WHO ARE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES?
Baskins (2010) defines Indigenous Peoples as “the original inhabitants of what the Haudenosaunee Nations call Turtle Island or what is also referred to as North America” (p.2). And, the Canadian Constitution recognizes three groups of Indigenous Peoples: Indians, Metis, and Inuit (Baskins, 2010, p.2). Also, it is often common to hear the terms Indigenous, Aboriginal, Native and First Nations peoples used interchangeably by those who are of (and those who are not of) Indigenous descent. According to Sinclair, Hart and Bruyere (2009), “there is no consensus on what terms are to be used. As a result, Indigenous Peoples on Turtle Island self-identify in many ways, including any of these terms” (p.13).
Indigenous Peoples, like other groups, are also diverse and have different perspectives about what it means to belong to a specific community. Further, people of Indigenous ancestry reside all across Canada (not just living on reserves, but also in urban centres). Also, according to Baskins (2010) in the 2006 Statistics Canada Census “1,172,790 Canadians (about 4 percent of the total population) reported some Indigenous ancestry” (p.2). Baskins (2010) also noted that according to the “same Census, 54 percent of Indigenous Peoples reported that they live in urban centres” (p.2). In addition to this, according to Gaetz, Gulliver, and Richter (2014) Indigenous Peoples are “over-represented in the homeless population in virtually every community in Canada”.
CONDITIONS OF POSSIBILITY FOR THE OVERREPRESENTATION OF HOMELESSNESS AMONG INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
The conditions of possibility for the appearance of many of the issues facing Indigenous Peoples (including the overrepresentation of homelessness among people of Indigenous ancestry) can be traced to colonization and ongoing systemic oppression. According to Daniel, and Cukier (2015) homelessness among Indigenous Peoples is rooted in factors linked to our current structures and history, where this population has “suffered terribly from the effects of colonization and whose current social, economic, and political conditions have placed them in a deeply disadvantaged position”. (p.52). Hulchanski, Campsie, Chau, Hwang, and Paradis (2009) also notes that the “historical legacies of residential schools and community displacement all play a role” in homelessness among Indigenous Peoples (p.8). With the former in mind, addressing homelessness among Indigenous Peoples must include a serious examination of Canadas colonial history and how it is upheld through harmful (dominant and often taken for granted) ideology that is often deeply embedded in our social policies and structures (i.e. government, welfare, courts, academia, schools, etc.).
SUPPORTING SERVICE USERS: WHY SOCIAL WORKERS SHOULD ADOPT A MICRO AND MACRO APPROACH TO CARE
As a social worker who adopts an anti-oppressive practice, I often collaborate with service users (i.e. service users of Indigenous ancestry) to deconstruct how their personal challenges (i.e. homelessness) might be connected to history and larger political systems. With this in mind, we often explore how their personal challenges might be linked to the many ways that systemic racism is manifested through our various social systems (government, welfare, courts, academia, etc.). According to Matthews (2017) systemic racism “concerns the unjust distribution of power that is built into law, policy and economic practice. It is the imposition and perpetuation of inequities through governance, rather than through individual intention, decision or behaviour” (p.1). Systemic racism can be insidious, as it is not always intentional but is instead often embedded in various social policies and systems. As such, it can be easy to point to someone and say “you are racist”, but when racism is embedded in systems it becomes increasingly harder to identify and address. To mitigate inequities related to race, and to help address the overrepresentation of homelessness among Indigenous Peoples we need to seriously examine Canadas colonial history and how it is upheld through harmful ideologies that are often deeply embedded in our social policies and structures (i.e. government, welfare, courts, academia, schools, etc.).
For me using an anti-oppressive social work practice entails approaching social and service user issues from a structural perspective, by trying to ensure that the personal challenges of service users (i.e. homelessness) are understood and concurrently addressed with larger social issues (i.e. neoliberal ideologies influencing government policies around housing and precarious work). Using this approach involves tackling service user issues from both a micro level (i.e. helping service users to find housing) and a macro level (i.e. intervening in large systems, like government, to lobby for affordable housing in Canada). I strongly believe that using this model of care empowers service users, by helping to disrupt the dominant discourse that blames service users for structural inequities that serve to disadvantage them.
Note: The second image is a picture of an art installation that hangs in the Native Child and Family Services.