Dawn McInnes

'I've invested 35 years of my life with a commitment to northern social work... and I feel it very, very deeply,' says Dawn McInnes of the proposed cuts. (submitted by Charlotte Babicki)

The Association of Social Workers in Northern Canada (ASWNC) says shutting down the social work program at Aurora College would have a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of people in the N.W.T.

It also says the decision will hurt the practice of social work in the North, something Dawn McInnes is struggling to accept.

"I'll be doing something pretty ordinary, and I'll break down in tears. It's a great loss."

In an emotional phone call with the CBC on Tuesday afternoon, McInnes, an ASWNC board member and a retired social worker herself, said the thought of the program being cut is hitting her hard.

"I've invested 35 years of my life, with a commitment to northern social work and northern social work education and I feel it very, very deeply. It really hurts."

The government of the Northwest Territories proposed cutting the two-year program in the budget released Feb. 1.

Education Minister Alfred Moses said the decision was made by the college's board of governors. The board also chose to cut the four-year bachelor of education program when the government asked it to identify efficiencies in its operations.

McInnes says the college needs to reconsider its decision.

"This program has done very well over the past 35 years to train culturally sensitive social workers and qualified social workers who work in their communities, many of them using the language of the community to support individuals, groups, families and communities as a whole."

Meeting with premier today

In a press release ASWNC says the curriculum incorporates Indigenous knowledge through guest speakers and cultural camps to ensure that northern social work students are aware of the history of colonization. It also says the program implements key calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the principals of the Indigenous Education Protocol for Colleges and Institutes, of which the college is a signatory.

"Closure of this program signals a significant step back by the college on their commitment to the implementation of these vital declarations."

McInnes says she's hopeful the decision to cut the social work program will be overturned, but she knows it will take work.

She says she's doing what she can, including meeting with premier Bob McLeod on Wednesday morning to ask him to stop the program cut.

"You [Premier McLeod] have the power, and the responsibility, to do this."