Janelle Minoza

Keeping Families Together: Janelle Minoza Practices Preventative Social Work in the North

“When we have people from our community come back with these degrees or diplomas or certificates even, we are going to make a change… We are role models and it's basically one step at a time to make a little difference,” shares Janelle Minoza. She is Dene and Metis and was born and raised in Fort Providence, Northwest Territories. She moved back with her son and her husband to do her fourth-year practicum placement as part of her Bachelor of Social Work program. Now she does family preservation work with the territorial government. 

Her education path has been an adventure, starting off with upgrading at Camosun College to get her grades up enough to proceed into post-secondary studies. After a year of hard work, she got into the Indigenous studies program, something she studied for a year before moving home to work for the summer. Later, she moved to the east Kootenays and achieved an Aboriginal Education Support Work diploma so she could spend two years working with students and their families in the school system. When her contract was up, she applied to a social work program at Vancouver Island University and also found out she was pregnant. After trying out the introductory courses, she applied to the professional profile into the BSW program option and was accepted.  

As an intergenerational survivor of the residential school system, Minoza has always been passionate about self-help. As a teen, she got into trouble and realized she had to heal herself before she could help others. Moving to BC got her on a healing path away from home where she could work with therapists and social workers. She felt called to do that work herself and feels privileged to do so in her home community with her own people. 

Since she’s started her new job, she took a leave of absence to finish her degree. Now that she’s back, she’s busy with the preventative social work associated with her role, running food and nutrition as well as budgeting classes. What she loves about the work she does is engaging families in traditional practices combined with Western practices to find ways to thrive as a family. Collaborating with community members, leaders and organizations as well as other programs, she’s trying to reduce the stigma and fear that can come from her job title of “social worker” so people understand what she’s there to do. 

When she was a student, she struggled with finding funding because she moved out of the territory and lost her educational entitlements as a resident. She was able to find a scholarship program for non-status Indigenous people which provided her funding for books, tuition, and living expenses at a higher rate than she would have otherwise received. Minoza also got the help of a tutor and student navigator to guide her through funding, family and personal issues to support continuing along an educational path. “I found that to be the most helpful and supportive part of my education,” she recalls.  

While she’s faced many obstacles along the way, Minoza has shared her story in hopes of inspiring other students to persevere. She did everything she could to complete her program. As a nursing mom, she had to take an English course to get into her program and the professor asked the other students on her behalf if the baby could join the class so she could meet her educational requirements and care for her three-month-old baby. As a student with a disability, she also had to advocate for herself to be accommodated in the classroom, something she initially worried about but became more comfortable with realizing advocacy is an important part of social work. 

Illustration by Shaikara David

Thinking of the scope of her work now, Minoza considers herself a micro social worker who deals with small things, but she’s inspired by Cindy Blackstock who created huge change for Indigenous children in Canada through Jordan’s Principle. She’s considering graduate studies in social work at some point down the road. 

If she could give her younger self advice it would be to build a strong support system and to take people up on offers of help to follow your dreams. As someone who struggled with writing and with asking for help, she was embarrassed of her English. As she got more help, her writing and English improved and she was able to upgrade, get a certificate, diploma and degree. “Take the help if it's offered to you,” Minoza urges. 

To balance her mental health and wellness, Minoza uses the medicine wheel and has engaged with elders in residence at the university, along with counsellors and therapists. Practicing self-care, finding a safe place to share what she was going through and getting advice was helpful for Minoza. Visualizing the medicine wheel she’s better able to see where she’s out of balance and assess what she needs. She suggests students look for resources in the city where they’re studying to find friendship centres and other places to connect. 

The other advice Minoza has is not to be afraid of scholarships even if they don’t feel like they are the strongest writers. “It's also your personal story that touches people,” she explains. With each passing year, your scholarship and bursary applications improve and it can make a big difference. “It will help you tremendously. Having that financial strain is part of the reason why many of us quit and having that extra money in your pocket is nice,” she continues. The applications can be hard and feel like bragging for humble people but she encourages students to reflect on sharing their journey and how far they have come. 

"There are many barriers out there but there's always support and ways of overcoming it."

When it comes to inspiration, Minoza looks to her older sister who completed a Bachelors of Education with a newborn baby. The achievements of other community members also inspired her. “There are many barriers out there but there's always support and ways of overcoming it. You just have to look a little harder and ask for help when you need it,” she advises. 

As someone who came back to her home community with a degree and a diploma, she’s there to create change as a role model. One step at a time, Janelle Minoza is making a little difference. She had to go away and heal herself before she could help anyone else and now she’s home to help her neighbours, family and friends.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
    Northwest Territories
  • Date
    April 18, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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