Social work

Social work faculty, student reflects on Native American resilience during pandemic

December 3, 2021

Indigenous peoples are tackling the COVID-19 pandemic – as well as many other challenges they face – by building on their strengths and resilience, say two faculty members and a graduate student from the Arizona State University. School of Social Work who are members of the tribe.

Assistant professor Matt Ignacio is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation of Southern Arizona. Graduate student Socorra Arroyo is a member of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation near Fountain Hills. Tahnee Baker, lecturer, coordinator of the baccalaureate program and alumnus of the School of Social Work, is San Carlos Apache, Yavapai-Apache and Navajo. They both shared their thoughts on the work they do in tribal communities and how social workers can deepen their support for the strengths of indigenous peoples.

A Navajo family in front of their home in Monument Valley, Arizona. iStock photo of Grandriver

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The trio offered their reflections at a time when the diverse cultures, traditions and histories of the Indigenous peoples of America are in the spotlight each fall, especially during the month of November. Native American Heritage Month. Also known as Alaskan and American Indian Heritage Month, its 2021 theme was “Resilient and Enduring.”

Matt Ignacio, assistant professor in the School of Social Work

Question: Tell us a bit about your current teaching and research.

Reply: S-ke: g Heap!Means good day in the Oʼodham language. Currently, I teach two upper sections of a class titled “Diversity and Oppression in a Social Work Context” on the campus of the ASU School of Social Work in Tucson. Next semester, the Tucson campus will launch an all-new synchronization course on border region issues, focusing on migration, tribal sovereignty and the practice of social work, which will be co-led by Professor Michael Shafer and I. same. A Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center The research project I am participating in is a National Institutes of Health-funded study examining participation in the COVID-19 vaccine and reducing medical distrust among Indigenous people, black people and people. LatinxLatinx is a gender-neutral term for Latino / a that is preferred by some individuals and groups. communities.

, Assistant Professor, ASU, School of Social Work

Matt Ignacio

Q: Particularly during the pandemic, what makes you most optimistic about the resilience of tribal communities?

A: One of the main findings of our COVID-19 study among Indigenous participants was deep love, connection, and a desire to protect their respective communities. In other words, many participants said thThey wanted to be vaccinated to protect themselves from serious illness, but also to protect their neighbors and family members, especially the elderly, including those who stayed at home on their reserve. These beliefs highlight aspects of Indigenous resilience, which is the ability to rise up and do for others. Many attendees acknowledged the initial distrust of COVID-19 vaccines resulting from historical trauma, but these same people also felt immense relief after being vaccinated knowing that they would once again be able to interact more safely with their families.

Q: In what ways can the social work profession deepen its support for the strengths and resilience of Native Americans?

A: I encourage others to learn about the grassroots, community-based national movements for Indigenous health and social justice that are currently taking place – for example, the decolonization of research data from the Urban Indian Health Institute. At the direct practice level, work actively to develop a foundation of trust with all clients, but especially with Indigenous clients. One way to do this is to operate from a place of humility in an effort to engage Indigenous clients in care.

Socorra Arroyo, master’s student in social work

, graduate student, MSW, ASU School of Social Work

Socorra Arroyo

Question: Tell us a bit about your current role in practice.

Reply: I am a master’s student social worker interning with Wassaja Family Services on the Fort McDowell Yavapai reserve. Doing an internship on my reserve gave me the social work skills needed to work in the tribal child welfare system. This agency provided insight into how the tribal court oversees child protection cases on the reserve.

Q: Particularly during the pandemic, what makes you most optimistic about the resilience of tribal communities? Or can you share examples of efforts, individuals or communities supporting the resilience of Native Americans?

A: What makes me most optimistic about the resilience of my tribe is the strength of the people. My community has met many times in history to come together and express their position on political issues. In 1976, the tribe stopped construction of the Elm Dam. In 1992, the people of Fort McDowell stopped the FBI raids on our casino. Currently, we are coming together to fight the coronavirus.

