Northern Michigan University has received a grant of $450,000 over three years from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime. The funding will support an NMU endeavor to increase Native American studies inclusion within the social work curriculum, recruitment and retention of professionals with related expertise by tribal victim service programs in rural areas, and the number of American Indian university graduates, specifically in the social work fields.
NMU’s Center for Native American Studies and Department of Social Work are collaborating on the “Serving Native Survivors Circle” project. Based on community input, they have proposed a new two-year Native American community services associate degree starting next fall that combines social work and Native American studies courses.
They have also proposed an option for social work majors to get a second minor in Native American community services at the associate or bachelor’s level, which would add that specialization to their resumés. Master’s students might also earn the specialization, along with a stipend.
Abigail Wyche, head of the NMU Department of Social Work, said the project was inspired in part by scholar and author Michael Yellow Bird’s contention that the social work profession—dominated by western-based approaches—has been complicit in Native American trauma and colonization.
“He said we have an ethical obligation to try to heal that trauma by adapting social work so that it’s locally relevant,” Wyche said. “Adding cultural information will help non-Native students understand why the relationship is fractured so they can gain the trust of families and do their jobs more effectively. We also want Native students to bring credentials back to their communities so they are more skilled and can be promoted within the tribal system. I’m not aware of any other programs that incorporate this level of collaboration between social work and Native American studies.”
April Lindala, director of the Center for Native American Studies, said NMU’s location upon the ancestral homelands of the Anishinaabeg and its established relationships with Upper Great Lakes tribal nations make the university well-suited to address the challenges confronted by tribal victim service programs.
“Our communities need healing before real revitalization can take place in education,” she said. “Some places need to address traumas that have happened, but there’s no distinct way to address that. If the social worker going into peoples’ homes is not experienced or can’t understand the underlying symptom or cause, there’s a disconnect. That’s the big reason recruitment and retention of victim service professionals is hard.”
NMU’s grant is one of three awarded nationwide this year by the Department of Justice, Office of Victim Services.