The Indigenous Field of Study is the first Master of Social Work (MSW) program in Canada rooted in a wholistic Indigenous worldview and contemporary social work practice. The goal is to develop social work practitioners who demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the history, traditions and culture of the Indigenous peoples of Canada. This unique program includes the use of Indigenous elders, a traditional circle process and Indigenous ceremonies.
The needs most commonly identified by Indigenous people, as seen often in their public statements and political processes, include self-determination, cultural preservation and respect for the wholistic healing worldview. The MSW Indigenous Field of Study will fully and dramatically root itself within the Indigenous worldview. Our goal is the development of social work practitioners who can seek empowerment for Indigenous populations so that they can meet the needs that they have identified for themselves.
We offer a one-year full-time and two-year part-time Master of Social Work: Indigenous Field of Study. Our part-time programs are offered in partnership with community-based First Nation institutions: First Nation Technical Institute and Kenjgewin Teg.
This field is available only to applicants with a Bachelor of Social Work; for this reason, it is termed an advanced standing program.
Students will develop an understanding of the Indigenous wholistic healing approach and the application of this knowledge within diverse and generalist practice contexts. The sequence of courses will enable students to develop an understanding of the interrelated and intergenerational impacts of Canadian policies with respect to Indigenous peoples and the effects of colonization. Colonization has impacts on individuals, families, communities, on policies regarding Indigenous peoples, on their culture and identity, on their capacity to engage in the Canadian free-market economy and on their capacity to live within their cultural traditions within Canadian society.
Each element of practice and intervention with Indigenous populations is influenced by this history and value system. Engaging the consequences of this dynamic and creating a more empowering type of reality for Indigenous peoples requires social workers to fully comprehend this body of knowledge. Courses have been sequenced to guide students in developing a critical analysis of Indigenous experiences and to develop practice skills that will help undo some of this legacy.
The program will commence with a cultural camp where students will be fully immersed in Indigenous wholistic healing practices. The circle process, which will be the primary pedagogical tool, will achieve several goals in addition to the transmission of knowledge. The circle is a ceremony and an approach to decision-making, to consensus building, to healing and sharing of life. As students experience the circle day-after-day they will be learning a worldview, a healing approach, a relationship building process, and an embodiment of the most powerful traditional Indigenous teachings, which is “we are all one with all of the elements of Creation.”
Students in the full-time advanced standing option are required to complete eight courses plus one placement that extends over two terms. The part-time program requirements are identical to the full-time advanced standing option; however, students complete the program over six terms (two years).
Students in the Indigenous Field of Study are expected to respect and seek to practice within the Indigenous worldview. This means that along with intellectual development you will also engage in the development of your spiritual, emotional and physical selves. You will learn from a diversity of teachers including academic instructors, Elders, Indigenous ceremonies and the Indigenous community. You will be expected to involve yourself in all aspects of the specialized program, which include cultural camps, classroom work, presentation of yourself to Elders and in practice settings. You will be evaluated on your academic knowledge and your ability to practice from the Indigenous worldview.
Upon admission to the Indigenous Field of Study program, you will be expected to attend cultural camp where you will learn traditional teachings and practices under the instruction of program Elders and Indigenous faculty. This experience will enable program Elders and academic staff to determine the comfort level of students with this form of instruction and to help students determine their suitability for this field, aside from their intellectual capacity. During the course of the program, you will be evaluated with regard to traditional knowledge, traditional ceremonies, and your ability to “carry” and express these teachings in the context of their behaviours and practice.
You will be expected to garner from the traditional teachings, which may be transmitted orally, the meaning this knowledge contains for you and for the people with whom you will work. You will also be expected to articulate how this understanding fits into your own wholistic healing practice paradigm. It is expected that you may find this new process of learning to be challenging. Therefore, you will be guided and supported throughout the program by Elder teachers and Indigenous academic staff to assist you to master this challenging process.
