, Salish, Haida, Tutchone, Dene, Inuit, and Metis Nations. There are over 630 First Nations throughout Canada, more than 50 Inuit communities and numerous Metis communities and settlements. Aboriginals live on reserves, settlements, small rural communities, remote isolated locations and large urban areas. The Aboriginal culture reflects their traditional land and environment. The diversity of the people is considerable given the great diversity in the land and the environment throughout Turtle Island.
From this great diversity it is easy to understand why there are a variety of Aboriginal helping approaches. The Aboriginal Approach in this chapter is just one of the approaches based on Aboriginal helping practices with a focus on Aboriginal peoples in Canada, particularly the Prairie Provinces. Background of the Approach One of the models that guides this approach and that is frequently mentioned in the literature is the “Medicine Wheel” The medicine wheel is an ancient symbol of the universe used to help people understand things of ideas we often cannot physically see.
It reflects the cosmic order and the unity of all things in the universe but it can be expressed in many different ways as there is no absolute version of the wheel. Many Aboriginal people such as the Anishinabe, Cree and Dakota have used the medicine wheel and given it its interpretations. As a central symbol used for understanding various issues and perspectives, the medicine wheel reflects several key and interrelated concepts that are common to many Aboriginal approaches to helping. Many of the following concepts will help explain the medicine wheel.
These concepts are outlined in the text as the foundation to the Aboriginal Approach. They are wholeness, balance, relationships, harmony, growth, healing, and mino-pimatisiwin (the good life) Key Concepts •Wholeness In order to understand the concept of wholeness it is important to recognize that the medicine wheel has been used to illustrate many teachings that can be expressed in sets of 4 and represented in the 4 cardinal directions, east, south, west, and north. For example, the medicine wheel has been used to explain the 4 aspects of humanness.
According to this teaching every individual comprises 4 keys aspects, the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. Individuals are not whole unless they recognize and actively develop each aspect of their humanness. Other teachings that are addressed through the medicine wheel include the people of the four directions, they are known as the red, yellow, black, and white people, the 4 cycles of life which include birth/infancy, youth, adulthood, and elderly/death, elements, fire, water, wind, and earth and the 4 seasons spring, summer, fall, and winter. Wholeness is directly related to these and other teachings.
Each of these teachings is a part of a single whole. We can come to fully understand one teaching only if we can understand how it is connected to all other parts and teachings reflected in the medicine wheel. (There are examples of teachings of the medicine wheel on page 242. Exhibit 11. 2) Wholeness in the cycle of the year require movement through all seasons, wholeness in life requires movement through the phases of human life, and wholeness in human growth requires the development of all aspects. The year life and human growth can come to completion through this movement to wholeness.
Thus wholeness is the incorporation of all aspects of life. In order to focus on the whole it’s important to focus on each part. •Balance The concept of balance implies that each part of the whole requires attention in a way in which one part is not focused upon to the detriment of the other parts. Balance occurs when a person is at peace and harmony within and with all other living things, including the earth and natural world. It also includes paying attention to both positive and negative aspects of people. While balance is periodically achieved it is never truly achieved for an indefinite period of time.
As in all living systems it has to be strived for continuously. When there is an unequal focus on one part of the medicine wheel there is an imbalance. When this happens it is considered the source of a person’s disease or problems. A person who does not strive for balance will not be able to develop his or her full potential. In order to restore balance each part of the medicine wheel must be addressed in relation to all of the other parts. •Relationships Balance requires more than just paying attention to each part of the medicine wheel.
Balance includes giving attention to what connects each part of the medicine wheel such as relationships among all parts. Relationships between people characterize human life and are essential to people’s wellbeing. Attention must be given to the relationships within a person. Dion Buffalo 1990 states that ”the traditional Cree approach is also holistic, concerned with and giving equal consideration to an individual’s mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing within the sacred circle of the universe People are also in relationships with entities surrounding them, including the earth, plants, animals, and the universe as a whole.
