Follow your own path
nehiyaw iskwew. Social worker. Comic book hero.
The moment Amber Dion knew she needed to become an advocate was the day a once-beloved redhead betrayed her. At 12 years old, Amber came across a strip in which one of the Archie pals goes on a rant about “going native.”
“My best friend and I bought Archie comic books all the time,” she recalls. “It was heartbreaking because this was something I loved reading.”
As a young nehiyaw iskwew (Cree woman), she knew it wasn’t acceptable. She also knew she had to do something about it. “This is racist,” she told her family, showing them the comic.
“ As a young person, I don't think I ever sat there thinking I wanted to be a social worker, but ... I knew helping was in my blood.”
“They made me believe I could do something about it,” she says. Amber and her friend began a campaign—writing letters and speaking to the media. And despite receiving an apology from Archie Comics, the adolescent vowed never to buy another Archie digest again.
“I remember that feeling of knowing it wasn’t right, wanting to do something about it and having people telling me I could do something,” she says. “I was 12 years old and engaged in social justice at a much broader scale than I had ever imagined. It was in that moment that I realized that I could a make difference.”
She believes there is a path created for everyone, and her path is being an advocate and speaking up—“I’m just following it”—which has led her into social work.
“As I young person, I don’t think I ever sat there thinking I wanted to be a social worker, but I knew I wanted to help,” says Amber. “I knew helping was in my blood.”
In nehiyawewin (the Cree language), there is no word for “social work.” When Amber was working on her master’s degree, an elder explained what the role of a social worker translates to in her language. “He said it translates to ‘good relationships worker.’ That’s the closest we have.”
Amber says the women in her life taught her what social work is and her family—her mom and dad, aunts and her grandmother—showed her what it meant to create good relationships.
“My grandmother greeted people with respect and integrity, regardless of their behaviours—she was a phenomenal human being who taught me everything I needed to know about being a ‘good relationships worker,’” says Amber. “So I think I’ve been built for this. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Amber Dion is an assistant professor in the Bachelor of Social Work program. Learn more at MacEwan.ca/BSW.