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OU-Tulsa Center for Tribal Social Work Supports Indigenous Students in Serving Tribes

OU-Tulsa Center for Tribal Social Work Supports Indigenous Students in Serving Tribes

COVID masked women in tribal attire pose for a portrait

The Center for Tribal Social Work on the OU-Tulsa campus launched in 2018 with a goal to provide culturally aware child-welfare workers to Native American tribes.

The center also provides scholarships to Indigenous students and offers training in other social work areas. The graduates then, in many cases, return to their tribes to serve in a way that honors the distinct needs and considerations of Indigenous people.

“In many ways, [tribal] training is more complex than core training at the state,” said Cortney Bolt, a program manager with the center. “When you talk about sovereignty, that means each tribe is its own country with its own constitution and citizens all over the globe. Tribal social workers have to know both systems. They must be able to wear more hats than state workers.”

Bolt is a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation and a descendant of the Red Lake Ojibwe and Kickapoo Nations. She also leads the Academic Auntie program, one of the specific ways the center helps students as they navigate the university setting and as they set out on their career paths. The Academic Auntie program provides support to students who miss their tight-knit communities and matches them with a surrogate family member. Students meet regularly with their university “auntie” and ask questions from the meaning of “business casual” to tips for lowering stress during finals. Bolt has enthusiastically taken on this role, explaining that the program comes from a deeply engrained concept in many Indigenous cultures.

“An auntie is someone who has walked the path before,” Bolt said. “She knows the ropes and cares about you and is invested in your success. There is a relational aspect of being an auntie, just like in real life.”

The idea for the Center for Tribal Social Work originated by listening to the tribes.

“We believe tribes know best what works for tribes,” said Dallas Pettigrew, MSW, citizen of the Cherokee Nation and the driving force behind the center.

The center has taken the approach that training ought to be based on what tribes say they desire, using their language and cultural touchstones.

“The center brings more diversity and education about who Native American people are and why we are here,” said OU-Tulsa social work undergraduate student Brittani Candioto, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. “It gives us a better chance to provide opportunities for the tribes.”

Recently, Sooner Magazine, a publication of the OU Foundation, published a story on the Center for Tribal Social Work and the Academic Auntie program. Click here to visit their site and read more.

By Bonnie Rucker

Article Published:  Wednesday, March 24, 2021