June 21 marks the annual National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada. On this day, and throughout the month of June, BC’s health professionals are asked to take some time to both celebrate and reflect on the culture, heritage, and contributions of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities.
While we typically reserve this day for community celebration and awareness events, we recognize the ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, we encourage BC’s health professionals to take some time to explore resources such as the #IndigenousReads reading list, to learn more about the heritage of the Indigenous populations you serve.
As health professionals, it is vital that we continue to reflect on our relationship with Indigenous Peoples in our communities. Social and generational issues faced by Indigenous Peoples in Canada continue to present major problems in many contemporary healthcare settings, and can often result in alienation, inappropriate treatment, and barriers to access.
“First Nations health and wellness was disrupted through a process of colonization and oppression including tactics and policy initiatives such as the Indian Residential School system, the Indian Act and Indian Hospitals.
These institutions created a legacy of trauma and health and social inequities. First Nations self-determination was undermined, and decisions about health and wellness were made for them, not with them. As a result, First Nations continue to bear a disproportionate burden of disease or health disparities.”
As stewards of public health and safety in Canada, we have a responsibility to acknowledge and understand how both systemic racism and discrimination toward Indigenous Peoples continue to have an adverse affect on the health and wellness of these communities.
Cultural safety and humility are vital for the provision of fair and equal health services, as well as the creation of a healthcare environment free of racism and discrimination, where individuals feel safe and respected.
Cultural safety is an outcome based on respectful engagement that recognizes and strives to address power imbalances inherent in the healthcare system. It results in an environment free of racism and discrimination, where people feel safe when receiving health care.
Cultural humility is a life-long process of reflection to understand individual and systemic biases and to develop and maintain respectful processes and relationships based on mutual trust. Cultural humility involves humbly acknowledging oneself as a life-long learner when it comes to understanding another’s experience.
On March 1, 2017, registrars of all BC health regulatory colleges pledged their commitment to making our health system more culturally safe for First Nations and Aboriginal People, by signing the “Declaration of Commitment – Cultural Safety and Humility in the Regulation of Health Professionals Serving First Nations and Aboriginal People in British Columbia”.
Signing this declaration commits BC’s health regulators to a Cultural Safety and Humility initiative, which regulators will report on through annual reports, outlining strategic activities and accountability measures that demonstrate how they are meeting their commitments to cultural safety.
The declaration creates an expectation for change among all health professionals so that Indigenous Peoples receive culturally safe and effective care. While some work is underway to improve cultural safety and humility, much more needs to be done.
As we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day, health professionals need to listen to, and reflect on the experiences of Indigenous Peoples and the legacy of racism that continues to this day.
Explore the following resources to help make our health system more culturally safe: