Claudia Welala Long
(full name including Indian name given from great great grandmother, Welala)
WHY WE DANCE…
to dance is to pray;
to pray is to heal;
to heal is to give;
to give is to live;
to live is to dance.
~ marijo moore
I completed the Indian School of Social Work program: BSW (1979); MSW (1982) with honors. After 10 years as a social work administrator of tribal Indian child & family services with a number of reservations and for several urban Indian programs (including Oregon’s children’s services division), I completed the Social Work doctoral program with honors as one of the first three graduates of the program. (PhD 1997) My research and teaching focus has been about honoring diversity and ‘Indigenizing’ measures, practice and teaching methods with several universities and colleges (including New Mexico Highlands University, PSU SSW, Pacific University SSW, UO Ethnic Studies) and most recently with PSU Indigenous Nations Studies (INS). It has been an honor to come full circle and return to PSU, my alma mater, to teach.
Indigenous approaches to teaching, writing and research have been validated as part of INS faculty team and passing the torch onto the next generation of Native students, future social workers, social researchers, teachers and educators. Unquestionably, my legacy may be students remarks about doing ‘smoke signals’ and ‘talking circles’ and ‘smelling the sage’ as they enter the class room ~ each an Indigenous learning method. My passion for honoring diversity and academic excellence couched in reminders that speaking from the heart and experiential learning are valid Indigenous ways of knowing and complement traditional linear approaches.
What motivated you to become a social worker?
In the mid-70s, the motivation to go to school to become a social (change)* worker was the realization that I needed more than a high school education. I had worked with my mentor, Sister Francella Griggs (Grand Ronde) at PCC/Urban Indian Council collaborative partnership as a non-degreed Educational Coordinator to enhance education possibilities with the urban Indian community. Coincidentally, I was admitted into the last cohort of the highly successful Indian School of Social Work, PSU/PCC, a NIMH-funded program and became an alumni with 40 Native social (change) workers that learned to metaphorically ‘dance’ in two worlds: a) among urban Indian and non-Indian communities including the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington, DC, and, b) with Native reservation communities ~ sovereign nations of the Spokane, Kalispel, Dine, Dakota, Nakota, Lakota peoples, among others.
Being a single mother of two future social workers and challenged by the era of social and cultural change, each inspired me to envision a career dedicated toward addressing the culturally-specific needs of American Indian women and children associated with ending violence and substance abuse. In the spirit of recognizing motivation for becoming a social (change) worker, special recognition of Native mentors include the UISHE alumni, Nimiipuu Elder Violet Allman, Terry Cross, Drs. John Spence & Robert Ryan for developing ways to successfully navigate the world of academia and the practice of social justice “to, for and by AI/AN communities.”
*social change worker= key word coined by Dr. Jerry Frey
What was the most important thing you learned at the School of Social Work?
The most important thing learned at SSW was how to survive in academia without many cultural resources AND building-in cultural approaches and methods. Lessons learned were about honoring diversity, building collaboration and sustaining support for future consumers AND for myself, with a focus on Indigenous approaches to dancing in both worlds and help to meet a number of challenges successfully. Therefore, by building a support network of family, community, students (UISHE) and faculty provided me a sense of validation, connection and cultural/spiritual context.
In the 1970s, UISHE (United Students of Higher Education) was a relatively new infrastructure but was critical to my success and continues to nurture generations of Native students to navigate academia and yet, may be one of the most under-recognized support system for Native students ~ Que ci’yeye Native Brothers and Sisters of UISHE ~ past, present and future. Memories of social-cultural, academic, and spiritual solidarity helped me not only survive, but thrive. Activities included the annual Salmon Bake, seasonal Pow Wows, and enhanced re-representation of ‘Indian culture’ in the student community and even, though our office space was ‘relocated’ (pun intended) more often than not, we persevered, and with an underlying group vision of a building that would be the heart circle for the urban Indian community, on campus. It was monumental to come home to PSU and see NASCC was a reality for the student community as well as strengthened by the urban and tribal communities. Lastly, by building-in Indigenous cultural approaches and methods (Paulo Freire, 1970) into my learning at SSW has had a lasting impact and validated the strength of Indigenous ways of knowing and collaborative/experiential approaches to teaching, learning and research and continues to inspire my work. And, thank you Dr. Jerry Frey for coining the updated term (social ‘change’ worker) that makes more sense in my perception of the social work role.