Canadian child welfare systems can be neatly mapped onto individualistic conceptions of selfhood. This individualistic stance is ingrained in child welfare’s framing of child maltreatment, language, and interventions as connected to parents’ unwillingness or inability to make proper and responsible choices. What follows is a series of adversarial and punitive attitudes and practices that normalize defamilialization and emancipation of children and youth from their families, without taking into account circumstances that precipitate the involvement of child welfare systems in families’ lives and the narrow and/or non-existent avenues for self and social improvement available to them prior to involvement. Based on a previously articulated critique of selfhood, this dissertation reaffirms the need for ontological reformulation concerning the nature of selves, offering the communal self as an alternative. This communally constituted, relational, and historical and socio-culturally situated concept of self, acknowledges the interplay of agency and context from a critical lens. It aligns with Indigenous notions of self-in-relation and Indigenist scholarship and advocacy that for decades have urged child welfare stakeholders for more broadly defined notions of selfhood and family. The communal self also grants a space wherein non-Indigenous child welfare stakeholders can ethically position themselves and engage in ally-ship without disingenuously trying to occupy Indigenous perspectives. Through an exploratory qualitative study of the experiences of families and mentors involved with an Indigenous, community-led and based Family Group Conferencing child welfare program in Winnipeg, Manitoba (MB), this dissertation goes beyond theorical considerations, providing a concrete example of the promise of child welfare interventions offered from a communal perspective of selfhood. Mentors, parents, and community members voices’ enliven the Tupi term that precedes the title of this dissertation, apoema, or “the one who sees far”, compelling us to see beyond the immediacy of what surrounds us, to conceive of ways to recast a more harmonious future, not only for Indigenous but for all peoples.
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Thesis advisor: Le Mare, Lucy
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