Indigenous History Month

Winds of Change Blowing Strong: Advancing Indigenous Cultural Competency

Canadians are increasing cultural Indigenous competency by sharing and learning in schools, universities, workplaces, and industry sectors. There is recognition that a better understanding of Indigenous cultures will enhance the work done to improve education efforts, social and health equity, employment opportunities, entrepreneurship, and workplace inclusion and belonging. But how can Canadian citizens in all walks of life collaborate and move ahead with the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis unless they respect and understand unique life experiences, perspectives, and needs? How can that knowledge be put into action? Cultural competency is the ability to understand, interact with, and appreciate cultures and belief systems different from one’s own.

Culture includes communication, thoughts, values, beliefs, actions and the institutions of specific groups. Cultural intelligence refers to learning about different cultures and knowing how to interpret unfamiliar behavior. Cultural competence, however, goes beyond just learning about and interpreting cultures. It embraces cultural intelligence and takes it to the next level, to the next level of developing the skills to communicate and work effectively with people in different cultures.

The reconciliation efforts across Canada can only succeed if cultural competence is developed across the country, because action is required, and not just words. In the healthcare system for example, understanding the unique needs of Indigenous people is not the same as developing new programs and approaches to ensure needs are met in a culturally competent way. Knowing how to communicate with different cultures in the workplace is not the same as successfully interacting with people from different cultures. In the following sections, we present some ways Indigenous cultural competency is being advanced through education, workplace initiatives, and health and social systems, demonstrating the power of true reconciliation to bring lasting change.

Education Creates the Foundation

Various Canadian educational organizations offer workshops, courses, and resources to educate faculty, staff, and students about Indigenous cultures, histories, and contemporary issues. These trainings often focus on fostering cultural awareness, understanding colonial legacies, and promoting Indigenous perspectives in curriculum development and teaching practices.

Education programs are taking place in different settings. The membership-based charitable Native Canadian Centre of Toronto offers Indigenous Cultural Competency Training, to better understand the unique relationship between Indigenous people and Canada. The training promotes change in both people and society, and it also establishes healthy relationships. Any topic can be covered, including historical events from Indigenous perspectives and socioeconomic conditions impacting First Nations, Inuit, and Métis.

The University of Toronto’s (U of T) Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering is committed to improving Indigenous inclusion. They developed the Indigenous Cultural Competency Toolkit in 2021 for engineering faculty, staff, and students. The toolkit includes workshops, self-educational tools and events developed in consultation with U of T’s Indigenous Initiatives Office and Indigenous-identifying community members and aligned with The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action and recommendations, among other resources. The modules supported reflection by both Indigenous people and non-Indigenous. For example, Module 1 started with a walking tour led by Indigenous guides and featured stories of Indigenous Knowledges, colonialism, and more. The other half of the module explores what it means to be an ally to Indigenous people.

Numerous schools and school boards across Canada have implemented initiatives to integrate Indigenous content into their curricula, establishing partnerships with local Indigenous communities, and support Indigenous student success. These efforts aim to address the historical marginalization of Indigenous peoples within the education system and also promote reconciliation through education.

Alberta Education is in the process of reviewing the K-12 curriculum to develop a new curriculum that teaches about the diverse Indigenous peoples and their contributions to Alberta and Canadian society. There are specific courses available that school authorities can offer, such as Aboriginal Studies, Cree Language and Culture Programming. Alberta Education has established professional practice standards to ensure teachers, principals, and superintendents have Indigenous cultural intelligence and competency. To increase educational outcomes for Indigenous students, Alberta’s government has invested $10.5 million for three years in the Bridging Classrooms to Communities Grant pilot program. More initiatives and programs are in action to support the spirit of reconciliation.

Developing an Informed Healthcare System for Knowledgeable Services Delivery

Many healthcare organizations provide cultural safety training for healthcare professionals to enhance their understanding of Indigenous health disparities, address systemic biases, and improve service delivery to Indigenous patients and communities. Various resources, such as toolkits, guidelines, and online courses, are available to support healthcare providers in delivering culturally competent care to Indigenous patients. These resources are designed to combine knowledge with action, and often emphasize the importance of building trust, respecting cultural protocols, and incorporating Indigenous healing practices into healthcare services.