So in order to achieve balance people need to constantly foster the relationships between entities outside as well as within themselves. •Harmony Harmony is frequently mentioned as a state to be sought after whether it is harmony within oneself, in the world, or in the universe. The concept of harmony is a state of being that also leads to the good life. Harmony involves the relationships of all the various powers, energies and beings of the universe. When everyone human, animal, plant and planet fulfills their obligation and goes about their business then they are in harmony.
Harmony also includes respect for our relationships with others, within oneself and in the give and take between entities. Harmony is finding a good fit between the components of life through collaboration, sharing what is available, and cooperation and respect. It involves peace, respect and establishing connections. •Growth Growth and learning involve developing the body, mind, heart, and spirit in a harmonious way. People have the capacity to grow and change, and their growth is depended on using their volition or will to develop their physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental aspects.
Growth is viewed as a lifelong process that leads people to their true selves. Growth can be seen as movement through life cycles toward wholeness, balance, interdependence, or connectedness, and harmony within oneself and with other living things. It is the movement toward the centre of the wheel. The centre is the place of optimum growth and healing. •Healing Healing is viewed as a journey; it is something that is practiced daily throughout our lives. Illness and problems are viewed as disconnections, imbalances, and disharmony.
Healing is the transition that restores the person, community, and nation to wholeness, connectedness, and balance. In this sense healing is developing centeredness. From this perspective an individual’s healing not only is necessary for that individual, but also is important for all people around that person since they are all interconnected. Healing begins with the individual and involves responsibility for one’s own well-being and growth. •Mino-pimatisiwin It is through the taking of responsibility for their own personal healing and growth that individuals will be able to attain the mino-pimatisiwin the good life.
The good life is the goal of living life fully, learning, and healing. This growth and attempt to reach the good life is not just an individual focus it also involves the family and community. Herring speaks of self-actualization in a manner that reflects the idea of reaching mino-pimatisiwin. He suggests that native cultures emphasize cooperation, harmony, interdependence, and achievement of socially oriented and group goals and collective responsibility. This means that the goal of self-actualization is more akin to family and tribal self-actualization. Key Values •Sharing Sharing takes a centre place.
The many things shared among people include practical and sacred knowledge, life experiences and food. Sharing with others tends to be a natural way of developing human relationships. Sharing promotes equality and democracy in that everyone is considered as valuable as any other person and treated accordingly. It also reduces feelings such as greed, envy and arrogance that may cause conflict within the group. It is believed to be so fundamentally important that any breach would result in sickness. •Respect Another value that is extensively emphasised and believed to be one of the foundations of many Aboriginal cultures is respect.
First Nations explains that “we unconditionally respect all beings because we all begin as seeds from the same materials of this mother earth. In the circle no one individual is deemed more than or less than the other, so that treatment which elevates or degrades one or the other is ruled out. ” Respect means to treat someone or something with consideration, to show honour, esteem, deference, and courtesy. It is a central responsibility. •Spirituality Many Aboriginal people hold a deep sense of spirituality. It is a core characteristic of many Aboriginal cultures and is evident in many aspects of Aboriginal helping practices.
Concepts related to the Perception of Person Human nature in an Aboriginal approach is seen as good although the existence and expression of bad attributes by people are recognized. Everyone has a purpose and a direction in life, they have to actively strive to develop themselves positively towards mino-pimatisiwin. At the same time “while people develop to come to know their true nature, the traditional Native also nurtures the experience of being alive. ” View of Individuals Time orientation and Relationship The Native person has an intuitive, personal and flexible concept of time.
Life experiences and events that take place in the past and in the present time are all important especially in how future generations will be affected. Relationships are central to each person’s well-being and life goals, and in each person’s life relationships are made and remade. Individuals are influenced by as well as influence the relationships in their lives including relationships within entities and spirits. Concepts Related to Functioning Role of History The process and effects of colonization have to be understood as a structured relationship and as a personal experience.
The spiritual aspects of Aboriginal people have suffered much stress due to colonization. The human service professions, such as social work, come face to face with the current problems stemming from harmful past events and practices. Human service professions need to seriously consider impacts of the politics of colonization in North American history. Thus, an Aboriginal approach incorporates historical factors such as the effects of colonization on the person, family, and community. Individual Development: The Cycle of Life Equally important as the effects of colonization on people’s functioning is the cyclical nature of life.
