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Indigenous Field of Study Program

Master of Social Work, MSW

Wilfrid Laurier University, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

(Note: As part of a commitment to promote w/holistic healing in post-secondary education, examples of model programs in North America/Turtle Island will be discussed each month on this website. This first example is rooted in a wholistic Indigenous worldview and contemporary social work practice. Peter Dunn)

Indigenous Field of Study Program - MSW - Wholistic Healing
MSW Indigenous Field of Study Program

By: Cara Loft - As the first Indigenous Master of Social Work program in Canada that is completely informed by an Indigenous world view, our goal is to develop social work practitioners who demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the history, traditions and cultures of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. This unique program includes the involvement of Indigenous Elders, a traditional circle process and Indigenous ceremonies. For example, all courses are taught using Indigenous pedagogy including Circle Process and smudging ceremony. In addition, the program ends and begins with a five-day cultural camp on the land to connect with Creation in a wholistic way. There is also an understanding and inclusion of different Indigenous perspectives, teachings and ways of knowing within the Mater of Social Work, Indigenous Field of Study (MSW, IFS) Program. Diversity within the MSW, IFS program is celebrated; and creates a rich and diverse cohort.

Indigenous Wholistic Healing Program

Students within the MSW, IFS Program develop an understanding of how social work practice and intervention with Indigenous populations is influenced by the history and value system of colonization, and the interrelated and intergenerational impacts. This includes the colonization of indigenous individuals, families and communities; Canadian colonial policies regarding Indigenous Peoples’ culture and identity; Indigenous Peoples’ capacity to engage in the Canadian free-market economy; and Indigenous Peoples’ capacity to live within their cultural traditions within Canadian society. The goal for students is to engage within their wholistic practice with an informed lens of the colonization in Canada that will aid them in navigating its current impacts with social work clients.

Indigenous Healing - Sacred Fire Ceremony
Sacred Fire Ceremony

As well, students in the MSW, IFS Program are required to fully comprehend this body of knowledge and actively engage in the consequences of this dynamic to create a more empowering type of reality for Indigenous Peoples. This includes developing a critical analysis of Indigenous experiences and to develop practice skills that will help undo some of this legacy. Courses 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. Students are evaluated with regard to traditional knowledge, traditional ceremonies and ability to “carry” and express these teachings in the context of their behaviors and practice. Wholism is enacted throughout the entirety of the MSW IFS Program delivery, including the Wholistic Feedback given to students, not just in terms of mental growth, but also emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. The Wholistic feedback given by the faculty provides students within the program the opportunity to critically reflect on their learning journey and wholistic practice.

Indigenous Smudging -  Indigenous MSW Program
Indigenous Smudging

Finally, students within the MSW IFS program are expected to respect and seek to practice within an Indigenous worldview. Along with intellectual development, students engage in the development of your spiritual, emotional and physical selves. Students are expected to involve themselves in all aspects of this specialized program, which include cultural camps, ceremonies, classroom work, and presentation of yourself to Elders, the circle process and in practice settings. Students will be evaluated on their academic knowledge and ability to practice from an Indigenous world view – using an Indigenous wholistic healing approach with individuals, groups, policies and research, and the application of this knowledge within diverse and generalist practice contexts.

Indigenous Ceremony - Indigenous Field of Study - Wilfrid Laurier University - MSW
Indigenous Ceremony - Indigenous Field of Study - Wilfrid Laurier University - MSW

Jo-Anne Absolon, (2020) explains:

This program was enlightening and foremost in supporting me to further develop my wholistic practice. This was the first time in my whole academic career that I was able to study in a program that reflected who I was and validated my existence as an Anishnaabe person. This was the first time that I was also positively evaluated on my strengths and weaknesses as a future wholistic practitioner. The whole experience was done in a kind and caring manner with reflexive thought about me as an Anishnaabe person.

Indigenous Singing - Indigenous Field of Study - Wilfrid Laurier University
Indigenous Singing - Indigenous Field of Study - Wilfrid Laurier University

With regard to course delivery, the MSW IFS Program offers two (2) program offerings: Full Time Studies and Part Time Studies. Both programs require ten (10) half-credit courses and are completed through in person learning. The Full Time Program is completed over one (1) year, three (3) semesters; and is completed in-person at the Faculty of Social Work on the WLU Kitchener, Ontario Campus. The Part Time Program is completed over two (2) years, six (6) semesters; and is completed in-person in partnership with one of our partnership institutions. Currently, the MSW IFS Program has ongoing partnerships with First Nations Technical Institutes (FNTI) located on Tyendinaga First Nation; and Kenjgewin Teg located on M’Chigeeg First Nation on Manitoulin Island. For the September 2022 intake, we anticipate that we will continue our partnership with Kenjgewin Teg. With the Part Time Program, students attend one (1) week intensives, twice a semester. As well, the program location will also change based on the Part Time partnership.

Indigenous Programs - Kenjgwin Teg - FNTI
Indigenous Programs - Kenjgwin Teg - FNTI

Overall, the MSW Indigenous Field of Study is rooted within an Indigenous world view. Its goal is the development of social work practitioners who facilitate empowerment, self-determination, cultural preservation and respect for the wholistic healing world view for all Indigenous Peoples.

More information on Program Requirements and Admissions can be found on the WLU website here:


Check out the w/holistic healing website developed by Peter Dunn, PhD in collaboration with many other individuals.



November, 2021 Blog

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