Dr. Peter Menzies has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to social work practice and has made significant contributions to the profession through his forty years of service to individuals, children and families, especially those residing in Aboriginal communities.
Peter’s personal journey is one of overcoming barriers and working diligently to pursue his passion for helping others. Despite the fact that he spent nearly ten years in an orphanage and his adolescence in the child welfare system, Peter learned at an early age that individuals can be positive instruments of change. As a teen, he found himself challenged to complete his secondary school’s academic curriculum and only with the support of dedicated teachers was he able to attain his high school diploma. After graduating from the University of Manitoba in 1977 with an undergraduate degree in social work, Peter sought out opportunities to leverage his own life experience to advance the needs of others. He worked for more than two decades in the fields of income maintenance and child welfare, gaining a deeper understanding of the root causes for the disproportionate representation of Aboriginal peoples in Ontario's social service systems. While working at Native Child and Family Services in Toronto in the 1990s, Peter completed his graduate degree in Social Work at Laurentian University. His Masters thesis explored how the cultural identity of Aboriginal children can be supported through culturally congruent customary care homes. His 2005 post graduate research into homelessness among Aboriginal men isolated key factors related to intergenerational trauma to explain pathways into homelessness for this sub-population. Peter used this information during his tenure as the first Clinical Head and Director of Aboriginal Services at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health from 2000-2013 to build a mental health and addiction service that was culturally- grounded and traditionally-based.
Peter’s contributions to academia are reflected in the dozens of publications including journal articles, books and peer reviewed literature. His writings on child welfare, homelessness and intergenerational trauma have contributed to our profession's understanding of the root causes for the current social conditions experienced by Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. Further, Peter has woven his personal life experience, his academic writings and his clinical expertise into stories that have inspired a new generation of social work practitioners during his teaching assignments at the University of Toronto, Ryerson University and Laurentian University.
Perhaps his most important contribution and the work that brings him the greatest personal satisfaction has been finding his ancestral home of Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation and supporting individuals and families within that community. Since 2014, Peter has been travelling regularly to northern Ontario to provide counselling, clinical assessments for at-risk children and youth, as well as leading capacity building workshops for Aboriginal social workers employed in First Nations communities along Ontario's north shore. Working together with Elders and traditional healers, Peter has come full circle, finding renewed purpose for his considerable clinical skills, while inspiring community members along their healing journey.
For his contributions to the field he has been recognized by the Kaiser Foundation for Excellence in Aboriginal Programming as well as the Centre for Equity and Health in Society with the Entrepreneurial Development and Integration of Services Award. He is a widely sought after speaker at conferences, workshops and training related to Aboriginal issues including intergenerational trauma, child welfare, addictions and mental health. In 2017, he was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers’ annual conference where he offered his personal reflections on the evolution of social work practice with Aboriginal communities over the past forty years.
Over the past four decades Peter has made significant contributions to our profession. His clinical practice, teachings and publications have helped to shape the way social workers understand their roles and responsibilities in working with Aboriginal peoples. His tenacious advocacy for building better services and systems is an enduring characteristic of his life’s work. He continues to demonstrate the best of our profession through his on-going work with First Nations individuals and social work professionals who join him in seeking better outcomes for Ontario’s Aboriginal communities.