UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 10 | Oct.
A Degree of Difference for First Nations Social Workers
A huge impact for the Squamish Community
By Brian Lin
Its been 30 years in the making, but the first two-hour
class of the new First Nations Bachelor of Social Work program
is already changing the way Delhia Nahanee works as a resource
social worker in the Squamish Nation.
Nahanee, who has worked as an employment counsellor in the
Downtown Eastside and now recruits and trains foster parents
for the Squamish Nation, says her psychology degree from UBC
has been useful, but the new program has broadened her view
and provides a unified vision of various aspects of social
A joint venture of the UBC School of Social Work and the
Squamish Nation held at the Lucas Centre in North Vancouver,
the five-year pilot program offers formal training to those
aboriginal caseworkers who wish to obtain a certificate or
diploma in social work.
Social work is an intimate business, says social
work Assoc. Prof. Richard Vedan. People tell you intimate
details of their lives and place great trust in you.
Most of these students already have a world of experience
and tacit knowledge in the practical aspects of social work,
says Vedan, who is also director of the First Nations House
of Learning. Now the formal training will open doors
for them that were previously shut.
Twenty-five of the 35 new students in the program come from
the Squamish Nation and more than half of the students have
worked more than 20 years in the field.
There are people who work with elders, on income assistance,
in drug and alcohol programs, and staff from the crisis centre,
says Nahanee. Were all working together to assist
the Squamish Nation and the opportunity to learn together
will give us some consistency in our formal training and a
more solid foundation.
The regular, interdepartmental communication will be
an amazing spin-off benefit for the Squamish Nations
The program is the brainchild of Squamish Social Development
Committee director Gloria Wilson and UBC social work alumnus
and long time Squamish social program facilitator Stephen
Kozey, who attended the UBC School of Social Work with Vedan
in the early 1970s, was the first UBC student to carry out
a field placement in the Squamish Nation. Since then, he has
been working to create an environment where aboriginal social
workers can receive formal training and the Registered Social
A satellite was set up briefly with the help of the B.C.
Association of Social Workers in 1973 and six aboriginal caseworkers
received a non-degree RSW designation, including Wilson.
A few years later, the association cancelled the program
and all social workers were required to have a bachelors
degree, Kozey explains.
Undeterred, Kozey facilitated the formation of an organizing
committee, which includes Wilson, her assistant Linda George,
Squamish Elder Barbara Charlie, and UBC Social Work and Family
Studies director Graham Riches, to ensure the program is both
culturally sensitive and practical.
We were with them every step of the way through the
information campaign, registration process and will continue
to give one-on-one support throughout the course, says
Kozey, who has been retained by the Social Development Committee
of the Squamish Nation to tutor students in the program.
It took a while, but its now a tremendous opportunity
for the participants to increase their skill levels and apply
these skills and new knowledge to work with their clients
immediately, says Kozey.
Historically there has been a large discrepancy between the
number of aboriginal people accessing social workers and the
number of aboriginal social workers.
The addition of social workers from their own community with
a four-year degree or two-year diploma will significantly
elevate the service delivery levels in the social and health
programs of the Squamish Nation, says Kozey.
Squamish Hereditary Chief Leanne Joe says these students
will have a huge impact on their community.
Healthier communities and families will be the outcome.