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Recipient: February 2008
The resilience of children and families is what keeps Micheal Hardy inspired. Micheal Hardy is the Executive Director/Local Director of Tikinagan Child and Family Services in Sioux Lookout, the first aboriginal child welfare agency created in the province which now serves the northern one-third of Ontario. He was interviewed 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"
. Micheal is being recognized by OASW as a leader in the social work community.
As Executive Director of an agency responsible for providing services to 30 remote Nishinawbe Aski First Nations over a vast geographic area, Micheal faces many challenges. His solution is simple: "Always focus on the kids."
These days, Micheal is particularly enthused about the Partnership for Remote First Nations, a group whose mandate is to draw attention and resources to child poverty in Northern Ontario. A partnership between the First Nations of Northern Ontario and agencies and universities in Southern Ontario, the group is working to focus attention on the third-world living conditions experienced by many First Nations families, including the highest suicide rate in Canada. The partnership was set up to work towards solutions, including improved housing and economic development. At the time of the interview, Micheal noted that 20
researchers were visiting the northern communities to conduct a comprehensive community assessment. Their findings will be used to increase public understanding, identify strategies and advocate for resources from the charitable and private sectors.
After graduating from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Micheal has worked in children's services for more than 20 years. Among his accomplishments is the development of a native children's mental health centre in Thunder Bay which under his leadership became Dilico Ojibway Child and Family Services, a multi-service agency providing comprehensive services for children and adults, related to mental health, addictions, etc. More recently, Micheal was co-chair of the Child Welfare Review team in Manitoba. He has been Executive Director at Tikinagan since 1999.
Micheal noted that early in his career he served as Chief of the Rocky Bay First Nation. He credits this experience with giving him a different level of understanding for life in First Nations communities, which he has found very useful in his current position. He highlighted the complexity of dealing with the various legal jurisdictions: federal, provincial, reserve. But Micheal is not afraid of a challenge. He said: "If you love what you do and you think you can make a difference, you can be right in the excitement of it all."
In working with First Nations, Micheal emphasized that one must understand oppression and its effects on behaviour. He also underlined the importance of honesty and empathy. He emphasized that the answers to problems lie in the community and the challenge is to tap the capacity, especially when faced with incredible poverty and high suicide rates, to work towards solutions. He said: "At times, it may seem easier to implement rules used in all situations, but the reality is that every community is individual, every family is individual and every kid is individual."
Micheal Hardy faces these challenges with optimism, humour and an ability to adapt. He stated that 80% of his staff now comes from the communities served by his agency. As well, the agency has successfully recruited a large number of caregivers and established more local resources. As a result, a growing number of children have been relocated to the area from Southern Ontario. He continues to search for partners in schools, mental health, etc., to increase the resources available to the northern communities. A growing sense of trust from families in times of crisis has resulted from the establishment of core values which are now implemented in agency practice. As Micheal said: "It's about building trust and building relationships, crying together and laughing together."
When asked about a wish list, Micheal stated: "The tiring part is systematic discrimination and oppression and federal and provincial policies concerning the management of resources. That's where the stress comes out." He sees the north-south partnership as a potential answer.
Micheal's passion becomes apparent in his obvious enthusiasm for the people and for trying out new ideas. In his words, a leader is someone who is innovative, a good facilitator and communicator, and someone who believes in the team. As well, a successful leader has a clear vision, beliefs and values, and is always a mentor and a coach.
Micheal Hardy is a leader in the social work community - enthusiastic, resourceful and inspiring. 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.