Attending the Joint World Conference on Social Work, Education and Social Development
At the Joint World Conference on Social Work, Education and Social Development I had the opportunity to deliver a presentation, ‘A culturally responsive social work application of Indigenous and western ways of thinking and doing when responding to Indigenous sexual diversity in a young, Indigenous male client’, the fourth in a series of five presentations I am undertaking this year. These presentations have been thematically linked to the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous people who fit the description of gender variant and sexuality diverse, or the more common acronym of LGBQTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, intersex). Two presentations have been on suicide prevention for this particular group and the third looking at the intersectionality of Indigeneity, gender variance and diverse sexualities and how to identify the social determinants of health affecting this group.
Attending the conference provided me the opportunity to use the decolonisation framework in Lorraine Muller’s text, ‘A theory for Indigenous Australian health and human service work’ (2014), in my presentation. The six stages of decolonisation in the book are: (1) Rediscovery and Recovery, (2) Mourning, (3) Healing/Forgiveness, (4) Dreaming, (5) Commitment and (6) Action. The six stages of decolonisation present a culturally responsive understanding that can be applied to social work; one that feels safe to use. This is important. It will be a framework that I will use time and time again as an Indigenous social work practitioner when working with an Indigenous partner. I use the term ‘partner’ in the context of a partnership with the individual, family or community we are working alongside. I am not a fan of the term ‘client’ as I believe it implies a power balance that is not conducive to an anti-oppressive space of interaction. Social work and social workers should not be interventionist(s) but rather sharers of practice, skills and theory through application not intervention.
My presentation was within the ‘Strengthening social and cultural wellbeing: Indigenous perspectives’ stream. It was great to catch up again with Michael Hart, who presented a paper titled ‘Indigenist social work: Culturally safe means to overcoming oppression and supporting wellbeing’, as well as network with the other local and international Indigenous delegates. When Marina Marcela Herrero, from Brazil, presented ‘Revitalization of Indigenous cultures at risk’ it was in her native tongue and although I couldn’t understand any of what was being said the accompanying video and the tones of her voice did assist in telling her story and her presentation. However, as I was sitting there I was reminded of how privileged I am being a speaker of English. It also reminded me that when it comes to Indigenous social work and our giving and receiving care styles we should not have to be in constant explanation mode. It should not always be up to us to explain, but that others need to make the effort to understand.
Prior to the conference I logged onto the live streaming of the IFSW General Meeting and was extremely happy to see ‘Indigenous knowledges’ included in the new definition of social work. I give full credit to the IFSW and the international organising committee of the SWESD gathering, as the live stream was a great idea. The inclusion of ‘Indigenous knowledges’ in the definition did set up quite a bit of expectation of Indigenous peoples’ inclusion throughout the three days. It is great when a local Indigenous person gives the Welcome to Country, I always feel deeply about hearing another Indigenous person’s language. I would have liked to have seen Indigenous content in the opening plenary session itself. There is perhaps a bias that I carry in regards to Indigenous content because I do believe it to be an emerging area of social work theory and practice.
I also believe it to be very exciting, especially for Indigenous students of social work, that we now have two texts to draw on, Lorraine’s, mentioned above, and ‘Our voices : Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social work’, edited by Bindi Bennett, Sue Green, Stephanie Gilbert and Dawn Bessarab. These books need to be essential texts across all tertiary teaching institutions. Indigenous people, particularly in the Australian context need to be more recognised within social work as researchers, authors, practitioners and educators. This needs to be imbedded in social work education rather than placing us consistently as ‘clients’. I will also use this opportunity to advocate for the inclusion of more assessments tailored toward responding to the needs of Indigenous people. We are not a homogenous group and our needs are as diverse as the people we are.
I have to tip my hat to the AASW for providing these scholarships. I took away more from the conference than what I can write about here. It was great that once the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags did arrive they were displayed prominently at the AASW booth.
They certainly coloured the place in. Both ‘A Theory for Indigenous Australian Health and Human Service Work and Our voices: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social work’ were available to buy at the conference or online. Lorraine’s book sold out to local and international guests, which I think is just fantastic. There is no doubt that more can be done to enhance and strengthen social work in Australia and if there is a discussion that is interested in outcomes and changes influenced by the Indigenous voice, you can count me in.
This was originally published in the print edition of the AASW Spring Edition Bulletin