- Strong Helpers' Teachings: The Value of Indigenous Knowledges in the Helping Professions by Cyndy Baskin
As the discipline of Aboriginal studies continues to grow, an increased degree of specialization becomes evident. This book, although somewhat mistitled, is one such volume, and significantly adds useful insights to this field of study. Although the author purports to discuss helping professions per se, almost all of the chapters in [End Page 285] the book specifically address the practice of social work. There are virtually no references to counseling, nursing, or pastoral ministry, all of which appear to be in the business of helping people.
Baskin's tack in pointing out the value of First Nations "knowledges" (as though to imply that there are several different kinds in existence) is intriguing, to say the least. I suggest this because the 14 chapter titles seem to illuminate two distinct paths—purely academic and quite practical. Examples of academically inclined chapters include chapter three (Current Theories and Models of Social Work as Seen Through an Indigenous Lens), chapter four (Centering All Helping Approaches), chapter eleven (Pedagogy), and chapter twelve (Research). Chapters featuring a more practical bent include chapter two (The Self is Always First in the Circle), chapter seven (The Answers Are in the Community), chapter eight (Spirituality), chapter nine (Healing Justice), and chapter fourteen (The End of the World as We Know It).
Baskin does an excellent job of inserting and interpreting a number of fundamental precepts of Aboriginal philosophy including the importance of the circle, value of elder input (the word "Elder" is capitalized for some reason), importance of the extended family, Indigenous ties to the land, the role of storytelling, and, of course, spirituality as the foundation of life. I am quite convinced that no one will grasp the intended purpose of Baskin's discourse without appreciating the underlying importance of these values.
As an educator I was naturally drawn to chapter eleven on pedagogy, hoping to derive new insights for practice. Having worked in Indigenous communities for nearly a half century, I found myself on familiar ground. Baskin appropriately references the value of storytelling, particularly since Native legends are often used by elders to encourage hearers to form their own conclusions. Baskin's definition of learning steps—watching, learning, and doing are reminiscent of what I learned in Blackfoot country—are the four steps used to inculcating a concept or practice: listening, watching, participating, and teaching. Baskin also makes a very important distinction between current educational practices that are targeted at "the best interests of the child" and the Aboriginal approach which emphasizes the importance of community values (179). This is First Nations thinking at its best.
Strong Helpers' Teachers has several positive features. It is well written, has an attractive cover, and adopts the unusual approach of listing chapter titles on the back cover. Baskin very ably differentiates between spirituality and religion, suggesting that religion can be a part of spirituality, but the latter is a much broader concept. These terms are not interchangeable because religion comprises formalized practice while spirituality can encompass that as well as a variety of individual relationships with the natural and metaphysical worlds. Spirituality is never stagnant, religion can be (135). Well said! [End Page 286]
Readers will appreciate the fact that references are listed at the end of each chapter instead of at the back of the book as has come to be customary. However, the book lacks an index, something that most readers take for granted.
There are several puzzling features about the book, one of which is Baskin's use of both "White" and "non-Indigenous" to identify writers who do not claim Aboriginal ancestry. In fact, every researcher quoted in the book is identified by heritage—Indigenous, non-Indigenous, or White. This is somewhat surprising since Baskin herself claims to have dual heritage—Mi'kmaq and Celtic, and sees her role as a link between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people (26). The dualism of her identity seems to disappear, however, since...