Dr. Michael Hart

Michael Anthony Hart is a citizen of Fisher River Cree Nation and an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Social Work. He has worked in areas of child welfare, mental health, addictions, and family therapy, and was the Co-Director of the Manitoba First Nations' Centre for Aboriginal Health Research. His research interests are focused on Indigenous Knowledges, particularly around Indigenous ways of healing and well-being. His research projects have also addressed Indigenous health, Indigenous youth suicide, Elders participation in institutions of higher education, and the education of Indigenous peoples in social work. He is presently the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Knowledges and Social Work. In this capacity, Dr. Hart continues his work on the developments of helping practices in social work that are based in Indigenous Knowledges. The intent of this work has been to further develop Indigenist social work as a means to countering the colonial oppression and support Indigenous peoples to stand strongly in their ways of being.


Tier II Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Knowledges and Social Work

Until recently, and despite decades of contributions to Canadian and other societies internationally, Indigenous peoples and their knowledge have been marginalized if at all recognized. This has contributed to the unwarranted view that Indigenous people have nothing to offer the world and are purposely dependent upon others. This is further compounded by the disproportionate number of Indigenous peoples in Manitoba accessing social services. By recognizing and centering Indigenous knowledges in the research and methodologies of social work, the Canada Research Chair in Social Work and Indigenous Knowledges has worked to offset this mythical colonial portrait of Indigenous peoples and open up a whole area of understanding that not only benefits Indigenous peoples locally in their quest for life enhancement and self-determination, but demonstrates globally the benefits of creating space for Indigenous perspectives. Indigenous peoples are steeped in their own ways of helping; individuals, families, groups, and peoples are supported in their development, growth and healing processes. Relating these practices to social work and identifying how these practices confront colonialism and support Indigenous self-determination are essential in developing new methods that directly reflect Indigenous worldviews. The program of research is a leading force in social work research that shifts the relationship between social work and Indigenous communities and provides a model for such practices across Canada.

The CRC in Social Work and Indigenous Knowledge explored the role Indigenous knowledges can play in social work and facilitates dialogue and practical applications of these knowledges in social work education and practice. To meet these goals, five objectives were identified. The first is to further develop the Cree model of helping I have initiated. The second objective was to review practical applications of Indigenous knowledges of helping identified by Indigenous peoples. The third objective was to facilitate intergroup discussion between Elders in northern Manitoba and central Winnipeg as a means to identify the interrelation of various Indigenous helping practices. The fourth objective was to develop collaborative projects to assess and identify how Indigenous knowledges serve as means to counter colonialism and support Indigenism. The fifth objective was to document and develop Indigenous research methods. Each objective is enabled through the Indigenous Knowledge Based Social Work Research Centre supported through the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. This Centre provides the crucial space and technology to support our research program.

While social work is a well-established profession, and while it has addressed matters related to Indigenous peoples for over 60 years, it is only recently that Indigenous knowledges are being recognized in the profession. Indigenous knowledge has been defined as, "a body of knowledge associated with the long-term occupancy of a certain place. This knowledge refers to traditional norms and social values, as well as to mental constructs that guide, organize, and regulate the people's way of living and making sense of their world. It is the sum of the experience and knowledge of a given social group and forms the basis of decision making in the face of challenges both familiar and unfamiliar" (Dei, Hall, & Rosenberg, 2002, p. 6). Nationally and globally there is limited understanding by social workers of Indigenous knowledges, and even less incorporation of such knowledges into the profession (Hart, 2007). Yet, throughout Canada and specifically in Manitoba, Indigenous peoples are in frequent contact with social workers. Indigenous peoples have spoken about this disconnection and the need for social workers to incorporate practices that reflect Indigenous epistemes and ways of being (Baikie, 2009; Hart, 2003, 2009) as a means to counter the colonial context Indigenous people find themselves in. This call for the social work profession to reflect Indigenous perspectives and actions sets the stage

The contributions stemming from the Canada Research Chair in Social Work and Indigenous Knowledges will significantly impact the field of social work as well as the Indigenous communities that are served by the profession. Our research supports Indigenous responses to social challenges by recognizing the need for Indigenist approaches in social services, assisting the profession to recognize the benefits of Indigenous helping perspectives in relation to mainstream helping practices, and outlining Indigenous theoretical perspectives, models, and/or practices that could be included in the profession. In light of the numbers of Indigenous people accessing services provided by social workers, where for example Indigenous peoples in Manitoba are the majority of the service recipients in child welfare, corrections, and health, this program of research is significantly impacting the profession. It plays a pivotal role in moving the social work profession regionally, nationally, and internationally to be more culturally responsive to Indigenous Peoples by identifying and promoting practices that include a base in Indigenous cultures. Our research is unique in Canada and has the potential to have a significant impact on social services in Manitoba through training and research. Manitoba’s large urban and rural Indigenous populations and the growing need for social services in the province allows us to develop culturally relevant social work principles and practices that can be modeled in institutions nationally and globally.

Beyond the profession of social work, the research and collaborative frameworks outlined in this project support significant implications in theoretical dialogues of decolonization, anti- colonialism, Indigenism, critical social theory, anti-oppressive practice, and social justice. More importantly, by giving a voice to Indigenous knowledges and a place through which these perspectives can be discussed and analysed, this research program contributes to the recognition of Indigenous helping knowledges and practices, supports long overdue legitimization of such knowledges and practices in the wider social work profession, and plays a significant role in demonstrating how Indigenous knowledge can benefit local and global communities.

Our research program is primarily based in Indigenous research methodologies which permit and enable Indigenous researchers to be who they are while they are actively engaged as participants in the research processes. Such Indigenous methodologies address relational accountability, meaning that the researcher is fulfilling his or her relationship with the world around him or her. It particularly requires researchers to be accountable to the relationships between the researcher and Indigenous communities, and the researcher and participants. Based on this methodology, our program of research incorporates several research methods, specifically conversational interviewing (Kovach, 2009) and sharing circles. It also includes knowledge development and dissemination through workshops and presentations. These methods and processes are supported in the spaces and technological supports provided by the Indigenous Knowledge- Social Work Research Centre which allows people to connect with one another from distant locations without loss of visual and audio interconnections so vital in relationship development.