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UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 10 | Oct. 2, 2003

A Degree of Difference for First Nations Social Workers

A huge impact for the Squamish Community

By Brian Lin

It’s 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 work.

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. “We’re 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 Nation’s social development.”

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.

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 Worker designation.

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 bachelor’s 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 it’s 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.”

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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