This cycle has been viewed in relation to the medicine wheel, where life is seen as having four key phases; within each phase tasks are developed, but not necessarily in consecutive order. These four phases include the birth/infant phase, the child/youth phase, the adult phase, and the elder/death phase. While it is possible to describe particular developments and achievements in relation to particular life phases (Longclaws, 1994), these phases are significant to people as individuals so that they can best understand their own development. Importance of Consciousness and Unconsciousness
Dion Buffalo stated that the Plains Cree heal individuals by bringing the unconscious conflict and resistance to a conscious level where issues can be worked on. This process incorporates spiritual dimensions that are reached through dreams and visions. Dreams are held in high regard and are seen as a source of knowledge and power. It is believed that spiritual beings offer guidance to people. Ermine reviewed this process of learning, securing power, enhancement, and help through such events as dreams and visions. He stated, Aboriginal people found a wholeness that permeated inwardness and hat extended into the outer space. They saw that all existence was connected and that the whole enmeshed being in its inclusiveness. This inward-looking process is important not only for individuals, but for the community as well. Overall, Aboriginal philosophy is a spiritual philosophy that strongly incorporates the unconscious and the conscious. Nature of Change and the Role of Motivation Change in an Aboriginal approach is tied to balance, relationships, and harmony. Aboriginal peoples see the universe in a constant state of movement of alliances, compacts, and relationships among the energies and spirits of the world.
This order is always in a state of transition between order and chaos. Such balance in the universe occurs in an environment of movement, transition, and change. Chief Simon Baker describes it in terms of cycles. People are always involved in transitional processes, either directly or indirectly. Change occurs due to actions that occur outside and individual, and are part of the circle of life. Change can also happen as a result of inner processes, such as feelings of fear, or a new understanding of oneself after a meaningful experience.
When individuals are not balanced within, are disconnected within their relationships, or are in disharmony within their environment, then change is required. It is necessary to regain one’s balance. At other times, when individuals feel they have achieved balance and attempt to remain “stuck” in that particular state, growth is hindered since the world around them continues to change. Change is and ongoing transitional process of balancing and connecting relationships within the individual, between individuals, and between individuals and their environment.
The primary motivation for growth and change lies in the desire to reach mino-pimatisiwin, the onus is on the individual to pursue change in his or her life. Power Power exists in all living entities. For people it is tied to their ability to imagine something or make a choice and them implement actions so that the imagined something or the choice becomes a reality. Ideally power should be used to help oneself or others strive for mino-pimatisiwin- the good life. People’s access to power is not evenly distributed throughout any society. A ariation in the distribution of power may be acceptable as long as the power is used to contribute to the creation and maintenance of balance, relationships, and harmony for all individuals and entities. The more power a person or group has access to, the greater the responsibility that the person or group has to contribute to the well-being of others. Power is abused when and individual, a group, a society, or an entity, for it’s own gain, hinders or attempts to hinder anther person, group, society, or entity’s learning, healing, or growth.
Abuses of power result in imbalances, broken relationships, and disharmony. The likelihood of deterioration is great. This is unlikely to remain as a change will likely come either from those abusing their power or by force from an external resource that will result in redistribution of the power to a more balanced state. The Healing Process Focus of Helping In an Aboriginal approach to helping, emphasis is given to the relationships held by the people being helped. It is especially essential to nurture the relationship between a client and worker and to enhance its development and growth as a part of helping.
The focus of the helping process is restoring relationships that have become out of balance. As in all social work practice, work with clients can be focused at the individual, family, community, or broader level of relationships. In addition, the level of relationships can be further extended to include people’s relationships with the Creator and Mother Earth. In an Aboriginal social work approach, those providing assistance to clients are required to focus on maintaining their own balance, connectedness, and harmony.
