Context: In 2009, these oral remarks were delivered by CASW President Veronica Marsman in Edmonton, AB.
It is my privilege to be representing the Canadian Association of Social Workers at this opening of the 2009 conference of the Alberta College of Social Workers. The theme of this conference - 100 Years of Change and Beyond - offers an opportunity to reflect on the impact of social work.
On June 11, 2008 Prime Minister Harper offered a full apology on behalf of Canadians for the Indian Residential Schools System. The apology recognized that the consequences of the Indian Residential Schools policy were profoundly negative and had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language.
The Residential School System was only one of many intrusions into Aboriginal communities. Although it was a significant factor, the residential schools were indicative of a larger colonial mindset that viewed Aboriginal culture and beliefs as inferior. This colonial mindset supported a vast array of actions that continue to have a negative impact on individual Aboriginal People and their communities across the country.
Today we acknowledge that social workers were participants in activities that negatively impacted our Aboriginal citizens. Today we express deep regret for those actions.
Although we cannot change the past we can recognize the lessons learned from it and we can prepare for the future. As we consider what has occurred over the last century we must learn from the past to ensure that negative practices are not repeated in the future. The historical treatment of Canadian Aboriginal Peoples reflects both social justice and human rights concerns. Many Aboriginal children, families and Aboriginal communities continue to suffer.
Today social work practice is supported by a professional Code of Ethics that is founded upon the values and principles of social justice and human rights. Today our professional standards have moved social work beyond the colonial mindset of a hundred years ago.
The lessons of the past are often-times painfully learned. We know that much pain continues to exist and that much work still needs to take place to heal the damage that was done. Recognizing our own part in history is an important step in the evolution of the Social Work profession. Today's acknowledgement represents the Social Work profession’s commitment to learn from the past and work towards a just society for Aboriginal people and all Canadians.
Today, we hope you will join our social work profession in moving forward together on a path into the next century. Let us work together to make the next century one that safeguards human rights and social justice.