Indigenous Identity on the Poospatuck Reservation: Implications for Culturally Grounded Social Work Practice and Policy
Carballeira, Catherine A.
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This dissertation is an exploratory, qualitative study of Indigenous perspectives on cultural identity. There is sparse empirical evidence of working effectively with Indigenous People, especially as an outsider. The study uses mostly in-depth structured interviews and purposive sampling techniques with blood right members of the Unkechaug Nation at the Poospatuck Reservation. The purpose of the study is to develop important guidance to provide a culturally grounded, relevant and sensitive practice model for educators, social workers and other health professionals who work with members of the Unkechaug Nation. This study is proactive, seeking to understand the ways culturally identified Indigenous People experience and resist the institutional and interpersonal undermining of their culture. It focuses on those individuals who have been able to maintain a strong, Indigenous identity despite the efforts of the dominant society to assimilate them. The study utilizes post-colonial and social constructionist analyses of the data from 15 interviews. It also has an Action research component in that it bolsters the current cultural, language and ethnic renewal program on the Reservation. Results of this study indicate that working with Indigenous People on the Poospatuck Reservation is a political act. It is incumbent on social workers, educators and health care professionals to respect and honor their history, customs, beliefs, worldviews and spiritual traditions. Outsiders such as social workers, educators and other health professionals, need to recognize that they can be most helpful in working with the members of the Unkechaug Nation as allied Others, in their struggle for what the members of the Reservation identify as most significant to them: maintaining their sovereignty, reclamation of lands, and ethical treatment of their children. These efforts need to be addressed from the wigwam out, meaning from the standpoint and permission of the Tribe.