Here is an example. The Government of Canada offers online anti-Indigenous racism resources for health professionals. There are tips on providing a culturally safe healthcare environment for Métis, a webinar that explores how Indigenous people in Canada experience racism when accessing healthcare and how racism is a barrier to achieving optimal health, a video in which Indigenous people share their experiences in the healthcare system, and much more.

Indigenous-led health partnerships are innovative healthcare models based on collaboration between Indigenous people with traditional Indigenous knowledge and healthcare professionals in the traditional healthcare system. Turtle Lodge is an example. Elder Dr. David Courchene, Turtle Lodge Central House of Knowledge, Sagkeeng First Nation, explains, “Turtle Lodge has built a network of partnerships with health care providers, administrators, Elders, healers, Knowledge Keepers, political leaders, youth, community members and international visitors. Turtle Lodge hosts frequent events (e.g., round tables, ceremonies, conferences and gatherings) to address health issues in a traditional way as an autonomous, sustainable Centre of Excellence.”

The Health Standards Organization(HSO) and its partner Accreditation Canada (AC) strive to co-design resources with Indigenous partners, to address systemic racism so culturally safe healthcare services can be delivered. The HSO is doing things such as updating assessment instruments, recruiting more Indigenous patient surveyors, and advocating for integrating cultural competency in entry-to-practice health professional education, to name just a few.

All sectors of healthcare are working towards developing cultural competency. The Multicultural Mental Health Resource Centre offers a variety of training resources on cultural competence and cultural safety. The digital publication Pharmacy published six resources to support Indigenous cultural competency. They include links to resources and webinars from the First Nations Health Authority supporting cultural safety and humility among healthcare professionals. One link takes readers to the enrollment page for 13 self-paced learning courses focused on helping healthcare professionals develop culturally appropriate, person-centered care.

Action in the Workplace

Canadian businesses are also involved in reconciliation. Canadian corporations and organizations have developed Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) to guide their efforts in advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. These plans often include commitments to Indigenous employment and procurement, cultural competency training for staff, and partnerships with Indigenous communities. The KPMG in Canada Truth & Reconciliation Action Plan demonstrates what such a plan entails. The RAP sets measurable goals, objectives, and actions for three pillars: Advancing an equitable and inclusive culture, building allyship, and being a trusted and active contributor to Indigenous development and empowerment.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) developed a reconciliation toolkit for business leaders uncertain about how to help advance reconciliation. It covers four reconciliation areas: reflection and learning, leading transformation, inclusive workplaces, and outreach and engagement.

Companies have implemented initiatives to increase Indigenous representation in their workforce through targeted recruitment, mentorship programs, and leadership development opportunities. By prioritizing Indigenous hiring and retention, these organizations contribute to economic reconciliation and promote Indigenous inclusion in the workforce. For example, RBC aims “to be the employer of choice for Indigenous people.” The company designed the RBC Indigenous Peoples Development Program, the National Indigenous Student Internship Program, and a scholarship program for Indigenous youth pursuing post-secondary education.

Winds of Change Based in Collaboration

One takeaway from this discussion is that Canadians sincerely support reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. They are working to develop cultural intelligence as a foundation for cultural competency in which real change is made. The second takeaway is that collaboration with the Indigenous people defines each effort. The winds of change are blowing in every industry, as well as at the government level, and in communities and workplaces. As The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada wrote, “Together, Canadians must do more than just talk about reconciliation; we must learn how to practice reconciliation in our everyday lives—within ourselves and our families, and in our communities, governments, places of worship, schools, and workplaces. To do so constructively, Canadians must remain committed to the ongoing work of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships.”

The efforts mentioned, and the thousands of others not mentioned, are genuinely making a difference. These are exciting times because there is a lot more than talk going on. There is action in every direction.

© DiversityCan Magazine. All Rights Reserved.