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Western theory and practice are over-represented in child welfare services for Indigenous peoples, not the other way around. Contributors to this collection invert the long-held, colonial relationship between Indigenous peoples and systems of child welfare in Canada. By understanding the problem as the prevalence of the Western universe in child welfare services rather than Indigenous peoples, efforts to understand and support Indigenous children and families are fundamentally transformed. Child welfare for Indigenous peoples must be informed and guided by Indigenous practices and understandings. Privileging the iyiniw (First people, people of the land) universe leads to reinvigorating traditional knowledges, practices and ceremonies related to children and families that have existed for centuries.
The chapters of ohpikinâwasowin/Growing a Child describe wisdom-seeking journeys and service-provision changes that occurred in Treaty 6, Treaty 7, and Treaty 8 territory on Turtle Island. Many of the teachings are nehiyaw (Cree) and some are from the Blackfoot people. Taken together, this collection forms a whole related to the Turtle Lodge Teachings, which expresses nehiyaw stages of development, and works to undo the colonial trappings of Canada’s current child welfare system.
The book’s contributing authors – 15 social-work and social-services practitioners, not including the editors, from nêhiyaw, Métis, Anishinaabe and non-Indigenous backgrounds – examine the over-representation of Western worldviews, values and practices in the lives of Indigenous people and present an alternative to current child welfare services. Using the nehiyaw Turtle Lodge Teachings, the book provides several decolonized wisdom-seeking (research) projects and service provision changes. One example is that, instead of focusing on chronological age, the book instead uses the lens of the eight interconnected stages of life based on the lived experiences of children and youth.
While the book is rooted in Indigenous tradition, the material is presented in a decidedly contemporary context – QR codes in the first chapter, for example, lead to videos of teachings from Elders on everything from Creation stories to relational accountability.
“Right now, social work is very focused on trauma-based theory, trauma-based approaches – however, once you understand trauma, what’s next?” Bodor says. “With Indigenous children and families, we need to move into healing. So, all our work is focused on ceremony-based healing.”
— Zoltan Varadi, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary (full review)