Skip to main content

Aboriginal Field of Study

The Aboriginal Field of Study is the first Master of Social Work program in Canada rooted in a wholistic Indigenous worldview and contemporary social work practice. The goal is to develop social work practitioners who demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the history, traditions and culture of the Indigenous peoples of Canada. This unique program includes the use of Indigenous elders, a traditional circle process, and Indigenous ceremonies.

The needs most commonly identified by Aboriginal people, as seen often in their public statements and political processes, include self-determination, cultural preservation, and respect for the wholistic healing worldview. The MSW Aboriginal field of study, therefore, will fully and dramatically root itself within the Aboriginal worldview and have as its goal the development of social work practitioners who can seek empowerment for Aboriginal populations so that they can meet the needs that they have identified for themselves.

About the Program

We offer a one-year full-time and two-year part-time Master of Social Work: Aboriginal Field of Study. Our part-time programs are offered in partnership with community-based First Nation institutions: First Nation Technical Institute and Kenjgewin Teg Educational Institute.

This field is available only to applicants with a Bachelor of Social Work; for this reason it is termed an advanced standing program.

Students in the new field will develop an understanding of the Aboriginal wholistic healing approach and the application of this knowledge within diverse and generalist practice contexts. This includes practices with individuals and groups, as well as in contexts where community work is undertaken and in policy and research arenas. This sequence of courses will enable students to develop an understanding of the interrelated and intergenerational impacts of Canadian policies with respect to Aboriginal peoples and the effects of colonization. Colonization has impacts on individuals, families, communities, on policies regarding Aboriginal peoples, on their culture and identity, on their capacity to engage in the Canadian free-market economy, and on their capacity to live within their cultural traditions within Canadian society.

Each element of practice and intervention with Aboriginal populations is influenced by this history and value system. Engaging the consequences of this dynamic and creating a more empowering type of reality for Aboriginal peoples requires social workers to fully comprehend this body of knowledge. Courses have been sequenced to guide students in developing a critical analysis of Aboriginal experiences and to develop practice skills that will help undo some of this legacy.

The program will commence with a cultural camp where students will be fully immersed in Aboriginal wholistic healing practices. The cultural camp will be followed by courses that outline the history of colonial policies and the history of the importance of the community to Aboriginal populations, enabling students to further immerse themselves in knowledge of Aboriginal worldviews and experiences. Courses will encourage students to examine their own wholistic nature and how this impacts on their own inherent capacity to engage other people’s lives while facilitating a healing journey. The practicum will be a key component in practicing what it takes to facilitate a healing journey.

The circle process, which will be the primary pedagogical tool, will achieve several goals in addition to the transmission of knowledge. The circle is a ceremony and an approach to decision-making, to consensus building, to healing and sharing of life. As students experience the circle day-after-day they will be learning a worldview, a healing approach, a relationship building process, and an embodiment of the most powerful traditional Aboriginal teachings, which is “we are all one with all of the elements of Creation.”

Program Requirements

Students in the three-term full-time study program take their courses within the Aboriginal program course offerings. One of these courses, SK507:Diversity, Marginalization and Oppression, will be the same as in the mainstream program.

The part-time program requirements are identical to the full-time advanced standing option; however, students complete the program over six terms (two years).

Personal Suitability

Students in the Aboriginal field of study are expected to respect and seek to practice within the Aboriginal worldview. This means that along with intellectual development you will also engage in the development of your spiritual, emotional, and physical selves. You will learn from a diversity of teachers including academic instructors, Elders, Aboriginal ceremonies, and the Aboriginal community. You will be expected to involve yourself in all aspects of the specialized program, which include cultural camps, classroom work, presentation of yourself to Elders, and in practice settings. You will be evaluated on your academic knowledge and your ability to practice from the Aboriginal worldview.

Upon admission to the Aboriginal Program of study, you will be expected to attend cultural camp where you will learn traditional teachings and practices under the instruction of Elders and Aboriginal faculty. This experience will enable Elders and academic staff to determine the comfort level of students with this form of instruction and to help students determine their suitability for this field, aside from their intellectual capacity. During the course of the program, you will be evaluated with regard to traditional knowledge, traditional ceremonies, and your ability to “carry” and express these teachings in the context of their behaviors and practice.

You will be expected to garner from the traditional teachings, which may be transmitted orally, the meaning this knowledge contains for you and for the people with whom you will work. You will also be expected to articulate how this understanding fits into your own wholistic healing practice paradigm. It is expected that you may find this new process of learning to be challenging. Therefore, you will be guided and supported throughout the program by Elder teachers and Aboriginal academic staff to assist you to master this challenging process.

If concerns arise about the personal suitability of a student to practice from the Aboriginal worldview, these concerns will be discussed with you and a plan to address the concerns will be developed. If serious concerns about personal suitability persists, the collective of the Aboriginal faculty and Elders will evaluate if you have the capacity and commitment to practice from the Aboriginal worldview. If the collective decision of Aboriginal faculty and Elders is that a student does not have such capacity or commitment, the Aboriginal program director will counsel and may require the student to leave the program. In this case, the student will be provided with the insights of the Elders and the Aboriginal academic staff as to the basis for this conclusion, and he or she would have the right to engage in the existing appeal processes, which are set out in the policies of the Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Social Work and the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

2017-2018 Term Dates

  • Fall 2017: Monday, Sept. 11 to Friday, Dec. 8
  • Reading Week: Oct. 9-13
  • Winter 2018: Wednesday, Jan. 3 to Friday, April 6
  • Reading Week: Feb. 19-23
  • Spring 2018: Monday, April 16 to Monday, June 18