Non-Native to Native Child Care Services: Shifting Paradigms
Pam Colorado & Don Collins
Faculty of Social Work
The University of Calgary
28 September 1987
Published in Journal of Child & Youth Care 1990. 4(5) pp 47-57
Native Culture and Child Welfare
…when a child was born, an old person would talk in that baby’s ear a long time. As the child would grow, that voice would be like turning the pages in a book – as the child goes through life. Now, that has stopped among the Indian people and there is confusion. It could be done again… Donawaak (Respiritualization Project, 1985)
This paper presents the need for a paradigm shift from non-Native child care services to Native child care services. A major issue addressed is that a parallel child care service for Native people does not take into account traditional Native child development practices, yet a parallel Native child care system seems to be presently supported by the government. The present child care system is mono-cultural in that it does not address clearly different cultural needs. There is a need to shift from a mono-cultural model to a bi-cultural model.
In moving from a mono-cultural paradigm to a multi-cultural paradigm a number of important questions are raised. These questions addressed in this paper include: How should this shift occur? What processes and structures are needed? What kind of relationship should exist between the non-native and native child care services? Will native child care services be embroiled in a privatization battle that diverts attention from the native child’s best interests? Under whose auspices will native child care services be: provincial or federal? What are the historical, legal and ethical issues involved in this paradigm shift?
A new child care paradigm would involve going back to traditional Native child care practices. Current native child care problems can be positively impacted if Natives and non-Natives will systematically and rigorously rely on Native Elders as a bridge between child and services. Implied in this thesis is the notion that resources-time, energy, funding, and concern will be devoted to the development of such an approach. Without this commitment, the evolution of effective tribal child care systems is imperiled. For example, the present transfer of control to tribes does not take into account the following: the historical disruption of the Native family calls for a major effort in parenting skills and the intervention of family alcoholism; young people are often unwilling and unable to listen to elders. Western trained workers must team with Elders to ease the identity crisis of the young and to help in the formation of biculturally functioning tribal people.
The figures are startling. During 1984 it was determined that between 35% and 40% of children receiving services in Alberta under the Child Welfare Act were of Native ancestry. Compared with the general non-Native population, about ten Native children to one non-Native child out of the province’s overall population required services under the Act. Thus the Native child has been strongly over-represented in child welfare programs, with an historical emphasis on the more intrusive rather than less intrusive care and services under the legislation (Alberta Social Services, 1985). Forty percent of Native children under care have been living away from their culture yet no provision is made for their reintegration or repatriation. Tribes lack residential and emergency care facilities as well as foster homes and trained child care staff. Specific allowance must be made.
A strong aspiration, encouraged by the government, on the part of Alberta’s Native people and communities to take care of their own children is being recognized. The process to move from aspiration to actualization has commenced and will continue. Throughout Alberta, Native communities and groups are developing initiatives to establish family support services to ensure that in future their children need not come into care. These initiatives are designed to progressively assume more responsibility for dealing with family problems within Native communities.
When we look at Native child care we see through a two paned window. Each view is a world, representing both Native and non Native worlds. The glass, symbolizing our professional training and values, enables us to see yet also separates us from the lives we impact. Today we stand on the threshold of a new era in Native child care work, an era which demands that the “window” be opened, that true communication occur between the community and the child care provider. Native Elders, silent for generations, are a bridge to the dialogue and direction we seek.
In the old days, prior to European intrusion, Native child care was a disciplined, structured development process involving extended family, community and Nation. This process was healed by elders so the child care system was based in love and kindness and grew from an understanding that all life is spiritual and related. Joy and living in a “Good Way” were hallmarks of a healthy Native family. Children were encouraged to “know what life is”, to “have an understanding”; each child “had a place in the community and was encouraged to find it.”
Self discipline was normally taught through example and discussion; rarely did it involve force. A Tlingit Grandfather explains:
…Love is more important than anything. My Grandfather used to say – “Grandson, go get for me.” Even though he could walk, his work “Grandson” comes to my spirit, so I run and get it. If I say to him, “Are you lazy?” I’m going to hurt him. “Grandson” is more important than anything…
A Blood Grandmother explains self-discipline from the woman’s side”
…When we talk to our children we say, “Niyeah, my child” quietly and lovingly…
Situations that called for a firm hand meant that the Aunt or Uncle would step in:
…The Uncle is obligated to train the nephew because he is of the same clan. The Uncle, because it is the nephew, pulls him out of bed and as the Nephew is getting dressed says, “Do this for a day; this is your work day.” And you do it…(Cyrus Peck, D.D.) (Respiritualization Project, 1985)
Sadly, this traditional way of child rearing has become disarrayed.
