Honoring our ancestors: Using reconciliatory pedagogy to dismantle white supremacy

Jennifer McCleary, Estelle Simard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The US social work profession has historically claimed primarily middle-class white women as the "founders" of the profession, including Jane Addams and Mary Richmond. Scholarship of the history of the profession has focused almost entirely on settlement houses, anti-poverty advocacy, and charity in the late 1800s in the northeastern United States as the groundwork of current social work practice. Courses in social work history socialize students into this historical framing of the profession and perpetuate a white supremacist narrative of white women as the primary doers of social justice work that colonizes the bodies and knowledge of Indigenous people and their helping systems. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in the US have always had indigenous systems of social care. Yet, the social justice work of BIPOC, and especially Indigenous people in the US, is left out of the dominant narrative of the history of social work practice for several reasons including racism, colonialism, and white supremacy. In this paper the authors contribute to the critique of the role of white supremacy as a colonizing process in social work history narratives and discuss frameworks for decolonizing social work pedagogy through a reconciliatory practice that aims to dismantle white supremacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)259-273
Number of pages15
JournalAdvances in Social Work
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Sep 23 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
In this paper we surface the exclusion of Indigenous knowledge and helping systems from the evolution of US social work practice and directly tie this to colonialism and white supremacy in social work today. We provide a path to dismantling white supremacy in social work by reconciling white supremacist social work history with Indigenous (specifically Anishinaabe) helping systems and Indigenous ways of knowing, and include specific examples of reconciliation, especially between the two authors of the paper, one of whom is a member of the Couchiching First Nation and Anishinaabe, and one of whom is a white descendent of colonial settlers. We focus on Anishinaabe helping systems because of the specific geographic and socio-historic location of the home academic department of the authors. Both authors are faculty at a university in the upper Midwest that sits on territory forcefully taken from Anishinaabe and other Indigenous peoples by settler colonists. In our department we serve a higher than typical proportion of Native American students. As a public land grant university, we have a responsibility to confront this specific colonial geopolitical reality within our institution, curriculum, and pedagogy. Briefly, land grant universities receive benefits from the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, which fund higher education institutions by granting states federally controlled land to sell to raise funds for endowments (Nash, 2019). Nearly 11 million acres of the federally controlled lands granted to states through these Acts were Indigenous lands stolen through treaties and cessions. Many universities have benefitted from land grants without reconciliation with or acknowledgement of the tribes that were dispossessed of their land to build white supremacist institutions (Nash, 2019).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Authors,.


  • Dismantling White supremacy
  • Indigenous knowledge
  • Reconciliation
  • Social work history


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