The School of Indigenous Relations

The School of Indigenous Relations has been in existence since 1988. Since that time it has evolved from a Native Human Services (NHS) Program within the School of Social Work at Laurentian University, to the School of Native Human Services in 2008. It has since changed its name in 2014 to the School of Indigenous Relations (SIR), reflecting the name change of the Native Social Work Program to the Indigenous Social Work (ISWK) program in keeping with a more inclusive terminology.

The ISWK program is a four year Honours Bachelor of Social Work program that is available both on campus and through online learning. The online program is offered on an part-time basis, meaning that the courses are cycled every two years. While it may take students a little longer to complete their degree, it affords them the ability to study from their home communities. Students using this method of study come from all parts of Canada, from the east to the west coast and as far north as the Northwest Territories.

The ISWK program is accredited by the Canadian Association for Social Work Educators (CASWE), the national body that accredits social work programs across Canada. Prior to this, the SIR received accreditation with the School of Social Work at Laurentian University. This is significant because the SIR achieved accreditation as a stand alone program separate from the School of Social Work.

The ISWK program is a lead educator in Indigenous social work education and has gained a reputation for providing quality Indigenous social work education that offers knowledge, skills and experience to work effectively with Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. The program combines traditional healing approaches with Western methods of social work practice. The ISWK program demonstrates a deep commitment to values and ethics of Indigenous social work by incorporating the Seven Grandfather Teachings and Medicine Wheel teachings as guiding principles and also embracing the Social Work Code of Ethics. The program prepares social work students to practice at a level of competence suitable for beginning practice in a culturally appropriate, culturally safe manner. This is accomplished be providing education on Indigenous history, culture, worldview and psychology with the intent of raising awareness of the political, social, educational, and economic issues that affect Indigenous peoples.

More recently, the School of Indigenous Relations developed the Master of Indigenous Relations (MIR) program. The idea for a Master of Indigenous Relations (MIR) Program was conceived in 2011. Graduates from the ISWK program were being scooped up by Indigenous communities to work in management and administration positions within their communities, requiring them to be knowledgeable about financial audits, developing research proposals, business plans and policies for social and health services. Since the inception of the MIR program, the need for people with Indigenous leadership, scholarship and governance knowledge and skills continues to grow. The MIR program produces graduates who are knowledgeable about working with Indigenous communities locally, nationally and internationally. The Master Indigenous Relations (MIR) Program provides an learning environment that focuses on understanding Indigenous perspectives, research methodologies, Indigenous worldviews, traditional teachings as well as the theories and practices therefore enhancing their ability to work more effectively with Indigenous people.

Herb Nabigon, a retired professor in the Indigenous Social Work program (now deceased) talked about how the medicine wheel teachings were closely linked to the Life Force of the Earth Mother (Nabigon, personal communication, July 7, 2014). Nabigon talked about the changing nature of the earth and the people on it. He encouraged students to use cultural teachings to gain a greater understanding of pathologies and other dysfunctions inherent in being human beings. In healing ourselves and our communities, we need to focus attention on healing all of creation, which includes the Mother Earth. Nabigon explained that because Mother Earth was under siege due to global warming, the earth was rebelling. This was evidenced in the unpredictability  of the seasons, the animals and all of life. He called this the “Life Force Rebellion” of Mother Earth. The loss of respect for Indigenous teachings is a major contributing factor to the life force rebellion of Mother Earth. People have forgotten the importance of looking after Mother Earth. They have forgotten about the importance of the relationship between Mother Earth and all of humanity – the need to care for Mother Earth because she is the life giver. We cannot survive if Mother Earth doesn’t survive. Nabigon strongly believed that it was critical to develop strong leadership to address the life force imbalances (environmental and human) so that the future generations can live the good life too.

The following version of the Seven Grandfather Teachings by Benton-Banai (1988) are embedded as the foundational philosophy for both the Indigenous Social Work Program and the Master of Indigenous Relations Program. These philosophical teachings provide guidance (code of ethics) for how Indigenous people are to live their lives. They are presented in the Indigenous Social Work Field Education Manual alongside the social work code of ethics to provide guidance for students in their professional practice. In addition, students learn how to use these teachings in their personal lives to reach Mino-Bimaadzowin (the Good Life).

Nbwaakaawin – To cherish knowledge is to know WISDOM
Zaagidwin – To know LOVE is to know peace.
Mnaadendiwin – To honour all of the Creation is to have RESPECT.
Aakde’winBRAVERY is to face the foe with integrity.
GwekwaadziwinHONESTY in facing a situation is to be brave.
DbadendizwinHUMILITY is to know yourself as a sacred part of the Creation.
DebwewinTRUTH is to know all of these things.
(Benton Banai, 1988)

The Indigenous Social Work Journal

In 1997, the Native Social Work Journal was launched. The original intent of the Native Social Work Journal was to “reach beyond the walls of the university” to community based practitioners in order to share and promote research, practice and education from a Native perspective. The goal was to advance innovative approaches within the field of Native social work and to encourage community-based practitioners who work with traditional healing approaches to share their experiences. Since then, the Native Social Work Journal has changed its name to the Indigenous Social Work Journal, in keeping with the changes to the School of Indigenous Relations. The intent remains similar in that the journal documents newly developed interventions in helping found within Indigenous communities and to share Indigenous human service knowledge, a crucial step in the healing process (Mecredi, 1997).

Learning Activities

  1. What do you know about  political, social, educational, and economic issues that affect Indigenous peoples?
  2. How equipped are you to work in Indigenous communities or with Indigenous peoples?
  3. Why is understanding the relationship between Indigenous teachings and what is happening in the world around us so important?
  4. What is your responsibility in ensuring the survival of Mother Earth?

Expanding Your Knowledge

  1. Taima Moeke Pickering speaks about the Indigenous Social Work program and the Master of Indigenous Relations program in the School of Indigenous Relations:
    Taima Moeke Pickering – School of Indigenous Relations


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