A student member of the NASW California Chapter is doing her part to promote inclusion of Native Americans into the field of social work and to the association.
Merris Obie is a BSW student at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., and serves as the student director, north representative, for the chapter’s board of directors.
Obie is a member of the Yurok Tribe and a descendant of the Karuk Tribe, and was born and raised on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in Northern California.
When Obie began her role with the chapter board, she said she noticed the lack of Native Americans in social work and decided to do something about it. So she asked the chapter to consider starting a Native American scholarship program.
“I was one of the first Native Americans to participate and represent in almost 20 years on the NASW California board,” Obie said. “I saw this as a challenge and opportunity to change this lack of participation by recruiting Native American social work students to become NASW members.”
The chapter created a subcommittee to hammer out the details, and the board recently approved the scholarship program. It will provide up to 20 $1,000 scholarships to Native American undergraduate or graduate social work students in California.
Shelly Kalmer is the Region A director for the California Chapter. She said she was honored to lead the subcommittee for the scholarship.
“Indigenous peoples are overrepresented in our criminal justice system, juvenile justice system and welfare system, while being underrepresented in the profession of social work either as direct practitioners or policymakers,” Kalmer said. “This is an important activity for me to be involved with because I believe it is one way to recruit and support future Native American social workers and future members of the NASW. I believe our association is made stronger by a more diverse membership.”
For Obie, the scholarship is an opportunity to address serious problems.
“According to national statistics, it is estimated that nearly 1 million youth are in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems today,” she said. “This is a systematic problem that will continue to have an adverse impact on our future Native American leaders and tribal communities.
“I am going to be a part of the solution to this epidemic by bridging the gap between NASW and Native American social workers and tribal communities,” Obie said. “The NASW California Chapter seems to be a good place to rally support for statewide tribal issues.”
The chapter will encourage applicants by reaching out to the heads of university social work departments and social work student associations, and through outreach to tribes. More information: NASWCa.org
In a related note, the NASW Foundation in Washington, D.C., continues to host the Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial MSW Scholarships.
The scholarships are awarded to master’s degree candidates in social work who have demonstrated a commitment to working with, or who have a special affinity with, American Indian/Alaska Native and Hispanic/Latino populations.
Candidates who have demonstrated a commitment to working with public or voluntary nonprofit agencies or with local grassroots groups in the United States are also eligible.
The scholarship was established through a bequest of the late Consuelo Gosnell, a social work practitioner who championed civil and human rights and worked diligently to ameliorate conditions for critically underserved Native Americans and Latinos in the Southwest.