Social Work Month Highlight: Meet Jasmine Grika, MSW

Headshot of Jasmine Grika
Jasmine Grika

My name is Jasmine Grika and I am a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Tribally Affiliated with Red Lake Nation. My culture and identity are the foundation to my purpose in life and help drive me when it comes to both my personal and professional paths. Currently I work for Alia, an organization that focuses on National Child Welfare reform with the belief that families are the solution, keeping children with their families, not from them. Like many of you, there is a story behind what inspired me to become a social worker in the field of child welfare. Mine is my personal childhood story of being involved with child protection and understanding later in life that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is what saved me from a pathway of trauma and grief, to a pathway of healing. The reason it was the ICWA is because of the focus on family and cultural preservation. The details of that story are for another time, but because of the ICWA, I was placed with a loving family who understood the importance of culture and helped me understand where I come from. My mom is Ojibwe and was able to immerse me in cultural traditions and practices to help me find myself. I was able to claim an identity, and with so much pride—my culture continues to be my form of healing. After better understanding the importance of the Indian Child Welfare Act, culture, and family, I wanted to advocate and bring more awareness around the importance of this federal law that often times goes unnoticed, is misunderstood and misinterpreted. It was then that I started my educational social work journey in the field of Indian child welfare at Augsburg University, where I received my Bachelor of Science in Social Work, and from there went to Washington University in St. Louis for my Master of Social Work. It has been a little over four years since I graduated with my MSW, and I am continuing to grow, evolve and learn in this journey.

The biggest leap I took was stepping outside of the world I felt the most belonging and connection to—Indian Child Welfare and then stepping outside of that by joining Alia, which is not specific to Indian Child Welfare. The interesting thing is I still hold the same purpose in this space. My purpose is to honor my ancestors through change by being part of the solution that will help strengthen the future by helping change the narrative from a pathway of grief, pain and disparities to a pathway of healing, and thriving. And bringing awareness to the disparities seen among Native families and communities and continuing to voice systemic racism and policies that continue to have detrimental impacts on Indigenous families until they are heard and addressed. This is what excites me the most about social work. The endless opportunities to create change and the power the people hold to help with that change is inspiring. When we all work together, toward the same vision, we can have so much influence when it comes to strengthening and improving outcomes.

This pandemic has highlighted not only the opportunities for change, but the necessity for it. This pandemic has illustrated what is possible, a year ago many of us never would have thought we could have virtual/offsite court hearings or have everyone working at home away from their cubicles and offices. It has also highlighted the importance and necessity of love and connection to our people and our communities. In my opinion, it has given us the experience of what it feels like to be cut off and disconnected from the people we care about and the community resources we feel connected to, which is what so many of our children and families feel in their experiences with the child protection system. This pandemic has enhanced empathy, kindness, grace, and compassion for ourselves and others.

Jasmine Grika and dogMany of us are living in survival mode, making it easy for us to forget to take care of ourselves. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for each of you to take care of yourselves. If there is no you, who will take care of all the people you are responsible for? By taking care of yourself, you are taking care of everything else. Have self-compassion and give yourself permission to have 5, 10, 60 minutes to yourself each day to take care of your health, however this may look like for you. For me it’s a long walk with my dog, or a quick 30-minute run to discharge and recharge. Sometimes it is as simple as a breathing technique or listening to my favorite song and dancing to it. Be intentional about taking care of yourself and give yourself the permission to put yourself first. This pandemic has pushed us beyond our capacity in all domains (mental, emotional, physical) and illustrated that we need you, and we need each other.

Another thing this pandemic has taught me is how much grief and pain people were and are holding. After the George Floyd murder, it was very apparent the silent suffering people are enduring because once you reach your limit, and cannot hold anymore in, you respond, and that’s what happened. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color were tired of being silent and suffering from the racism and social injustices being experienced, and nothing being done about it and responded by speaking their voice. When people are experiencing pain, grief, rage and all of the negative emotions, it comes down to trauma, which Black, Indigenous and People of Color actively experience every single day living in this country. When you are actively experiencing trauma, how can you heal? And if you cannot heal, how do you respond other than with a pain-based response? It is time to show up, listen, and build new ways to all the government systems that were built to oppress BIPOC and build up white people. We have to stop making decisions for people and start making decisions with them.

The communities and people of those communities know what works for them; honor their stories and voices by empowering them to be a part of the decision-making processes that will have a direct impact on them and their community. I am a firm believer that the only way forward is building ways with the people who will be impacted by the policies wanting to be implemented. As helping professionals, we must understand how we play a role in all aspects. This means we must understand how we may be enabling and upholding white supremacy and the more awareness we build around that, the closer we get to changing our behavior and creating the necessary ripple of change for impact. Small steps lead to big things, and together we can influence the necessary change for the betterment of humanity; and that is what helps me hold onto hope. Take care of yourselves and spread kindness.

Thank you, Jasmine, for all your contributions to the social work profession and for allowing UW- Madison Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work to highlight you!