In other words, centeredness, since they are in a relationship with the people receiving help. It is emphasized that “before you can reach out to the people around you, you must first understand how to help yourself”. The Helping Relationship and Specific Techniques The helping relationship is one in which the helper and the person receiving the support are involved in a shared experience of learning and growing. In this shared experience the helper is a supporter involved in an independent relationship with the person receiving the help. To respect individual utonomy, those offering help are required to be indirect, non-judgemental, and non-coercive in their methods of practice. It is up to the individual what direction he or she takes. While some healers have been noted to be very direct and have used direct interventions, most interventions that are parallel with social work practice involve a relationship of interdependence and support, and tend to remain fairly direct. Of course when the safety of another is at risk direct intervention may be required, such as in situations where someone is physically abusing another or attempting suicide.
Specific techniques reflect this relationship. In and Aboriginal approach, story telling is frequently used as a method of addressing issues. Some situations may call for the helper to share experiences that directly relate to the situation being addressed. Other situations may call for the sharing of stories in a general manner, thus allowing individuals to personally discover the meaning in the story that relates to them. The use of humour is another important technique. According to Atkin “humour to our people is probably one of the greatest medicinal strengths”.
It is an indirect nurturing approach that is both non-confrontational and non-interfering. For example, humour can help individuals to see the situations they experiencing from a new perspective, and perhaps a lighter point of view. Role modeling is another technique that can be used. . The role-modeling process, or “teacher as healer,” requires that a person live life as it is to be taught and wait for the student to come seeking knowledge. In and Aboriginal social work approach, the referral to or support of Elders is often highlighted.
Elders are often seen as people who have learned from life and are able to transmit the culture which is considered a key aspect of the healing process for Aboriginal peoples. Elders also provide counselling, offer spiritual guidance, and conduct ceremonies. There are many ceremonies, and these are carried out in varying ways depending upon the practices of the First Nations peoples involved. They include smudging, variability, “Ceremonies assist individuals in centering themselves and give them strength to participate in a lifelong learning process”.
Ceremonies are not referred to as obligations to be fulfilled for one’s renewal in the life cycle. They are ways to facilitate healing and to discharge emotions through crying, yelling, talking, swearing, singing, dancing, and praying. The discharge of emotion in and of itself is in fact seen as a healing method. Specific Knowledge and Skills of the Helper Elders are respected as sources of help because of their experiences and how they have learned from those experiences. They have reached the point of living the life they wish to teach.
People who conduct healing ceremonies go through a learning process that incorporates years of intense study, acquiring the knowledge needed to fully work as an Aboriginal healer. Utilizing an Aboriginal approach requires the ability to appropriately use the basic knowledge and skills that reflect and respect Aboriginal worldviews and the ways of life that stem from these views. These include eliminating the expert role, maintaining humility, demonstrating centeredness, acknowledging the spiritual, listening, being patient, using silence, and speaking from the heart.
People offering cannot see themselves as experts in the healing process since “there is no distinction between the helper and the helped”. Humility needs to be emphasized. Helpers need to incorporate personal experience to demonstrate alternatives for healing and therefore should be active in developing their own centeredness. The need for the helper to be patient and a good listener are also necessary, since nondirective approaches take time. Peat (1994) states that “coming-to-know arises out of silence. It is the same quality of silence that strikes so forcefully when you meet with a Native person”.
Silence is related to another skill that should be developed-the art of speaking from the heart that includes the attempt to reach and touch the listener’s heart. This process is important because such actions honour the listener by having the speaker share something that is truly meaningful, and not just information. In social work, speaking from the heart shows genuineness, empathy, and concern. It brings the worker and client together in their common humanity. Goal Setting In the Aboriginal approach, goal setting is to be determined by the person being helped.
Unless the person has approached a traditional healer of Elder asking for a particular problem to be cured, the assessment of what goals are to be sought is also determined by the person being helped. Due to the fact that for many people following the Aboriginal approach the central goal is to achieve mino-pimatisiwin, the good life, goal setting is a personal responsibility. In this way, the people seeking help direct their own actions and take responsibility for reaching their own goals. Application In utilizing an Aboriginal approach in practice, social work helpers begin with themselves.
