November 17, 2022 at 4:19 PM

In Honor of Native American Heritage Month

Dear CSSW Community,

November marks Native American Heritage Month–a time for us to reflect on the many contributions, and forced sacrifices, Indigenous peoples have made. While we contemplate our thankfulness for those contributions past and present, we must also acknowledge the true history of Native Americans in the U.S., steeping our gratitude in honesty and providing a more textured perspective.

Columbia University is housed on the unceded land of the Lenape people; and in 2017, after much advocacy, our University placed a plaque on the Morningside campus in honor of this sacrifice. This was a great first step in accurately acknowledging the past.

Social workers also have a checkered past with our Native population. It was social workers who were tasked with removing children from their homes when the Bureau of Indian Affairs created the Indian Adoption project in 1958. This was during a time when some members of the profession were systematic in removing agency and autonomy from families and individuals under the guise of knowing best. And we are still reckoning with this reality.

The best social workers are also trained in truth-telling and advocacy. This is why we are confident that our profession, with the right people at the table, will continue to push the pendulum to atone for harm and ensure that our work centers the agency of the individuals and communities we serve. For instance, we are inspired by the work of our alumna, Dr. Hilary Weaver, and so many others who have devoted their careers to the care and concerns of the Indigenous population.

Like other communities who have been forcibly pushed to the margins, we do a disservice to them when we see them only through the lens of the harm done to them, and their pain. Our Indigenous communities know joy, have family and community, make significant contributions to our country, and deserve to be celebrated and recognized for their many accomplishments and for their extraordinary courage and resilience. We encourage all to spend time this month learning more about the rich history of our tribal communities and their influence on our world.

In community,

Melissa Begg

Dean & Professor

Karma Lowe

Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion & Community Engagement