In this forge of neo-colonial confusion and conflict, child welfare work was born. Looking at the degraded Native culture and the harsh realities of Native life, the solution seemed obvious, “remove the children and help them assimilate into majority life.” This practice continued until a full 40 percent of children under care were of Native ancestry. Thus, the gentle hand of the child welfare worker created a new problem which called for a larger definition of child abuse.
…a case of social institutions in one culture abusing whole segments or classes of persons in another society…
The results of this practice are best expressed in the words of the People:
…where I come from…I run into a lot of younger generation my age, kids just getting out of school, who go to the city or college for a little while. They can’t make it so they come back and start drinking and causing problems…They are drinking because they can’t make it in the non-Native world and they don’t know how to make it in the Native world…
…Nobody talks about it so how would we know? We have a community across the river that is inter-marrying. I see they are destroying themselves; their kids are retarded…We are ignoring it; we don’t say anything.
…We got to stop our people from fighting each other…
…It is like a tidal wave, it will come toward you. The White people are moving…
…In March two French people came to our community. They were filmmakers who wanted to make a three hour movie…They are going to focus on the elderly and the younger generation. Their title is, “Is There Survival for Natives?”
Looking at Native family life today, Elders blame themselves:
…We (Elders) talked about how our younger ones live…It’s our fault. We are not talking to our grandchildren and our sons. Our land; what we used to know before we don’t tell. How are they going to learn? We got to tell them everything so they will learn to live. In these times, we just leave our children when they say it (our ways) are old-fashioned. We are scared to talk with them.
Young people feel that they are to blame.
…We don’t know where we fi in…the older people do not know how to approach us…They’ve never seen young people drink like we’re doing…sniffing glue, gasoline, pot…it was my impression they just gave up on us…
Non-Native child care workers also feel a sense of blame. As one worker recently put it, “I feel so bad about what has happened to Natives. A lot of us do. But we don’t know what to do!” Indeed the wholesale removal of Native children did not produce the healing or integration hoped for. So, privatization and tribal takeover seem a ready made solution. But what is it we are trying to solve? Will we settle for merely altering the appearance of institutional abuse? As it now stands, the issue of “best interest” of the Native child has narrowed to one word, “control”, and this definition carries danger.
While child care agreements occur in the political context of Provincial and First Nation legal agreements, Native and non-Native social workers must see that “control” does not end with shifting the unwieldy western child care bureaucracy onto Natives. Unless the definition of “control” is expanded to include intra-cultural controls, we risk creating a parallel (and equally destructive) Native child care system on the reserves.
So what can be done? Turning to the Elders we find clear direction.
Intra-culturally, Elders want to be connected with their grandchildren as the first order of business.
“We can’t give up with our Grandchildren.”
“I am willing to teach; we don’t have to give up.”
“With our feeling, our love, we have to teach them.”
“We got to set them down to listen; there is no old fashioned.”
Elders also want change in the Native/non-Native relationship:
Look into this. There’s going to be an interaction anyway, so why not try to go into something good…Lives are at stake if we (working together) can help that life to live, I think we have accomplished something.
“We are bashful to talk to our White brother. Some of them are good; some of them are not”
“Why not work with the White people? What they learn from us will help us too.”
As these comments illustrate, the Elders’ notion of “control” is much fuller than we understand in current legal agreements. Elders advocate control through respect.
A short traditional story for children makes the point:
There was a little bird who had a nest with eggs in it. The birds flew away. The eggs were left. One broke open. The little bird came out. It started walking around. It was looking for something. My grandfather asked me – “What is the bird looking for?” Finally, he came back to get the egg shells. He found a hole and buried the egg shell. He covered it with moss and dirt. My grandfather asked – “Why is he hiding the egg shell?” That bird had respect for the egg shell. If he left it, something would step on it He don’t want something to step on it so he put it away. That is when they tell me the egg shell is his Grandfather. The little bird respects the egg shell to put it away. Our people when they have a big potlatch say in the Tlingit way – “our eggshell”, that’s our Grandfather we talk to. This is what I was explaining to the children, to respect Grandfather and Grandmother. If you don’t have respect your life will be short, because you don’t listen to anybody. But if you listen to your grandfather, your life will be longer. (Donawaak)
Between the cultures we must be cognizant of the fact that we are emerging from an era of harsh racism and stark segregation. Elders tell us to prepare ourselves mentally, physically and spiritually for the new dialogue. And they caution us to watch our words.
