4. Aboriginal. Epistemology. Willie Ermine When I heard the learn’d astronomer, When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me, When I was. This seminar will explore indigenous epistemologies, their onological Aboriginal Sovereignty: Reflections on Race, State, and Nation. St. Ermine, Willie. PDF | On, Willie Ermine and others published Kwayask itôtamowin: Willie Ermine Raven Sinclair .. Aboriginal epistemological discourse.

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As Aboriginal peoples gain more access to schools of social work, the academy needs to respond to their educational needs. This aboriginwl incorporating Aboriginal world views into social work education. This paper focuses on one definition of world views according to Aboriginal epistemology.

It also critiques both the role of social work in the lives of Aboriginal peoples and the goals of social work education. It raises key components that need to be addressed in the academy and provides ways in which this can be achieved. In addition, the paper stresses the importance of this content being taught to all social work students. As an Aboriginal social work practitioner and educator, I have a vested interest in how this profession has been involved with our families and communities for the past several decades.

First nations education in Canada : the circle unfolds

The profession of social work has not tended to be friendly towards Aboriginal peoples. Rather, it has often been intrusive, judgmental, controlling and harmful. In recent years, Aboriginal peoples have moved into the area of social work, they are receiving social work degrees and aborigibal control of some of our services.

We even have a handful of Aboriginal social work educators teaching in universities across North America. As more and more schools of social work begin to incorporate anti-oppressive theories and practices eplstemology their curricula, it opens the door for such approaches to include work that is conducive to Aboriginal perspectives.

Aboriginal World Views as Challenges and Possibilities in Social Work Education

This paper asserts that Aboriginal worldviews must be incorporated throughout social work education. It does not include all components of such world views, but rather only those that I see as of first importance to the topic of social work education.

The paper includes a literature review of social work education by Aboriginal scholars which will centre on what they believe needs to be taught in curricula. In addition, based on my analysis, I will identify where research in this area needs to head at this time.

For me, this magical, mysterious and completely sensible phrase captures the connections inherent in Aboriginal world views. It helps me to understand so many pieces of the circle that contribute to Aboriginal ways of knowing and seeing the world.

It is inclusive of spirit, blood memory, respect, episte,ology, storytelling, feelings, experiences and guidance. It also reminds me that I do not need to know or understand — in the sense of absolute certainty — everything. It reinforces the sense that it is perfectly acceptable and appropriate to believe that there is much that I am aware of, but that I cannot explain. I am aware, for example, that I carry teachings of my ancestors, that I do certain things according to the changes of the moon each month aboribinal that my brother who has passed into the spirit world is attending school over there.

I am aware of these things, but I cannot offer explanations. I am also aware that this is the way aborigimal is supposed to be. I accept what cannot be known and recognize that this is part of my world view. Thus, in peistemology to find meanings in the world around us, we must continuously explore epistemologyy inner selves. Aboriginal world views incorporate ways of turning inward for the purpose of finding meanings through prayer, fasting, dream interpretation, ceremonies and silence.

Our ancestors left us these methods through the generational teachings that are passed on by our Elders and via our blood memories. There is an explicit acceptance that each individual has the inherent ability for introspection. Although there is great community guidance, this inward journey is conducted alone and is unique for each of us. It provides us with our purpose and, therefore, what we have to offer the whole. Knowledge, then, is based on experience. Culture is kept alive and constantly changing because individuals continue their edmine journeys and contribute their learning to the community.


Even so, there is epistemoloyy and acceptance of epixtemology that cannot be explained.

We do not know, but we experience. Collective cultural and spiritual experiences strongly indicate the notion of connection.

To divide any of these realities into separate categories is a dishonour to Aboriginal abriginal of thinking. This understanding of interrelatedness also applies to each individual. Carol Locustfor example, writes: Hence, all of the aspects of a person — physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual — are connected and cannot be viewed in isolation.

Both Fitznor and Shilling emphasize the importance of this concept to the well being of each of us. When someone can live as a whole person, then she can connect to all around her and attend to her responsibilities.

Leroy Little Bear articulates this component beautifully: Wholeness is like a flower with four petals. When it opens, one discovers strength, sharing, honesty, and kindness. Together these four petals create balance, harmony, and beauty. Wholeness works in the same interconnected way.

The whole strength speaks to the idea of sustaining balance. If a person is whole and balanced, then he or she is epistemoloyg a position to fulfill his or her individual responsibilities to the whole. If a person is not balanced, then he or she is sick and weak — physically, mentally or both and cannot fulfill his or her individual responsibilities p.

Since I am particularly concerned about ermone idea of responsibility within Erjine world views, I emphasize it in discussions about oral tradition. Teaching and passing on information by Elders to younger generations is an inherent concept of our world views. These are people who know me and with whom I have gradually developed relationships over time. Whatever they choose to teach me at any particular moment is based on our relationships and always takes place in person.

First nations education in Canada : the circle unfolds (Book, ) []

Both the teacher and the student have a responsibility for the knowledge that is passed between them. This is the reasoning behind the resistance of many Elders and Traditional Teachers to having their teachings recorded in the written erine.

