G.S.S.W. Study Assists Wampanoag Tribe

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Graduate School of Social Work researchers recently concluded a study on how the social service needs of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head can be met in ways that respect tribal traditions.

The study will be instrumental in governing the Wampanoags' future arrangements with providers for the delivery of these services, GSSW and tribal representatives said at a meeting held April 30 in McGuinn Hall to mark the document's release. It also offers a useful model for social services professionals and educators on the importance of considering clients' cultural and ethnic backgrounds, they added.

Staff from GSSW met with Wampanoag officials on April 30 to discuss the study. Pictured from left are Deborah Medders, director of human services for the tribe; doctoral student and report author Suzanne Piening; Prof. Anthony Maluccio (GSSW); Wampanoag Chairwoman Beverly Wright; and GSSW Dean June G. Hopps. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)

"This is a continuation of our efforts to prepare professionals who can relate to a diverse client system," said GSSW Dean June G. Hopps. "Boston College has a nationally recognized reputation in cross-cultural practice, and the study is more evidence of our commitment to knowledge and practice that is sensitive to a variety of traditions, beliefs and customs."

"A project like this recognizes that there is sometimes a need for a different way in providing education, health and other types of services," said Beverly Wright, the tribe's chairperson. "Even within tribes, Native Americans differ from one another. That is something which must be taken into account in order to design and deliver social programs that will be successful."

Centered on Martha's Vineyard, the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal government has begun establishing operational agreements for necessary services in recent years. Having had prior contact with GSSW - Assoc. Prof. Eric Kingson undertook a study of aging issues among the Wampanoags in 1990 - the tribe decided to obtain the school's assistance in assessing their needs for social services programs.

"Looking at service approach and delivery in the usual way would not have been appropriate," said Deborah Medders, the tribe's director of human services. "We had to think about the dynamics of tribal life which make the Wampanoags unique and how the programs should reflect that."

Suzanne Piening, a GSSW doctoral student, performed the study under the direction of Prof. Anthony Maluccio. She reviewed various documents and materials, and met with tribal elders and members to gain an understanding of tribal history and social and legal practices, areas social service providers need to consider.

For example, Piening said, elderly Wampanoags prefer to gather at the tribal community center for senior lunch programs, rather than have food delivered to them via a "meals-on-wheels" system. Tribal members also rely on the center and other Wampanoags for medical treatment, instead of seeking help from other sources. The tribe places great value in the extended family, she noted, and for parents to leave a small child in the care of an elderly grandmother is considered caring and normal, not neglectful.

The Wampanoags are typified, Piening said, "by a history of mingling and sharing knowledge with settlers in a peaceful way; a democratic form of self-government that has been continuous since before the Europeans came; and a history of resourceful adaptation to continuous change forced by this contact, without losing their tribal identity."

Besides services agencies, Maluccio said, GSSW plans to share the report with other social work schools and programs.

"This was a case of a student learning about cross-cultural case management and then applying what she learned to a real-life situation," Maluccio said. "It's a great collaboration between education and practice."

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