‘A master’s with an indigenous perspective’ Students, faculty enthused about proposed social work program

Doug Park is currently in his third year of the U of M’s inner-city social work undergraduate program. He had already been contemplating taking his master’s at the university when he heard about the potential for a master of social work program in indigenous knowledge (MSW-IK).

Park has been working in the community development field for about seven years in a number of organizations that work within the inner city, such as the Bear Clan Patrol and Métis Child and Family Services.

He is passionate about empowering youth through cultural practices and participating in traditional ceremonies such as sweats and the Sundance ceremony, and he aspires to create his own program to work with youth and allow them to connect with hunting and fishing.

“The work that I do is to get youth involved in their culture. It helps with identity and […] to do a master’s with an indigenous perspective just makes so much sense. I think that it is so needed.”

Park is one of many prospective students interested in the MSW-IK program. The program proposal has been in development for years. It was approved by the faculty of graduate studies in January 2014 and by the senate that summer. It is currently awaiting funding approval by the province’s Department of Education and Advanced Learning.

When launched it will be the only the fourth program of its kind in Canada.

The Gradzette spoke with Michael Hart, who holds the U of M’s Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Knowledges and Social Work. Hart has been the chair of the MSW-IK development committee since 2010.

Hart explained how the MSW-IK program developed out of conversations within the faculty about the master of social work program and its indigenous content in 2009. This led to a larger discussion with indigenous professors from a variety of faculties at the U of M.

“Why would we just tinker when there should be a separate program?” Hart said.

This began the more detailed process of creating course outlines for all thirteen core courses.

Community consultation was integral throughout the whole process. This has included seeking out specific community elders, as well as hosting consultations that were open to anyone in the community interested in providing feedback.

Creating a program like this requires extensive work and time. It includes the approval of the faculty of social work, the faculty of graduate studies and the university senate as well as provincial review boards and meeting social work program requirements of the Canadian Association for Social Work Education.

“Throughout that time I have always been at work on it”, said Hart. “And it is not just me, it is our Indigenous Caucus […] It is a group of people who have been working at it constantly. Including some elders from the community.”

The program recognizes that Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit people tend to have a stronger sense of community than what is experienced in the city. This is why there are many opportunities for student collaboration with elders, who will teach courses and be available for discussion and support.

“We have had interest from people from other places, Belize for example. So there is a wide interest,” said Hart.

Feature image credit: Inner-city social work student Doug Park. Photo by Aleah Isaak.

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