During the pandemic, the tribe offered tribal members and community members the opportunity to make sure they have access to frequent COVID testing and vaccinations. The community has stayed connected through the use of virtual platforms to communicate updates and manage tribal affairs. My community continues to be resilient and resistant to natural and man-made threats. We will continue to remain vigilant in our efforts to preserve our lands, our water rights and our businesses for future generations.

Q: In what ways can the social work profession deepen its support for the strengths and resilience of Native Americans?

A: The social work profession deepens its support for the strengths and resilience of Native Americans by using evidence-based practices to work with Native people. Today, social workers use trauma-informed approaches to work with Native Americans in the child welfare system to address historical and generational trauma caused by residential schools and the removal of Indian children.

Social workers protect the laws of the Indian Child Welfare Act when dealing with Native American children placed in the foster care system in order to preserve their culture.

Tahnee Baker, Lecturer, School of Social Work, Undergraduate Program Coordinator, MSW Alumnus

, Lecturer, Bachelor Program, ASU, School of Social Work

Tahnee Baker

Question: Tell us a bit about your current teaching and research.

Reply: My name is Tahnee Baker and I am San Carlos Apache, Yavapai-Apache and Navajo. I am a proud Sun Devil for life since I obtained a bachelor’s degree in justice and social inquiry in 2006, a master’s degree in social work in 2010 and a doctorate in social work in 2018.

After my graduate studies, I worked as a social worker with the Yavapai-Apache Nation for two years. I was very proud and honored to work with my own people during this time and to honor the legacy of my late grandfather, David Sine, a much respected elder in the community. I have worked with children, seniors and families in case management, child welfare service investigations and cases related to the Indian Child Welfare Act . Working with my community during this time sparked my interest in helping my people in a different way.

I applied and was accepted into the doctoral program of the ASU School of Social Work and continued my journey as a student. My thesis research explored alternative and resilient responses to historical trauma among college graduates from the Yavapai-Apache nation. My research has incorporated Indigenous research methodologies to give back and honor where I come from and who I am. The use of indigenous-focused research methodologies is a step towards the recovery of cultural and traditional well-being.

After obtaining my PhD, I continued my teaching journey as an associate professor at ASU School of Social Work and as an assistant professor at San Carlos Apache College. In 2019, I was hired as a full-time lecturer at ASU School of Social Work, and in 2021, I took on the role of coordinator of the undergraduate program. I love working alongside our amazing undergraduates and guiding them through their journey. I especially enjoy teaching my students about the strengths and resilience of our tribal communities in Arizona and the Southwest.

Q: Particularly during the pandemic, what makes you most optimistic about the resilience of tribal communities? Or can you share examples of efforts, individuals or communities supporting the resilience of Native Americans?

A: While the COVID pandemic has presented many obstacles and changed the way we live, it has had unique impacts for tribal communities. The pandemic has highlighted health disparities in tribal communities as well as persistent problems such as poverty, access to quality health care and geographic isolation.

Despite the adversity encountered, tribal communities continued to survive and survive, just as we have for generations. The leaders of the tribal community have become creative in protecting the people. Many communities have adopted stay-at-home guidelines and provided spaces for individuals to self-quarantine away from their families to curb the spread. Culturally relevant PSAs have been created in tribal languages. Once the vaccine is rolled out to the public, the tribal communities have plans in place to administer the vaccine to the elders, who are the keepers of knowledge, first, to preserve the language, traditions, songs and ceremonies. Many of our social gatherings have turned to social media, again, to stay connected to our identities and to each other. Resources on how to stay safe continue to be shared among communities across the country.

I am especially proud of how we continue to support each other and how the power of tradition strengthens our communities during difficult times, just as we always have in the past. and will, for the future.

To learn more about Native American Heritage Month, listen to the AZ Watts influencer podcast, moderated by Turquoise Devereaux, graduate of the School of Social Work. Devereaux is a member of the Salish and Blackfeet tribes who grew up on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana.

Written by Morgan Carden, student journalist, ASU School of Social Work.