By Catherine Donnelly
Dawn Hill, BA/MSW '03, always considered social work to be her career, but her path to her license was a winding road. She is a member of the Mohawk Nation Turtle clan enrolled at Six Nations in Ohsweken, Ontario, which is her mother’s territory, but grew up at the Tuscarora Nation in Lewiston, where her father was based.
“My Aunt Elma Patterson, who received her MSW from UB in 1960 was a wonderful mentor to me and encouraged me to consider social work. However, while I started on that path at Keuka College right after high school, I dropped out in my third year to get married, much to my family’s chagrin,” Hill explained, “That marriage was short-lived and I returned home and found a job at the University of Buffalo.”
Hill worked in UB’s Biological Sciences department and the Center for Cognitive Science and started taking courses to earn a degree. “While at UB, I was not a traditional student. I had remarried and was raising four children. I took one class a semester for almost 15 years to complete my core coursework towards an undergraduate degree in Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Community Mental Health,” she continued. “I was encouraged to be involved and was a part of the Native American Student Association where I met many other First Nations graduate and undergraduate students. I was blessed to work in an academic setting that supported and facilitated my goals.”
She met Dr. Barbara Rittner when the Graduate School of Social Work moved up to the 6th floor of Baldy Hall. “She told me about the new BA/MSW program. I applied and was accepted and then resigned from my position to study full-time to complete my master's coursework. Professor Rittner was a huge support to me as I transitioned from part-time to full-time studies while adding internships at Fellowship House in Niagara Falls, EPIC and Lafayette High School as well.”
Hill graduated with her combined BA/MSW in 2003 after completing her MSW with a concentration in addiction and trauma. She specializes as a psychiatric social worker with the Six Nations Family Health Team. “The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging and my caseload has exploded. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would be doing therapy via telephone, Zoom or other virtual platforms. It is not easy but it is doable and it feels successful.”
In addition to working as a social worker, Hill is a published author. Her book “Memory Keeper” is a collection of stories that was recently published, that focused on the trauma of the Residential School System. In addition to the book itself, she developed a workbook companion to be used as a healing resource for her readers.
“I never expected to become an author. The stories I shared were written as a way to process the intergenerational trauma that filtered down as residual unresolved pain. It was a healing journey for me,” Hill shared. “One issue that is weighing on me is that over 7,000 unmarked graves have been found on the sites of non-operational residential schools in Canada. My parents were both forced to attend residential schools. I am worried about what will be found when the former site of the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ontario, is examined with ground-penetrating radar.”