Benefits of social workers who come from tribal community! by Cynthia boyd (8/8/2012)
four words, Korina Barry sums up her teens, the times and impetus that helped
put her in the chair where she sits today, aiding others.
been a ride,’’ she says.
were make-or-break years. “I struggled with school and (home life) not being
stable. I didn’t really know how to deal with my father being in prison and my
mom really not being in my life because she had her own issues going on. I just
kind of rebelled,’’ she can see now.
25 and a social worker in the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) long-term
foster-care unit at Hennepin County, Barry brings her experiences as a child in
turmoil and her life experiences as an American Indian to those who need help.
growing up in an environment of high poverty levels and poor high school
graduation rates, she is also one of a growing
number of Native Americans here
and elsewhere being aided and supported in their efforts to attain college
degrees through grants, scholarships and special programs, including in
health-related fields like social work.
turn, these students often use that education to help their own people.
Advocates say they can help their own in ways non-natives cannot.
the University of Minnesota, for instance, Barry, an Anishinaabe from the Leech
Lake band who grew up in south Minneapolis, qualified for a scholarship from the Shakopee
Mdewakanton Sioux Community to
help pay her way through college, earning her undergraduate and master’s of
social work degrees.
also lived in the American Indian Cultural House her freshman year, in the
supportive culture she knew.
the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, an effort is afoot to recruit and
financially aid more American Indians into the school’s social
work program. A school
with a 100-year history of training social workers, it recently won a $150,000
Otto Bremer Foundation grant to fund social work education for 16 American
years, the school has been reaching out to Indian tribes as well as the tribal
colleges in their region, says Lee Gustafson, dean of the college’s social
work department, in part to overcome the past.
into account the disturbing boarding
school era of
the late 19th century and into the 20th century
when scores of Indian children were taken from their families and placed in
residential boarding schools with social workers playing a role.
Indians themselves are service providers, working in medical clinics, chemical
dependency programs, in child welfare and domestic abuse cases, “They
understand the historic and current experiences of the people they are serving,
from the cultural experiences to spiritual, to economic…,’’ explains
Cynthia Donner, coordinator for tribal Partnership Initiative activities
at St. Scholastica.
elder Julia “Bunny” Jaakola agrees.
culture itself is such that because of the history many American Indian people
still do not trust outside their community, very easily anyway. If we can have
social workers that are a part of the tribal community, it helps families be
more open to bringing their issues to an organization for help,’’ says
Jaakola , a social work graduate who is coordinator of the behavioral health
department for the Fond
du Lac Band of Lake
73, she earned her college degrees after her family was grown, from the College
of St. Scholastica and the University of Minnesota, and chose to bring her
knowledge to her reservation about 25 miles west of Duluth.
is the level of trust, first and foremost. When you see a native face you have
an instant credibility with families,” says Janice LaFloe, development
director for the American Indian Family Center in St. Paul
cultural etiquette is important. It’s not something you can always train
someone in, to understand the nuances of native humor, native history, native
experiences,’’ though there are not enough American Indian social workers,
LaFloe says. Non-natives can, however, become well-versed in Indian culture and
build up hands-on experience, she adds.
said, “Just because one has a particular background does not necessarily mean
(they) are the best person to work with that family, individual or
community,’’ suggests Tony Bibus, a licensed independent social worker
and social work professor emeritus at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.
work is one of many mainstream professions that would benefit from an infusion
of people of color, he says.
who works with 13 to 21-year-old Native Americans flailing in the face of
homelessness, family and parenting issues, sees value in her background.
think it’s easier for these youth to open up to someone they can identify
with, if it is culturally or from different experiences,’’ she says, adding
she tells her clients she’s living proof they can overcome challenging
those challenges are historical discrimination, family issues, lack of community
support and academic support, cultural differences, as well as poverty, experts
recent 70-page United Way study called “Faces
of Poverty 2012’’
reports that more than 1 in 3 of Minnesota’s American Indians – 37.9 percent
– live in poverty.
factored in must be poor educational preparation, and the problem of many of
these young people not believing they could go to college, Donner says.
says she only started really believing in herself thanks to a guidance counselor
at Minneapolis South High School, the first to tell her, “Korina, you are
smart enough, you can do this.’’
in a health-related profession was one of areas covered under her scholarship,
which figured at about $6,000 a year. Taking a social work class, she was sold
on her career choice.
always knew I wanted to work with people in some form,” she says. “I wanted
to stay in my community and work with my people.’’
Read more of her story in this beautifully written piece by Rick Moore.
Note: Korina Barry is a member of AFSCME Local 34.