They need to prepare themselves by being aware of their own emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical well-being, how these aspects are balanced and connected, and how they move to establish harmonious relationships within themselves and with others. Those who take on the job of social worker begin on a kind on journey, one in which they learn about themselves as people and as participants in a relationship with people seeking help. The will see the difficult situations, problems, and pain created by the structures in our society and by people in distress.
They will also see the beauty of discovery, healing, and growth within themselves and in the universe around them. In this way, it is important for social workers to be centred themselves and to maintain their well-being and balance as they take up this challenging and rewarding work. Social work helpers need to develop understandings of each person’s personal, family, community, and national histories and how these histories may be brought into play in the present including how they may relate to the colonial oppression Aboriginal peoples face.
The helpers need to listen to the life stories that people share. They are required to hear about and support the people seeking help to consider all relationships they have. Awareness of each internal component of the people seeking help should be developed by the helper and the people themselves. There must also be awareness of the external factors influencing this person, in particular the identity and culture. The relationships between internal and external elements should be considered holistically.
The positive growth of these components and relationships should be focused upon as the helper supports the individuals to develop his or her own goals. An outline of how centeredness can be achieved should be shared between the helper and the person seeking help. There may be use of ceremonies within some sessions, for example a smudging ceremony. Alternatively, there may be ceremonies conducted outside the sessions that may become part of the healing journey. People seeking help and possibly the helper may participate in ceremonies, such as sweats or sharing circles, carried out by healers or Elders.
Finally, and importantly, the social work helper and the person seeking help will have to decide on how to best utilize the support of Elders. Elders may be sought by the helper to give advised and direction on how to proceed or points to consider. Alternatively, the person seeking help may wish to be referred to and Elder for support. See case example regarding Don and Joan on pgs 253-254. The principles of relationship and helping through support are important. Besides the support you can offer, there may be some support in the city and their home community that can be utilized.
Support then first by listening and being patient. You might then be able to help them in learning to relate to their families and community again or support them to discover what it means to be a couple from their cultural perspective. These possibilities must be client directed. The challenges they are facing, such as gang members wanting Don to join them, may cause them to move away from the changes they are making. They will need to know whom to contact should any problems arise. Sharing such information with each of them as needed will likely be necessary.
On another level, you maybe able to utilize their past experiences with the child welfare and justice systems as a means to introduce concepts of colonization, systemic and internalized oppression, and the need for oppressed peoples to connect with others at a community level. You may also consider incorporating these concepts in the group you facilitate and in which Don and Joan are members. Both Don and Joan may want information from you about what you know about them and their problems. In promoting a relationship that is egalitarian, you would likely want to tell them what you know.
You cannot force either to take a course of action that they are not ready for or do not want at all. The support you provide must demonstrate respect for their own search for healing and growth. Unless you are able to build mutual respect in your relationship with them, it will be nearly impossible to engage in an effective helping process. Once you have developed a sense of mutual respect, you will be able to utilize your power as a social worker to support them in their growth and healing. In this situation, support will mean allowing them to identify how you can best elp from the information you share about yourself, your role, your abilities, and your connections. “Start where the client is” – find out what they think they need. Some of this may be specific to their cultural orientation or other features of their lives. Listening for awhile before speaking is a good idea. Try to understand their life experiences from an emic (insiders) perspective. Your cultural background may or may not be different from theirs, so you will filter what you learn through your own culture and background. This is true for any helping encounter.
You must be prepared to share aspects of yourself to facilitate this exchange, if that is what is wanted. The information will also be useful to you as their social worker. Once you have developed a connection with the couple, you do not want to avoid talking to them about their experiences with the child welfare and criminal justice systems; however, you will need to learn how to comfortably address this. Trust is developed in the relationship; this approach is likely the best. How would you incorporate an Aboriginal approach when you are required to ensure certain goals are met?
A key to answering this question is to remember whose goals are whose, and how power is to be used. Try to remember each of the points outlined in the previous scenario. An Aboriginal Approach and Conventional Social Work This book has explained that conventional social work is formulated around the problem solving process. An Aboriginal approach is one of four approaches that this book argues informs, critiques, and enriches conventional practice. While an Aboriginal approach is particularly suited to working with Aboriginal peoples, its concepts and ideas enrich all of social work.
