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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cultural Competency – Part of creating a new space

Jeff Cyr, Executive Director, National Association of Friendship Centres

I was pleased to read in Empathy, dignity, and respect: Creating cultural safety for Aboriginal people in urban health care how far the dialogue on cultural competency has come.  There is no doubt that training health care personnel to become culturally competent is a priority, but re-focussing the discussion on understanding the legacy of colonization is a giant leap forward.  Together, creating a new space to critically assess the results of colonization, whether it is the health disparity and lack of cultural safety experienced by Aboriginal peoples or the systemic racism showcased by health care centres, ensures real on-the-ground changes are made.

Fostering the safety of urban Aboriginal peoples is the cornerstone of the work we do.  Realistically, it’s the majority of the work we do; in virtually every facet of urban Aboriginal life, safety and understanding of one’s culture is an afterthought.  An important example is the violence enacted against Aboriginal women in this country, where they are 3.5 times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to experience violence. Certainly, the over 600 missing and murdered Aboriginal women attests to the overrepresentation. In 2011/2012, the Friendship Centre Movement (inclusive of 8 Provincial/Territorial Associations, 117 Friendship Centres and one National office) offered 1,439 programs ranging from health (359 programs), youth (214 programs), family (164 programs), community (153 programs) and employment (122), to name a few.  Furthermore, 72% of the Friendship Centre Movement employees are women.

An important understanding was shared in the report, which states, people think that learning the facts about Aboriginal people is enough, but what’s really needed is a process of looking inside, self-reflection and unpacking their own attitudes, understanding, and actions about Aboriginal peoples. Meaningful, sustained change in beliefs and behaviours toward Aboriginal peoples will occur when one can challenge their own discomfort regarding the history of colonization, in what is now known as Canada.  Looking into the root causes of the vast disparities that exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people will create an appreciation of how best to rearticulate living together in a healthy way. This will ultimately change the racism, unfamiliarity and judgemental attitudes experienced not only in the health care setting but in society generally.

Programs like the Indigenous Cultural Competency Training Program are instrumental to enact meaningful change in our society.  Mandatory training in cultural competency for health care staff is a real solution to ending racism experienced by Aboriginal peoples accessing the health care system.  If cultural competency was mandatory for all post-secondary degrees, imagine the societal shift that would then occur.  With the great work shared as innovative practices, I am hopeful that one day community safety and health will be an everyday reality as opposed to the disparities currently experienced by our urban Aboriginal community members.

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