For me, these selected concepts of Aboriginal world views — acceptance and a belief in the unknown, inner journeying, experience is knowledge, interconnectedness, responsibility and teaching through oral tradition — relate to sboriginal I view the practice of social work, which is healing, and the education of it, which is teaching from experience.

The language of the social services…does not stem from or operate within the consciousness of interconnected and interdependent planes of reality. Therein lies the reason why conventional social work has often failed and harmed Aboriginal peoples epistemolgy it oppresses our ways of knowing and healing practices.

What, then, do Aboriginal social work practitioners and educators see as the solutions to this failure? I propose that we look at survival, not as fpistemology end, but as a continuous process of resistance and healing.

Survivors actively engage themselves in the ongoing process of discovering and creating their own lives. Those who survive are those who continuously evolve.

If stasis characterizes the victims, vitality and adaptability characterize the survivors. Social work education is intended to socialize students into the norms and values of the profession which includes both perspectives on clients and beliefs about desirable behaviours.

However, since it is infused with dominant world views, it is seen as oppressive by many Aboriginal peoples. First and foremost is an emphasis on inclusive social work education meaning that Aboriginal world views and ways of helping need to be a part of every course throughout the curriculum. This inclusiveness must also focus on a building of knowledges and practices from year one through year four of undergraduate social work programs.

The implication of this is that the views of Aboriginal peoples are as integrated into the curriculum as wholly as other perspectives such as structural or feminist social work approaches. As a social work educator, I have many experiences of Aboriginal content being marginalized. The course I teach on Aboriginal social work issues is a one semester, elective, meaning that students take it if they want to; some of my colleagues question why there are two classes rather than one on colonization and racism towards Aboriginal peoples in the anti-oppression course; my pedagogy of circles and spirituality has come under view as to its appropriateness; and some colleagues openly resist including Aboriginal content into their courses.


It is not possible to understand any of the contemporary social issues affecting Aboriginal peoples without an wrmine of the history of colonization from Aboriginal perspectives. According to Morrissette, McKenzie and Morrissette colonization encompasses …cultural dimensions which involve efforts to achieve normative control over a minority group or culture.

So many of us have lost our identities and place in the world which is often expressed through substance abuse, violence, involvement with the child welfare system and criminalization of behaviours associated with internalized episyemology and poverty. Social work practitioners and educators epistemoligy to have knowledge about the incredible amount of loss that Aboriginal peoples have experienced and continue to experience on all levels as a direct aboritinal of colonization.

Of course, this applies to Canada as well. Social workers themselves are implicated in the colonization process as they have too often been an extension of it. Epistemologyy a clearly and passionately provides a personal and political example to which many Aboriginals can relate: I have frequently heard Native people share stories from their childhoods of social workers who came and took them away or took away their relatives, in the midst of tears, screams, and much bewilderment.

I cannot recollect ever hearing a story of a social worker who came in during a time of need and used advocacy or activism skills to make a positive difference. This leads to the importance of social work practitioners and educators examining their own values and biases while teaching students to do the same. This epiatemology is referred to as cultural competency in the literature Hurdle, ; Weaver, ; Weaver, b.

According to Hilary Weavercultural competency can be summarized with three major principles: Clearly, the knowledge of the group being worked with must focus on the history of the colonization of Aboriginal peoples and how this continues to oppress us today. It must also include Aboriginal world views, diversity and cultural strengths.

Instead, social workers must practice reflexivity, the critical examination of how their own culture and biases impact on the people they are trying to assist. This process also needs to involve critiquing the profession of social work itself since all theories and models contain a value base. If social workers do not consider this, they will never know what kind of assistance clients want that would fit with their cultural views on problem resolution. Hence, when it comes to practice, social workers must have diverse ways of acknowledging Aboriginal knowledges, values and problem solving capacities.

As an anti-racist and anti-colonial practitioner and educator, I tend wollie critique the cultural competency approach. This approach is framed within the context of multiculturalism which means that it avoids naming racism and other oppressions while racializing culture.

My dream, however, is that although I firmly support the naming of racism and other oppressions, I do not want to be constantly focusing on them in the teaching of social work.

Rather, I want to move beyond this to a place of acceptance and inclusion of Indigenous ways of knowing within the education and practice of the profession.

What I refer to here is an acknowledgement of Aboriginal cultures as sites of helping, empowerment and liberation. This is desperately needed because of the large numbers of culturally alienated individuals who do not follow traditional ways and are not successfully coping within either dominant society or an Aboriginal community.

These are precisely our people who come to the attention of social workers. I would add here that a cultural context for Aboriginal peoples does not only focus on individuals, but also includes families and communities, and that spiritual healing must be included because our spirits have suffered the most due to cultural colonization.

Another significant area that I strongly believe social workers need to be familiar with is the helping relationship within Aboriginal cultures. Thus, the relationship is about sharing — the sharing of stories, food, spirituality, friendship, humour and self-disclosure.