Dr. Cindy Blackstock

Recipient: February 2008

Dr. Cindy Blackstock believes that ethics are the foundation of social work - they give life and shape to our relationships and skills. Cindy is the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, which provides research, policy and professional development services to First Nations child and family service agencies in Canada. She was nterviewed in advance of National Social Work Week which is being celebrated March 3-9, 2008 under the theme: "Social Workers Advocating for Human Rights in a Diverse Community". She is being recognized by OASW as a leader in the social work community during National Social Work Week.

Cindy worked in front-line child protection for provincial and First Nations child welfare agencies for over 13 years before moving on to her current position. Pursuing a PhD in social work at the University of Toronto, she also serves as Co-Convenor of the Working Group on Indigenous Child Rights for the UN-based NGO Group on the Rights of the Child.

Cindy emphasized: "For me, ethics are something I am versus something I put on for a profession. To achieve the ideals of social work, I must try to live each day accountable to the values of honesty, humility, respect, courage, reciprocity, freedom and love."

In response to a question about the social work values and skills, Cindy Blackstock wrote: "When I think of my work as a social worker, these are the voices in echo that help me stay the ethical course:

  • First Nations leaders and Elders often remind me that my first allegiance and accountability must be to the children and families I work with - to do otherwise means my professional or personal interests can usurp theirs.
  • My mother always told me to "look for the obvious when trying to solve problems because almost no one does." She was right - a big difference would be made by making sure First Nations children have access to the same resources available to other children in Canada in a way that respects their distinct cultures and identity.
  • An Elder once told Justice René Dussault during the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples that eloquence is when words are backed by meaning. This means that I must live the social work values each day in the relationships I form and the actions I take (or do not take). Bea Shawanda, an Elder and gifted teacher, told me that integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking. This means doing the right thing all the time, not just when it is convenient or risk-free.
  • Brent Collins, an RCMP corporal, taught me that "in doing what is urgent, you can miss what is important." I remember not to get bogged down in the mechanics of my work. To lose sight of what is truly important is to risk what my friend Terry Cross says is "getting really good at doing things badly".
  • Hennie Kerstiens, the person who taught me the most about being a courageous child protection worker, used to say "tall trees catch a lot of wind". She was right. There are times when the winds trying to force us away from our personal and professional values are very strong and come from unexpected directions - and sometimes all directions. To get blown off the ethical course can result in harm for others and leave you personally and professionally lost." When asked about challenges and barriers, Cindy answered: "Honestly, I don't give the barriers much power. I simply say to myself First Nations children will be treated with equality and respect and begin working with others to make it happen. When I get tired or discouraged, I look to the inspirational vision of the children and the love of my family, friends and colleagues to keep me on track." 

Cindy applauds the collective and growing movement in First Nations communities to work with non-Aboriginal peoples to ensure that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children are able to form relationships that respect their distinct identities with all their rights recognized: "To me this is what reconciliation is, and it takes life in our personal and professional relationships and actions. Jordan's Principle is an excellent example of reconciliation in action. Jordan River Anderson was a First Nations boy who spent over two years unnecessarily in a hospital while provincial and federal governments argued over who should pay for his at-home care. The costs for Jordan's at-home care would have been paid by the province without question if Jordan was non-Aboriginal. Sadly, Jordan passed away at the age of 5 years never having spent a day in a family home. In memory of Jordan, and with the support of Jordan's family and community, we created Jordan's Principle which simply says that where a jurisdictional dispute develops between federal and provincial governments around services for a First Nations child and those services are otherwise available to Canadian children, the government of first contact pays the bill and then figures out the jurisdictional dispute later. Jordan's principle became the most broadly supported First Nations children's policy in Canadian history bringing together First Nations leaders, political parties of all stripes, unions, corporations, youth, Elders and children's advocates and professionals to ensure a private member's motion in support of Jordan's Principle unanimously passed in the House of Commons on December 12, 2007."

Dr. Cindy Blackstock believes that social workers need to actively engage with First Nations to courageously confront the gross inequities in resources and opportunities that deny First Nations families the same range of possibilities afforded as other Canadians to safely care for their children. She calls upon social workers to actively engage in reconciliation, beginning with an active learning process informed by our history, and inspired by our values and vision. She notes that: "It takes courage to understand that sometimes it was we, 'the social work good guys', who were doing the harm. By engaging in reconciliation, we will be part of co-creating a social work profession nested within Canadian society where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples can co-exist in friendship with all their rights recognized."

Cindy draws her passion for social work from the dignity, strength and courage of children, families and their communities as they struggle to overcome barriers to reaching their full, and personally defined, potential. Inspired by them and striving to follow their example, Cindy notes: "The last thing that people with this much courage and dignity needed to see, is me, with all my good fortune, hiding under my desk when the high winds struck. " She added: "To be a great leader is to inspire others to light their own candles of hope by living one's own life with honesty, courage, respect, humility, love, generosity and wisdom."

In conclusion, Cindy encouraged everyone to: "Take five minutes today to make reconciliation possible by supporting Jordan's Principle by signing the joint declaration at www.fncaringsociety.com and supporting our Human Rights Campaign to ensure First Nations children receive equitable child welfare funding at - you will make a difference!"

Dr. Cindy Blackstock is a leader in the social work community - wise, humble and courageous. During Social Work Week, March 3-9, 2008, and throughout the year, take the time to acknowledge social workers who advocate for human rights in a diverse community.