Localization of Social Work Knowledge through Practitioner Adaptations in Northern Ontario and the Northwest Territories, Canada

  • John R. Graham
  • Keith Brownlee
  • Michael Shier
  • Esther Doucette
Keywords: social work practice, northern Canada, localization, social work knowledge


Social work is only just beginning to adapt knowledge and practice to the realities of a geographically diverse world. Within the social services, one of the most exciting diversity-related initiatives is a localization movement that calls for a social work knowledge base that is fundamentally different from one geographic milieu to the next. Few, if any, studies to date have considered the Canadian North (an area populated by diverse aboriginal cultural and linguistic groups) as a basis for localizing social work knowledge. This study reports on interviews conducted with social work practitioners in northern Ontario and the Northwest Territories to gain insight into how changes in the current social work knowledge base could be the locus for meaningful and contextually sensitive social work knowledge and intervention. This initial exploratory study presents a number of key findings that aid in developing an understanding of social work practice and knowledge specific to the Canadian North. These findings identify geographical areas where social work knowledge requires adaptation, changes in the personal and professional behaviour of practitioners, or modification of mainstream knowledge; use of appropriate and inappropriate social work theory and practice; specific challenges faced by agencies; ways agencies can modify programs to meet community needs; ways for clients to access service; and the relationships between practitioners and the surrounding communities. We conclude with implications for the Canadian North related to social work, allied disciplines, and social welfare structures.