My grandfather used to tell me, if you are going up the river, cut a pole so they can push your boat up. Before you give it to your partner who is going to help you, you got to run your hand over the pole. If you don’t sharp ridges on it will cut your hand. Then your partner will not help you. You have to run your hand over the words before you say anything. I tell my children. They are beginning to listen, how to respect each other.
In a context of respect, “control” involves tribal takeover of programs; developments of complete cultural models of child care services and establishing critical intercultural linkages.
New Child Welfare Act
The new Child Welfare Act allows for the delegation of responsibilities for child protective services to persons outside the Alberta Social Services and Community Health department. This will enable Native communities to develop their own child welfare services. This objective is being pursued in dialogue with many Indian bands and other Native communities. Yet without understanding and incorporating traditional Native child care practices, Native communities will only be developing a parallel child care system brought with the same problems existing in the present child care system.
The Province of Alberta has led the way in encouraging Native communities to take over their child care services when the first tripartite child welfare agreement was signed in 1973 with the Blackfoot Indian Band at Gleichen. Ten years later, a similar agreement was made with the Lesser Slave Lake Regional Council; a thrust supported by federal as well as provincial governments. Band children are cared for on the reserve, by and large, and nurtured in their own cultural environment. Very few children now leave the reserve for purposes relating to the need for child welfare services, whereas when the agreement began in 1973 almost 150 children were in temporary guardianship, most of them in non-Native foster homes off the reserve.
The Lesser Slave Lake Agreement promises to have a similar impact. This Indian Regional Council is currently readying itself to assume full authority and responsibility under the new Act. To date it has been occupied with developing community resources and training its staff. Yet a major question that needs to be asked is: Are we only creating a parallel child care system that does not understand or meet the unique cultural needs of the Native community but only mimics the present child care system.
Discussion & Recommendations
Alberta Social Services and Community Health is focussing on Native families and children in its child welfare services. The need for this special attention was verified by departmental statistics and by a growing awareness that Indian and Metis people want greater involvement in the case planning for Native children as well as in the actual administration of child welfare services. The 1980s will likely form an era in Canadian and Alberta history where Native communities seek a return of functions from government to the community with a special focus on prevention and early intervention, as well as on the utilization of Native resources which allow for incorporation of India, and Metis cultural values and customs (Alberta Social Services, 1985b). In December 1984 the Minister appointed a Working Committee on Native Child Welfare, a group of Native community workers and senior civil servants assigned the task of assuring that Native issues and Native families are considered in the implementation of the new Act and the evolving new service systems. Although the Provincial Government desires Native communities to take over their own child care services a major problem now arising in the province is budget cutbacks. The Government seems unwilling to put sufficient monies into the necessary dialogue process, consulting process and education for Natives to develop effective bi-cultural child care service. Instead the Government seems only willing to allow Native communities to take over the existing mono-cultural child care services that presently service Native children, complete with their existing budget problems.
Further, the push for privatization creates both challenges and problems for Native communities. Problems in terms of competition for limit funds and people resources. Challenges in terms of taking control and development potential of a bicultural paradigm. As privatization and tribal assumption of child care services is already underway, the following recommendations will focus on the development of a new bi-cultural Native child care paradigm:
I Development of Culture Based Child Care
Family Tree: The disruption of Native family life has resulted in a loss of traditional oral histories and family lives. One way to prevent further loss of family history and to mitigate against the danger of intermarriage is by creating and writing family trees. The children must know who they are.
Extended Family/Clan Networking: It must be openly acknowledged that anonymity does not exist in closely related Native communities. The western weakness is a Native strength when key Elders, Aunts and Uncles are identified and used as critical child care resources. These traditional experts should be compensated in some form for their services.
Elder Participation and Networking: Tribal child care workers need access to key Elders in a structured way. That is, Elders must be seen and used as policy makers, educators and quality control experts. Their roles should be clearly stated in tribal child care services and they should be compensated for their work on par with non-Native experts.
Inter-tribal Networking: Tribal child care workers must have the opportunity to meet with their counterparts in the tribes. Elders must also be encouraged to travel and enter into dialogue with Elders from other reserves. Finally, more audio-visual materials must be developed on the evolving Native child care services so that geographically scattered and isolated reserves may exchange information.
