College Statement on the 751 Unmarked Graves Discovered in Cowessess First Nation

The Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (the College) is deeply saddened by the discovery of 751 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan. This discovery serves as further evidence of Canada’s long history of violence against Indigenous peoples. We mourn with the communities who have lost loved ones and continue to experience pain as a result of Canada’s shameful residential “school” system.

As we reflect upon this discovery, the College and its members must recognize the shameful role that the social work and social service work professions have played in perpetuating harm against Indigenous peoples. We must also reflect upon the fact that Indigenous College members did not contribute to the harmful effects of colonization and are actively working to help heal their communities from the impacts of systemic oppression.

The College’s role as regulator

As we have mentioned in previous communications to members and the public, it is incumbent upon the College to reflect critically upon our assumptions and to carefully examine how our policies, practices and processes may play a role in perpetuating systemic oppression.

As events over this last year have shown us – namely the worldwide mobilization against anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, anti-Asian and anti-Muslim racism – societal expectations change and evolve, and long overdue discussions and upheaval which rightfully challenge systems of oppression are taking place. For the College as regulator, this means carefully examining how and when to interpret our public protection mandate more broadly.

The College has a responsibility to create space for difficult discussions and to examine how Reconciliation fits within the regulatory context. As the regulator for social workers and social service workers in Ontario, we must acknowledge our professional legacy and the ongoing impact of our history; we must support meaningful dialogue to ensure that we are responsive to the changing environment in which members are practicing. This is all part of our important work in protecting the public by promoting ethical and professional practice and regulating our members.

2020-2023 Strategic Plan

These tragic events highlight how much is left to be done to address the challenging issues of diversity, equity and inclusion; these efforts, which fall under the College’s 2020-2023 Strategic Plan; they are reflected in the ongoing commitment of the College, as directed by Council.

The College has made a commitment to developing partnerships with Indigenous communities in order to begin to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action within the regulatory context. In doing so, we recognize that Reconciliation is an ongoing individual and collective process.

Resources and support

Social workers and social service workers should review the following resources and materials as they reflect upon their integral role in continuing the dialogue around social justice:

We encourage our stakeholders, including members and the public, to access the College’s resources related to diversity, equity and inclusion on our centralized webpage as well as our Indigenous webpage.

Members and the public should also note the following supports:

There is an Indian Residential School Crisis Line that has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. Individuals can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

The College remains committed to doing the necessary work around Reconciliation as well as providing practice resources that may be useful for social workers and social service workers serving Indigenous clients and communities in Ontario.