Heather McKenzie

Heather McKenzie

We visited the University of Calgary, (which has the largest faculty of Social Work in Canada with approx. 900 students). I was humbled to hear indigenous peoples stories, knowledge and experiences. They have been a long misunderstood, oppressed, discriminated against and bullied by colonial power. It was a shock to me that indigenous people make up 69% of the foster care population. Indigenous children were 30 times more likely to be taken into care. Children who survived the residential schools and tried to return home after many years of assimilation no longer knew their families or culture. For many this resulted in suicide, substance abuse and the formation of gangs. Those who then had families of their own and were not supported with their difficulties were viewed as unsuitable and neglectful parents, their children often be removed and taken into care without assessing or understanding the family’s needs or their culture.
Throughout the trip, we were very honored to take part in some absolutely amazing and soul cleansing experiences including a grandmothers tea ceremony, smudge ceremony, sweat lodge and a visit to the first ever dedicated indigenous school. It was very relationship based and family focussed which I feel is something which will stick with me throughout my career.
We also met with community social workers gaining insight into the importance of communities and the value of strong relationships within the neighborhood. This highlighted the importance of networking in allowing everyone benefit from a helping hand and support without social services becoming involved. I feel that community social work would be beneficial in the UK as it would save services and service users a lot of stress. I like the idea of friendly and trustworthy neighbors as it would allow people an easier access to support without feeling stigmatized.
Although at first glance it appears that Canadian and Scottish cultures are very different there are similar themes of oppression, trauma and abuse. I really enjoyed learning about the cultural brokerage program who set out to educate and bridge gaps for refugees and immigrants as well as educating social workers and other services about these cultures to prevent negative stereotypes and abuse. This would be extremely beneficial and valued in the UK.