RDC instructor says social workers should forge closer bonds with indigenous people

Elaine Spencer believes too many native kids are still taken into government care

Red Deer College instructor Elaine Spencer urges her own social work profession to own up to past wrongs by fully apologizing to indigenous people for its role in the destructive residential school system.

It would be a step towards forging a stronger relationship with the aboriginal community, said Spencer. She co-authored the academic paper No Regrets: Suggested Improvements to Public Apologies along with fellow RDC social work department colleague, the late Tara Dahl-Lang, and former RDC philosophy instructor Jim Gough.

While studying various public expressions of regret about Canada’s Indian Residential Schools, Spencer found that the federal government and RCMP made full apologies, while the Canadian Association of Social Workers only acknowledged its role in pulling native children from their families for assimilation.

The point of apologizing to indigenous communities is to let all Canadians know you are owning up to the harm caused in the past and resolving to learned from it, she added. “It’s an important step — that everybody knows you are sorry and that you want to do better.”

Spencer feels the social work profession is doing positive things — including “becoming a voice to push some issues forward.” The association recently urged Ottawa to correct the funding inequity that exists between what’s spent on children’s health, education and social services on reserves, compared to kids living off-reserves.

But she feels there’s room for improvement since a disproportionate number of indigenous children continue to be taken from their families into government care, including in group homes and foster homes.

“Since they are over-represented in care, there’s a need to do something differently,” said Spencer.

She would like social workers to forge closer relationships with First Nations communities, since she believes indigenous people should have a more central role in finding solutions to problems stemming from the “inter-generational trauma” caused by residential schooling and discrimination.

“We need to listen to what the whole community is saying” — whether it means allowing relatives or elders to help out in at-risk homes, or other options.

Spencer believes the profession is making good headway in considering the views of indigenous social workers. “There are some really good things happening.”

No Regrets was among nine academic projects that recently won Scholarly Activity Recognition Awards from RDC.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com