Approaching Indigenous cultural safety with curiosity and humility

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“We call upon those who can effect change within the Canadian health-care system to recognize the value of Aboriginal healing practices and use them in the treatment of Aboriginal patients in collaboration with Aboriginal healers and Elders where requested by Aboriginal patients.” – Call to Action #22, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

When it comes to providing healthcare to Indigenous peoples, it is vital that physicians and other medical staff honour, respect and listen to their patients. That was one of the messages from the recent iCON Indigenous Zoom session that was organized in partnership with the VCH Aboriginal Health team, and supported in part by VPSA’s Engagement Accelerator. Over 300 people registered for the event.

Emergency physician Dr. Kendall Ho is the executive director of the interCultural Online Health Network (iCON), a program in UBC’s Department of Emergency Medicine, supported by the BC Ministry of Health Patients as Partners Initiative.

“The purpose of the session was to offer some perspectives on what Indigenous cultural safety looks like in healthcare,” he said. “We wanted to provide some clinical tips as well as ways for physicians to gain deeper insights into what cultural considerations are important. We need to recognize systemic racism and the ways it exists in our systems so we can eliminate it and authentically care for our patients.”

Leslie Bonshor is the executive director of Aboriginal Health at VCH. Her team has created a number of tools including a guide on Aboriginal cultural practices and a companion app for Android and iPhone.

“The Ministry of Health’s goal is for every single healthcare worker in BC to receive Indigenous cultural safety training,” said Bonshor. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done; it’s an ongoing journey and we may never reach its full destination. It’s up to all of us to come to this knowing we have things to learn.”

“Cultural safety is more than just individual acts and engagement,” added VCH RN Jessica Key, a citizen of the Musgamaugw Dzawada’enuxw First Nation. “An important issue is how to enact meaningful systemic and personal change. This is challenging and painful work. We’ve all grown up in an ideology shaped by colonialism and we’re all complicit in keeping these ideas alive. These are deeply rooted ideas that we must evaluate critically. Most of us don’t have the skills to do that alone.”

Squamish Nation Elder and knowledge keeper Xwechtaal Dennis Joseph also offered his perspectives. “My experience is that things have improved since VCH instituted cultural safety, but there’s still a long way to go,” he said.

The Indigenous Traditional Practice in Action: Insights, Tips, and Considerations session was recorded and is available on iCON’s website.

iCON’s mission is to support the optimal management of our community members with chronic diseases and attainment of wellness through various channels including online approaches. The next Indigenous health session will take place on September 22, 2020 at 12 noon PDT; registration details will be posted on the iCON website closer to the date.

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