Social services in rural Alaska: an ethnography of service provision in a Yupʾik Eskimo community
Burke, Tracey Kathleen
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This dissertation is an ethnography of the lived experience of contemporary social work in a Yup'ik (Eskimo) village. Despite efforts to increase "cultural competence," there has been little systematic investigation of the everyday meaning of formal social work/social services in the lives of rural Alaska Natives. This research addresses that gap by examining current service systems and local, culturally-informed perceptions of need and appropriate responses.I conducted fieldwork in one Bering Sea village. I used participant-observation and multiple conducted ethnographic interviews with various community members, especially the local social service providers and others involved with specific cases. Data consist of fieldnotes, interview transcriptions, and pre-existing documents. I adapted grounded theory and discourse analysis techniques for analysis. I returned to the village to conduct follow-up interviews and to present the initial findings to key informants, and I presented the elaborated findings to the tribal Human Research committee.I developed a schema of how the community thinks about "social problems" and responses to them, with an emphasis on the roles of formal professional (typically Anglo) and paraprofessional (typically Yup'ik) service providers. I used a composite case study to elaborate the schema and discuss issues of fit between the service systems and local culture; in particular, how responses internal to the village and interventions that require leaving the village are activated and utilized.Though a white woman reluctant to make declarative statements about what "should" happen with social services practice or organizational policy, I suggest issues worth focused discussion by community members, tribal agency staff, and social work professionals.