If concerns arise about the personal suitability of a student to practice from the Indigenous worldview, these concerns will be discussed with you and a plan to address the concerns will be developed. If serious concerns about personal suitability persists, the collective of the program Elders and Indigenous faculty will evaluate if you have the capacity and commitment to practice from the Indigenous worldview. If the collective decision of the program Elders and Indigenous faculty is that a student does not have such capacity or commitment, the program director will counsel and may require the student to leave the program. In this case, the student will be provided with the insights of the program Elders and Indigenous academic staff as to the basis for this conclusion, and he or she would have the right to engage in the existing appeal processes, which are set out in the policies of the Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Social Work and the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.
The Indigenous Field of Study’s program Elders are people who can integrate the needs of the program and Indigenous values and principles. Our program Elders are people who carry their own knowledge and life wisdom with respect, while respecting the locations of our students, faculty and staff. Program Elders uphold the integrity of the Indigenous Field of Study while supporting students in the development of their wholistic healing practice and knowledge bundle. The involvement of program Elders in the Indigenous Field of Study enriches our program with their life experience, knowledge and ability to affirm Indigenous ethics and teachings.
We recognize that the term Elder can foster a variety of meanings and interpretations depending on who is the speaker and who is the listener. For this reason, we have sought to clarify our use of the term program Elder. Program Elders help in the union of Indigenous worldviews within the academy. In our context, program Elder will refer to one’s capacity to carry the vision of the Indigenous Field of Study program and to represent the program in a good way.
Program Elders may carry their traditional medicines and have knowledge of their own traditions and ceremonies. Program Elders will care for the cultural safety of the students, faculty and staff. They will be able to foster culturally safe environments where the integrity of the medicines, sacred circle and sacred teachings are enacted and respected.
The program Elder will be able to ensure that the cultural integrity of the Indigenous Field of Study is upheld.
Program Elders provide quality assurance at all levels to ensure that Indigenous peoples concerns, issues and worldviews are considered and incorporated in the Faculty of Social Work. The presence of a Program Elder can lend the presence of a mentor, aunt, uncle, grandparent or teacher. All of these forms of relationships can contribute to the success of our graduates.
Program Elders provide their observations, reflections and advice with staff and faculty and participate in all areas of program development and delivery. Program Elders provide peer support, and both informal and formal teachings to enhance awareness of Indigenous history and worldview. They can also guide Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff and faculty in the development of their own cultural competency of Indigenous peoples and worldviews. Additionally, faculty can seek out a program Elder for advice and teachings as they strive to integrate Indigenous curriculum and learning processes in their classes. Program Elders are also responsible for teaching courses within the Indigenous Field of Study and in doing so provide culturally responsive learning environments for students to reflect on their own identity and practice.
In all areas of the Faculty of Social Work, program Elders are essential consultants around new developments at the school. They are involved in project conceptions and design from the onset through to completion. Program Elders attend classes, meetings, workshops and conferences, representing the Indigenous Field of Study at university events and in the community.
Program Elders bring community engagement into the Indigenous Field of Study and create a presence of relationships within community. These people help to link culture, community and academy while also teaching students on how to work with community Elders. Program Elders may also facilitate the presence of diverse teachings from a variety of other Elders, nations and communities.
The primary reason for program Elders within the Indigenous Field of Study is to expose students to the respectful blending of culture and professional knowledge in their own learning journeys. They know of the importance of healing and re-learning about our history, worldview, language and culture. A program Elder will walk in a good way with the collective team. These people, because of their own wellness and healing, model and conduct inclusivity at all levels of teaching and learning. The Indigenous Field of Study regards their presence as integral to the delivery of a wholistically based graduate social work program. They provide their reflections and observations of student progress within the program during wholistic evaluations.
Program Elders model and reflect the importance and benefits of living a healthy lifestyle and the importance of healing from the traumas and events that colonialism has created for Indigenous people.
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