NOTE: The following is a feature story on the province’s first Mi’kmaw child welfare specialist.
Natalie Doucette is often on the road offering support to families in transition as the province’s first Mi’kmaw child welfare specialist.
“I bring a different perspective that is grounded in our culture. I believe this will open the doors overall for better communication and understanding.”
Natalie’s priority is to connect with First Nations communities across Nova Scotia as she gets underway in this newly created position.
“This unique role will provide me with the opportunity to explore and develop culturally relevant practices in the delivery of Mi’kmaq child welfare.”
At times this will involve a regular commute between offices in Sydney and Eskasoni. And other days, she will be reaching out to 13 First Nation communities as far afield as Pictou Landing, Millbrook, Bear River and Acadia.
Natalie will be working closely with Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services. This close relationship is based on the experience she gained by working with the agency for 24 years.
“To be honest, when I was thinking about taking this new position I got a lot of encouragement – so much that you could almost call it peer pressure,” she laughs.
As she embraces this responsibility, her attitude is committed and realistic. Her approach weaves together lessons from her personal life, wisdom from her community, and knowledge from her practice and studies.
Natalie spent her childhood in Potlotek First Nation, also known as Chapel Island, on the Bras D’or Lake in Cape Breton. Her parents encouraged education and community service in all their children. Thanks to their influence, the family is involved with children and youth, recreation, education, nursing, counselling and social work.
“You could say this was in my blood from a young age. With my father being the chief, we always had people come to our family home who were on the forefront of the social and economic issues facing our Mi’kmaw communities,” she says. “This provided me with a good sense of the issues affecting our communities which directed my desire to become a Mi’kmaw social worker.”
She continues to be inspired by her late father Chief Noel Doucette who helped found Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services.
Natalie took her mother’s belief in education to heart by first earning a degree in community studies and sociology from the University College of Cape Breton and then following up with another degree in social work from Dalhousie University.
In the community, it’s well known that you can call on ‘Curly’ to roll up her sleeves and get things done. The Chapel Island Community Club keeps her busy volunteering and organizing a wide variety of gatherings. She’s happiest in the middle of community events involving extended family, new and old friends, and other volunteers.
Recently, she was busy with Wi’kapaltimk Aqtapuk, a feast marking the start and end of the ceremonial year.
“I was right there in the kitchen, getting ready to feed people.”
And after all the preparations are done, her favorite time comes. She loves to serve the food and chat with everyone passing by.
No matter the time of the year, she will be leading volunteers in her community to come together during crises and celebrations alike.
“I’m dedicated and this work is very dear to me,” she says.