Session: Strengthening Social Responses to Global Environmental Changes Grand Challenge: An Indigenous Approach (Society for Social Work and Research 21st Annual Conference - Ensure Healthy Development for all Youth)

266 Strengthening Social Responses to Global Environmental Changes Grand Challenge: An Indigenous Approach

Sunday, January 15, 2017: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Iberville (New Orleans Marriott)
Cluster: Social Work Practice
Shanondora Billiot, MSW, Washington University in Saint Louis, Ramona Beltran, PhD, University of Denver, Ciwang Teyra, MSW, University of Washington, Angela Fernandez, MSW, University of Washington, Jessica C. Black, PhD, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Danica Brown, MSW, Portland State University, Gyanesh Lama, PhD, California State University, Fresno, Felicia Mitchell, PhD, Arizona State University and Karina Walters, PhD, University of Washington
Over the last several decades, it has become clear that the planet is in a state of crisis as a result of climate change, diminishing natural resources, and environmental pollution due to industrial waste, consumption and exploitation of the natural environment. Environmental catastrophes and their devastating impacts on communities are commonplace in our news feeds and social media. Less commonly centered in social discourse is the fact that Indigenous Peoples and other historically marginalized communities are disproportionately negatively affected by natural and anthropogenic environmental disasters. As a discipline committed to social justice, understanding and responding to these disparities is imperative. In 2015, the American Academy for Social Work and Social Welfare launched the “Grand Challenges for Social Work”, a call to action campaign to champion innovative responses to the most dangerous social problems limiting social progress. The campaign highlights twelve priority areas for social work research and response including “Strengthening the Social Response to the Human Impacts of Environmental Change”.  

This roundtable session will provide Indigenous perspectives of global environmental change challenges and will use a culture-centered Indigenous approach to deepen social work’s understanding and development of innovative approaches to the human impacts of environmental change.  Indigenous Peoples are adversely affected by environmental change because of their ties to and interaction with the environment through maintaining an understanding of the seasons despite historical events such as colonization, assimilation, and removal from their lands. These changes are felt differently among Indigenous Peoples but consistently across the globe. Contemporary global environmental change impacts Indigenous Peoples’ livelihood strategies and local knowledge, as well as direct and indirect impacts on their health and mental health. Therefore, Indigenous Peoples’ survival is significantly threatened by global environmental changes.

As Indigenous scholars, we have a unique position on Indigenous environmental knowledge related to place. As such, we are able to provide context to the impact of environmental changes on Indigenous Peoples in a way that is missing from the grand challenge. For the session, two presenters will provide an overview of Indigenous conceptualization of place and its importance to Indigenous health and knowledge. Another two presenters will provide examples around the globe of strategies highlighting the roles of Indigenous identity, spirituality, and cultural traditions and practices in developing creative responses to environmental change. A fifth presenter will connect Indigenous relationship to place with current response strategies through applying place-based education principles to social work education and practice. Rather than making an attempt to import or adapt western environmental change solutions into Indigenous communities, we follow Indigenous Social Work principles by recognizing that Indigenous knowledge and action is cyclical rather than linear. Using a circular, iterative process, the final three presenters will facilitate small group discussions with concrete examples of environmental issues in communities for participants to generate place-based responses to real life issues. Our goal is to share the promise of Indigenous knowledge in creating socially just and equitable strategies for strengthening the social response to the human impacts of environmental change.

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