II Intercultural Linkages
Climate: The atmosphere of reconciliation exemplified in Catholic churches recent apology to Native people must be continued. Sometimes the best way to begin cross-cultural communications is with an apology. Those agencies dealing with large numbers of Native children may wish to follow suite as Native people complement these efforts following traditional practices of preparation.
Communication on appropriate levels: Leading non-Native child care experts and top agency administration must have the opportunity to meet with their counterparts – Native Elders. Tribal child care administrators may be a link in this dialogue. Communication amongst these Native experts will provide direction and guidance to the transfer and development of Native services. Working through the Elders will also promote strength and renewal to the original system of child care. this process will also halt the present destructive trend of using westernized Native child care workers as the benchmark for cultured people.
Creating opportunities for inter-cultural dialogue: Native people need the chance to meet and share with good non-Native people. Gatherings like Tiospaye in South Dakota provide a model for positive cross-cultural communication. Headed by Virginia Satir and Sioux Medicine People approximately 70 people from around the globe meet with an equal number of Indian people to spend four days each year working on family , spiritual and cultural communication issues. This could be done in Canada.
II Higher Education Level
The time is propitious for the universities and colleges to commit themselves to a more concentrated effort in training Native child care and social services workers. Native groups and organizations are keenly interested; government social services agencies (federal and provincial) are anxious to hire qualified Native practitioners. We must develop academically sound programmes which take into account a variety of training needs and methods, yet maintain credible standards (Collins, 1986).
It will be no easy task to develop education programmes and support systems for Native and rural students that will adequately compensate for major deficiencies in their early education as well as compensate for deficiencies in existing programs.
The following points need to be considered to enhance education opportunities for native people:
Native people see the need and value in tailored western training.
“Successfully synthesized (biculturally functioning) Indian people must receive human services training. They must be trained to consciously ease the transitions between the Indian and the non-Indian worlds, which must no longer be left to chance.”
Professional training has merit – “as you return certified, it shows people on the reserve that even though we want to get back to our traditional ways, we do realize there’s a white world out there and we’re arguing with a white problem.”
Credentialing is important, “it’s good for funding…it gives you a sense of accomplishment…it’s some credibility and helps if you want to move on.
Curricular must be modified to include Native content, screening of admission criteria must reflect the contribution Native people offer to social work programs.
III Creating Opportunities for Communication
Trent University Native Studies discovered that it is not enough to give advice, to tell the young “go back and talk to your elders” or “your culture is valuable”. People have trouble following such advice; we need to create opportunities to learn from each other. Universities can co-organize events like Tiospaye and can research models of positive cultural communication.
IV Inter-cultural Research
The university can play a vital role in identifying and creating materials, methods and structures that will lead to emergence of positive inter-cultural infrastructure. Examples include the identification of existing integrative and appropriate social science practices. Native social scientists are working alone in fields such as reality therapy, dream analysis, ethnomethodology and community organizing. University research efforts can link these Native social scientists with their western counterparts.
Articulating a culture (Elder) based model of Native child care services brings together the secular and sacral. As a science, western social work does not include religion in its paradigm, yet spirituality is the foundation of Native science or truth seeking ways. Because of this difference it is important that the two systems remain discrete yet connected through an infrastructure that promotes understanding and unity. These considerations have been addressed in a number of Native projects. The Tlinget, Chilkoot Camp which provides a Native cultural/survival camp experience for children of all ethnicities is a good example. Chief Donawaak who established the camp concludes this paper.
“When you’re talking to the newborn baby, when that little baby listens, it stays there, everything we say. Anytime that child starts talking, its (the words you spoke to it) going to come out in front, like the tape recording when you play it. That’s the reason we talk to our babies so that what we try to teach will stay in its mind.
This is what I am doing with the children. These trees we see all around us, the roots are together. Spruce, hemlock, pine tree, birch, everything. All that is growing under some berries, salmonberries, raspberries, everything that is growing has roots. All the roots stay together. Then the grass grows and the flower grows. Right now you see the trees that are coming out, just like a newborn baby they start growing. Our grandchildren, they are just like a flower growing under the trees. Anyplace where you look there are different colors. When I opened the camp here, they asked me “What are you going to do? Are you going to teach just the Tlingit?” I told them, “No, this is for everybody.” They told me I am crazy. I told them maybe I am crazy. We used to be crazy ourselves. We used to fight with our white brothers. Now we adopt them, different colors. My son was married with white girl. My daughter was married with a white. Some of them are married with the Filipinos. They are all different colors. This is what the flower is. All different colors, what is growing. This is the children, they are growing as the grass and the flower. They are newborn babies, they have to learn.”