Mistrust and racism are cited in a new report as barriers to Aboriginal
people using health care services in urban centres
WINNIPEG, Dec. 11, 2012 /CNW/ - Today the Health Council of Canada
releases Empathy, dignity, and respect: Creating cultural safety for Aboriginal
people in urban health care, a report that highlights some of the reasons why many Aboriginal people
are not seeking care in mainstream health care settings and describes
key practices that are working towards positive change.
The report is based on a series of meetings held across Canada with
health care providers, many of whom were First Nations, Inuit, or
Métis. Many Aboriginal people do not trust and therefore do not use
mainstream health care services because they experience stereotyping
and racism, and because the Western approach to health care can feel
alienating and intimidating.
"Aboriginal people often feel uncomfortable, fearful, or powerless when
they try to use the health care system, and some avoid going for care
even when they are sick," said Dr. Catherine Cook, a Councillor with
the Health Council of Canada who is Métis. "While these issues would be
a concern for any population, it is a particular concern for Aboriginal
people, who have the poorest health and shortest life expectancies of
The report includes examples of racism, which is not unique to health
care but simply an extension of negative stereotypes that are deeply
entrenched in Canadian society. Many participants shared personal or
professional stories of being stereotyped and racialized. For example,
people were refused painkillers, even when in severe pain, because of a
belief that they were at high risk of becoming addicted or already
abusing prescription drugs.
"This must change," said John G. Abbott, CEO of the Health Council of
Canada. "Health care providers can and must create culturally competent
and safe environments that are free of racism and stereotypes, where
Aboriginal people are treated with empathy, dignity and respect." He
noted the experience and needs of Aboriginal people are very different
due to "a long and painful history of racism in Canadian society and
efforts to eradicate their culture."
Across Canada, provinces and territories are at different stages of
development in cultural competency efforts, which include changes to
policies, governance, education, and training. The report describes a
number of practices that are having positive effects, such as a new
role for Aboriginal patient navigators and cultural interpreters who
provide support to patients and providers. Participants in sessions
stressed that Aboriginal people trust and feel most safe when they have
some level of interaction with Aboriginal staff.
Professional education in universities and colleges and on-the-job
training about Aboriginal history, issues, and cultural competency is
another significant area of focus in developing cultural competency.
Several examples, including a province-wide online cultural competency
program, are profiled in the report.
"Until recently, many Canadians learned very little about Aboriginal
people in school, and what they did learn was typically a European
perspective on the founding of Canada, not the story of forced
relocations of Aboriginal people, the Indian Act, and residential
schools," said Abbott. "Health care providers may be unaware that
their unconscious attitudes or behavior are the reasons an Aboriginal
patient doesn't follow a treatment protocol or doesn't return for
Finally, the report calls for a major shift in the way health care is
provided to Aboriginal people, calling for policy changes and
structures and processes to be put in place to support and formalize
culturally safe health care environments.
About the Health Council of Canada
Created by the 2003 First Ministers' Accord on Health Care Renewal, the Health Council of Canada is an independent national agency that
reports on the progress of health care renewal. The Council provides a
system-wide perspective on health care reform in Canada, and
disseminates information on innovative practices across the country.
The Councillors are appointed by the participating provincial and
territorial governments and the Government of Canada.
SOURCE: Health Council of Canada
For further information:
For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:
Yeena Peng, Media Relations, Health Council of Canada
email@example.com, O: 416-480-7100, C: 416-407-2635