Conventional social work is organized around a problem-solving process. An Aboriginal approach is not. An Aboriginal approach centres around the abstract goal of mino-pimatisiwin- a good life and the life long journey of growth and healing. Problem-solving is but one part of this journey. The emphasis on this journey is a wholeness, balance, connectedness/relationships, and harmony. Like the strengths approach, an Aboriginal approach emphasizes people’s vitality and capacities. In an Aboriginal approach people need to be able to solve their own problems. In an Aboriginal view, helping and healing are connected but are not the something.
Healing is viewed as a journey and something that is practiced daily throughout everyone’s life. Illness and problems are viewed as disconnections, imbalances, and disharmony. Healing is the journey to mino-pimatisiwin, which is achieved through maintaining centeredness. As such, healing involves individual responsibility for one’s own well-being and growth. Helping is not seen as a direct solution to specific problems such as in problem-solving processes. Instead, helping is often viewed as but one part of the healing process. Helping in this sense, is assisting another in his or her process of healing.
The helping relationship is one in which the helper and the person receiving the support are involved in a shared experience of learning and growing. Both conventional social work and an Aboriginal approach see the helping relationship as central to helping. They also view the relationship between social worker and client as a mutual partnership. However an Aboriginal approach carries this view further in that the helper and the person being helped are in an interdependent relationship where they can both learn and grow. Goals are determined by the person being helped in an Aboriginal approach and connect to the lifelong process of healing.
In the ecosystems approach, as in problem-solving processes, goals are specifically related to the problem and are usually determined mutually between the helper and the person being helped. An Aboriginal Approach and Ecosystems Ecosystems were introduced as a person-in-the-environment perspective. An Aboriginal approach bears some resemblance to a person-in-the-environment perspective and to an ecosystems view. It is true that an Aboriginal approach focuses heavily on relationships, including the relationship between people and their environments. In this sense, it is a person-in-the-environment perspective.
Further Aboriginal concepts such as balance and disharmony share similarities with the ecosystems principles, like equilibrium and disequilibrium. However, the Aboriginal perspective is both much broader and more inclusive. Neither ecosystems nor an Aboriginal approach is, as such, a theory. Instead, both are use din social work as perspectives and approaches and provide frameworks for practice. Ecosystems are drawn from biological ecology. An Aboriginal approach has been developed over many centuries by North American Aboriginal cultures and represents a worldview that has only some similarities to ecological ideas.
In this context, an Aboriginal approach perspective and ecosystems are not of the same order; ecosystems are a framework borrowed from biology. An Aboriginal perspective is a worldview with a very wide range of principles and teachings. Central concepts in ecosystems are transaction and interface. An ecosystem approach holds that social work assessment and intervention should focus on these twin concepts of transaction and interface. In the ecosystems approach, social workers seek to restore the fit between the person and the environment.
An Aboriginal approach is similar but also very different. In an Aboriginal approach, as in ecosystems, the connections between parts are emphasized. Similar to ecosystems concentration on fit between person and environment, an Aboriginal approach focuses on restoring relationships that have become out of balance. However, an Aboriginal approach goes much further in that it also centres on the wholeness of everything, including the person, the environment, the spiritual and physical worlds, the universe, and the connections among all of these parts.
Wholeness is the incorporation of all aspects of life. To focus on the whole, it becomes necessary to give attention to each part. An Aboriginal approach includes understanding the conscious and unconscious, with an emphasis on spirituality. Spirituality is vitally important as the basis of all connections and beings. As such, healing involves the spiritual aspect of people. The ecosystems approach avoids inner-self factors such as the unconscious and spirituality, and if addressed at all they remain at the periphery of the approach.
It is important that social workers not confuse an Aboriginal approach with ecosystems even though they have some important similarities. Conclusion In summary, this chapter has provided us with a variety of ideas and concepts that make up an Aboriginal approach to social work. Since there are many Aboriginal worldviews, the approach developed here is based on some of these. One of the models that guided this approach is the medicine wheel, which includes wholeness, balance, relationships, harmony, growth, healing and the important goal of mino-pimativisiwin- the good life. This