In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Indigenous Peoples

  • Introduction
  • Foundational Texts
  • Allyship
  • Child Welfare
  • Decolonizing
  • Education
  • Feminisms
  • Health and Well-Being
  • Historical Trauma
  • Justice
  • Mental Health
  • Practice
  • Research
  • Social Policy
  • Spirituality
  • Two-Spirit Peoples and LGBTQ
  • Violence toward Women

Social Work Indigenous Peoples
Cyndy Baskin, Danielle Sinclair
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0252


Due to the current impacts of colonization, Indigenous Peoples in many countries are often involved as service users within the social services field. However, much research has indicated that Western, mainstream social work practice is often not helpful, and is in fact damaging in some situations, for Indigenous individuals, families, and communities. It is only relatively recently that Indigenous Peoples are being recognized as social work practitioners, educators, and researchers. Social work with Indigenous Peoples, by Indigenous Peoples, which is often referred to as helping and healing, shows up in the literature of many disciplines, including public health, education, and social development. This is due to the (w)holistic nature of Indigenous perspectives, which focus on overall health as connected to the people around them, the land they are on, and the cosmos. Around the world, Indigenous approaches to social work are based on Indigenous knowledges and experiences that reflect foundational values of the importance of family and community, reciprocity, spirituality, and help for the helpers. Indigenous social work practice is being applied to diverse areas such as human rights, community development, and the creation of social policies. For Indigenous communities, having control of social services is critical to their well-being and a necessary part of their resurgence and reclamation initiatives. However, not all of the literature on social work with Indigenous Peoples is published by Indigenous scholars and practitioners. Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers often partner on journal articles, book chapters, and edited works. Furthermore, some of this literature is solely written by non-Indigenous academics who are viewed as allies by Indigenous Peoples. Of particular note is how a small number of Indigenous social work educators and practitioners publish literature that supports how Indigenous knowledges can be of value to all people of the world.

Foundational Texts

When it comes to foundational texts regarding Indigenous social work theories, education, research, and practice, there are a small number written by Indigenous scholars, non-Indigenous allies, and a combination of both. Typically, these texts are used in social work education focused on research and services offered to Indigenous individuals, families, and communities. Indigenous Works such as Baskin 2016 (by Cyndy Baskin, Mi’kmaq and Celtic Nations) and Sinclair, et al. 2009 (Raven Sinclair, Cree at the University of Regina; Michael Hart, Cree at the University of Manitoba; and Gord Bruyere, Anishnawbe at the University College of the North) are generalist texts that take up topics such as child welfare, healing practices, and decolonization. The latter includes chapters by leading Indigenous academics and practitioners such as Kathy Absolon (Anishnawbe at Wilfrid Laurier University), Robina Thomas (Lyackson of the Coast Salish Nation at the University of Victoria), Cathy Richardson (Métis at the University of Victoria), and Jacquie Green (Haisla Nation at the University of Victoria). Simpson 2011 (Leeanne Simpson, Anishnawbe writer, musician, activist), provides an overview of the history of colonization, with some innovative suggestions that both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can pick up in order to begin the decolonization process and create equitable relationships. Building on this theme, Indigenous and non-Indigenous co-writers, Kennedy-Kish (Bell), et al. 2017 addresse colonization, its current impacts, and the need for social services providers to be activists, working together to expose colonial policies and create progressive social movements. Similarly, Greenwood, et al. 2015 focuses on evidence that the impacts of colonization, both historical and current, have adverse effects on Indigenous well-being. What stands out in this book are the voices of both Indigenous community leaders and academics.

  • Baskin, C. 2016. Strong helpers’ teachings: The value of Indigenous knowledges in the helping professions. 2d ed. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

    Baskin’s text offers a comprehensive collection of approaches to infusing Indigenous worldviews within the helping professions. Baskin speaks to topics such as self-care, mental health, gender and sexuality, criminal justice, research, and allyship to consider from Indigenous paradigms.

  • Greenwood, M., S. De Leeuw, N. M. Lindsay, and C. Reading, eds. 2015. Determinants of Indigenous Peoples’ health in Canada: Beyond the social. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

    Indigenous Peoples Colonization and its historical and current impacts for Indigenous Peoples are addressed as main determinants of Indigenous health and well-being. Voices of both Indigenous academics and community leaders are showcased, bringing readers through a re-education on social determinants of health as seen through a number of disciplines.

  • Kennedy-Kish (Bell), B., R. Sinclair, B. Carniol, and D. Baines. 2017. Case critical: Social services and social justice in Canada. 7th ed. Toronto: Between the Lines.

    This latest edition centers decolonized, critical analysis to highlight the trauma and communal destruction inflicted on Indigenous Peoples by past and present colonialism. Two of the authors are Indigenous, and two are not; their position is that social workers need to be activists to combat ongoing colonial policies.

  • Simpson, L. 2011. Dancing on our turtle’s back: Stories of Nishnaabeg re-creation, resurgence and a new emergence. Winnipeg, MN: Arbeiter Ring.

    This book advocates for a resurgence of languages, cultures, and traditional governance as the first step toward building a relationship with the Canadian state. Engaging Nishnaabeg language, creation stories, and traditional teachings, it offers a unique and invaluable perspective of contemporary and historic Indigenous issues.

  • Sinclair, R., M. A. Hart, and G. Bruyere, eds. 2009. Wicihitowin: Aboriginal social work in Canada. Black Point, NS: Fernwood.

    Wicihitowin is a collection of important writing from well-respected Indigenous social work scholars. It offers several selections on Indigenous history and theory, including anticolonialism, decolonization, and Indigenous-centered social work approaches, as well as direct social work practice.

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