Dr. Cheryle Partridge

Recipient: February 2005

Dr. Cheryle Partridge is a social work educator in the Native Human Services Programme at Laurentian University and an Anishinaabe-Kwe (Ojibway woman) from Wasauksing First Nation, near Parry Sound. Cheryle has been a life-long advocate for social justice for Aboriginal peoples who strives to live and abide by the Seven Grandfather Teachings of the Anishinaabe peoples. This interview was conducted in advance of National Social Work Week which is being celebrated March 7-13, 2005 under the theme: "Social Workers: Celebrating Community - Honouring Diversity"

Dr. Cheryle Partridge graduated from Laurentian University with her first degree in social work in 1993, but feels she has been a helper most of her life. Attending university as a mature student fulfilled a lifetime dream. After graduation with her Master of Social Work from the University of Toronto in 1994, Cheryle pursued her social work career first in a mental health agency which operated both in Sudbury and in surrounding First Nation communities, then worked for the Cree Nation in northern Quebec as Director of Professional Services - Social. Since 1999, she has been teaching at Laurentian University in the Department of Native Studies, the School of Social Work and Native Human Services. She is currently the Coordinator of the Native Human Services Programme. Her very busy life includes teaching full-time while simultaneously working toward her doctorate in education, with an Aboriginal focus, at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) in Toronto. She recently learned that she will be tenured as of July 1, 2005. As well, she is a Board member of the Sudbury Branch of the Ontario Association of Social Workers, and an active member of the Three Fires Society of the Midewiwin Lodge. 

Never having envisioned herself as a professor, Cheryle now says that she cannot imagine herself anywhere else: "I found my place and I'm happy." She particularly values students, calling them the most important component of her university life. The Native Human Services programme offers students (both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) a solid culture-specific social work base. Having also had the opportunity to teach in the mainstream social work program, she found the experience positive for herself and for the students, as they benefited from her Aboriginal perspective and gained an awareness of Aboriginal issues. 

From an Aboriginal perspective, Cheryle believes that the social work profession has grown and evolved in recent years. She used the imagery of the impact of a pebble in a pond and the circles that result - even small changes can have widespread impact over time. She noted that the Native social work programme at Laurentian University was the first of its kind in Canada and has now graduated more than 160 BSWs since 1988. She also believes that there has been growing collaboration between cultures which has been a positive step. As an example, she cited the collaboration among the three social work streams (English, French and Native) at Laurentian University on a project on homelessness in Sudbury. When asked about the future of social work, Cheryle said: "I'm a social worker; therefore, I'm an optimist. I visualize a time when there is no need for social workers; I visualize a time when oppression ceases to exist; I visualize a time when racism ceases to exist; I visualize a time when harmony will be the norm." She looks forward to a time when Aboriginal people have self-government and their own agencies "for Aboriginal people by Aboriginal people."

Dr. Cheryle Partridge believes that the key attribute for social work leaders is respect for others and respect for self. She emphasized: "Being in this profession, you have to walk the talk. If you talk about the Grandfather Teachings and the Code of Ethics, you have to live your life by them. Your actions have to mirror your words." In terms of Aboriginal professional leaders, she believes that they must respect the differences in their own communities and embrace this diversity. As well, she stressed that leaders must bridge the gaps that exist between the world views of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, which in many ways are diametrically opposed. 

In terms of challenges, Cheryle remarked that Aboriginal social workers have been faced with stigma in their own communities. She explained that there is a history of distrust in Aboriginal communities in Canada towards social work due to past government policies that removed children from their homes. The advent of the Laurentian Native Human Services programme has had a positive effect on the relationship between the profession and Aboriginal people, as graduates have presented a different face of social work. Cheryle stresses to students that they are role models for their families, their communities, their Nations, as well as for their profession. 

Dr. Cheryle Partridge has an obvious passion for social work. She says that she has maintained this passion by believing in and striving to follow the Seven Grandfather Teachings and the Social Work Code of Ethics. She calls herself "a realist with rose-coloured glasses on occasion", and this informs her practice as a social work educator.

Dr. Cheryle Partridge is a social work leader - a wise and proud role model. Celebrate the social work community and honour its diversity during Social Work Week, March 7-13, 2005, and throughout the year.