Land-based/Environmental Social Work Practice: Learning from Social Workers’ in the Northwest Territories

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Gwich'in Settlement Area, Sahtu Settlement Area, Dehcho Region, North Slave Region, South Slave Region, Qikiqtaaluk Region

Tags: social sciences, social work, land-based healing

Principal Investigator: Labron, Meg (1)
Licence Number: 16770
Organization: University of Northern British Columbia
Licensed Year(s): 2021
Issued: Feb 16, 2021
Project Team: Dr. Susan Burke, Dr. Margot Parkes

Objective(s): To better understand how social workers can integrate their practice with land, place, and the physical environment.

Project Description: This licence has been issued for the scientific research application No.4850.

The purpose of this research is to address the gap in social work knowledge and literature regarding how environmental social work practice is done (re: a clearly defined practice model), by speaking to social workers in the Northwest Territories who are doing this type of work.

This thesis research has 4 objectives:
1. to learn from social workers about what environmental, place, or land-based social work practice looks like for them, to help inform my own journey as an environmental social worker;
2. to record social worker stories of land-based work to share with the profession;
3. to contribute to the environmental social work literature by addressing the lack of practice and action-oriented works in this sub field; and,
4. to add value to the important leadership that already exists in Indigenous and community-led land-based healing programs by supporting social workers to integrate their practice with the land, and in turn, to better support their clients and communities.

Research Question:
What lessons can be learned from social workers working in the Northwest Territories about engaging with land, place, and the physical environment in social work practice?

Sub-questions:
a.) What knowledge, beliefs, and experiences influence their processes of engaging with land, place, and the physical environment?;
b.) What places, practices, activities, tools, and frameworks do these social workers engage with?; And,
c.) How do (or how might) social workers interested in environmental social work interact with and support Indigenous-led and community-based on-the-land programming?

Data from this study may contribute to a better understanding of how social workers can integrate their practice with land, place, and the physical environment. It is hoped that the findings from this research may contribute to social work professionals’ understandings of how environmental social work may be practiced, and to contribute to literature focused on the development of an environmental social work practice model.

Data will be collected through a Participant Information Form, and an in-depth, open-ended interview. A reflective method for an Outdoor Activity & Digital Story will also be used (for the purpose of encouraging deeper, experiential reflective) but no data will be collected from this exercise.

Upon agreement to participate in the study (reading the Information Letter and returning the attached Consent Form, participants will be sent a Participant Information Form. This form will be completed and returned to the researcher. Participants will then receive the Outdoor Activity & Digital Story Guide, and follow the instructions to participate in this reflective method. Upon completion, the digital story will be sent to the researcher using Sync, and a secure, password-protected Zoom call will be scheduled for the in-depth, open-ended interview. The interviews will be recorded, and then transcribed by the researcher. Transcripts will be sent to the participants for a first round of member-checking, at which time participants will be asked if they wish to be contacted for a second round. The data from the interview transcripts will be analyzed using thematic analysis and an inductive coding process. Upon completion of data analysis, themes and summaries of findings will be sent to the participants who indicated interest and member-checked for a second time. The final thesis report will then be written.

So far the Principal Investigator (PI) has reached out to the following organizations via e-mail regarding the project: NWT Recreation & Parks Association (NWTRPA), Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation (AIWF), Fireweed Counselling, Association of Social Workers in Northern Canada, GNWT Health & Social Services, FOXY/SMASH, Dechinta Centre for Research & Learning, NWT On the Land Collaborative, and the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research. To start, the PI has offered a brief description of the project to each of these organizations and asked if they would be willing to speak in more detail about it or offer a letter of support. Additional documentation was sent to the NWTRPA and AIWF at their request. The PI will continue to be in communication with these organizations, will seek their assistance in participant recruitment, and will share a copy of the final thesis report with any/all interested parties.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from February 17, 2021 to December 31, 2021.