This article came from MFNERC’s magazine.
By Tamara Eaker Content Development
⟳ Last updated | Monday, July 3, 2023
Having First Nations school psychologists working with youth in the schools affiliated with the Resource Centre provides a deeper understanding of shared experiences and cultural differences. Modern psychology, built around a European perspective, often lacks room for First Nation’s cultural insights and has a narrow focus on diagnosing flaws and shortcomings. A Resource Centre in-house school psychologist, Patricia Petti, participated in a Master of Education in School and Applied Child Psychology program designed to address a shortage of First Nations school psychologists in Manitoba. This education opportunity was created in 2016 when the Resource Centre partnered with the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education to create a unique cohort for First Nations students. This graduate program centered on academic robustness and First Nations’ ways of knowing and practices, as Western educational systems have historically caused hurdles for First Nation students.
During her previous work as a social worker, Petti noticed gaps and misunderstandings between Westernized testing measures and First Nations perspectives. Preconceived biases often lead to overgeneralized and simplified assessments of students’ needs and behaviors, which do not accurately reflect fundamental aspects of their identity. For example, as a mother of three, two of whom are on the autism spectrum, Petti has seen the impact of individualized support on her children’s abilities. “My two youngest kids are on the autism spectrum, so they need much support. My middle child, up until two years ago, was non-verbal. The positive change in him was due to the support that acknowledged and met him on his level of ability, and that has helped his abilities. There is a lot of potential there, we just must work with the students’ individual needs and meet them in a way that creates positive results,” Petti says.
Valuable Research Study on Working with Indigenous Students
She points to a recent study she took part in, called, “A Qualitative Report of the Experiences of Indigenous School Psychology Trainees Working with Indigenous Students,” which discusses the hurdles First Nations clients often face when experiencing Western psychology methods and philosophies. Petti sees behaviors and reactions in her students that she can personally relate to due to the long-term effects of intergenerational trauma.
“There are so many gifts that are often forgotten or overlooked in these assessments. Most outsiders only see the exhibited behaviors and do not realize that they are representative of an unmet need,” Petti says. “You don’t want to reward bad behavior, so the opposite is usually implemented. However, when there are a lot of traumas, punishments do not cultivate the desired behaviors. Instead, they create only feelings of wrongness in the child. These students need praise, one-on-one attention, and a safe connection with an adult. When students feel good about themselves, they not only treat others better but then can do their best.”
One of the report’s significant findings is that there should be a provincial board of regulation for school psychologists. The Manitoba Association of School Psychologists (MASP) has been trying to acquire a regulatory body for 40 years. Regulation would mean appropriate oversight, review, standardized training, and cultural inclusivity to serve the diverse body of students.
Petti believes that all these changes can come about. School psychologists should use their training to create an inclusive learning environment that recognizes and values Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, benefiting individual students and the First Nations. She is also honored to work alongside educational staff on the ground, who are working towards creating a healthier change in the First Nations.