Reconciliation through a health care lens

Guest blog by  Rosemarie Gjerek, Director Counselling and Community Health & Education, Klinic Community Health

Klinic Community Health provides services on the original lands of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene people and on homelands of the Metis Nation. Klinic acknowledges that the health inequities of the First Nations, Metis and Inuit people living in Manitoba are the result of colonization, including the policies of the residential and day school system. These policies were recognized as cultural genocide by the Commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).  –From Klinic’s Position Statement on Reconciliation

I, along with the other members of the Klinic management team, recently completed the WRHA sponsored San’yas: Indigenous Cultural Safety Training.  I have to say it was one of the best learning opportunities I have ever experienced.  The course was challenging, thought provoking and included a solid dose of self-examination thrown in for good measure.

The course is delivered in eight modules and includes a combination of written content, videos, discussion boards, journaling and quizzes – yes, there are tests.  The discussion boards provided a safe environment to process, to learn from one another and share our own successes (and failures). The course facilitator also reviewed participant’s personal journals and offered thoughts on their reflections. The most powerful component of the training for me was the stories and teachings by Indigenous service providers and community members who shared their experiences of health care or their challenges to the existing health care system.

The course starts with a review of Indigenous history, a history that predates the coming of settler communities by forever.  Understanding the impact of colonization, with its legacy of systemic racism and discrimination, is critical in understanding the detrimental effects on the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples and communities experienced today.  It is also a testimony to the strength and resilience of Indigenous peoples that, despite the genocide, they survive and have set the foundations for reconciliation.

It is this history that is the core to understanding the root causes of health inequities as they exist today. It is critical to understanding how the prevalence of negative stereotypes has impacted the health of Indigenous peoples and sometimes impacts how we as service providers deliver care. Internalized racism is a fact and this course really challenges one to look at our personal beliefs, attitudes and how these come out.

This is where the self examination comes in – it means:

  • understanding and acknowledging our own ethnocentrism and inherent distrust of that which is different from what we know
  • understanding and acknowledging the impact of learned negative stereotypes and how these impact our judgement, expectations of others and our interactions with others
  • recognizing and appreciating cultural differences and the wealth of what there is to learn about one another
  • always, always behaving in respectful ways with one another and the importance of building relationships in the provision of care

Practising cultural awareness and safety in our interactions with others means moving beyond the understanding that differences exist to the creation of a space where these differences are welcomed and viewed with curiosity.

It also means taking things a step further and challenging ourselves and/or our colleagues when we either commit an act of racism or witness an act of racism.  It means needing to have those difficult conversations with ourselves and with others. Ultimately, it means being part of the solution. The Truth and Reconciliation Commissions: Calls to Action include the need to establish respectful relationships, the need to restore trust, the need to make reparations and the need to take concrete actions that lead to social change.

As the Director of Counselling and Community Health & Education for Klinic, this course has given me tools and a framework for going forward, for helping to support change within my organization. At Klinic, we will be making this training available to all our staff with the support of the WRHA, who has made it available to us. I hope that for those who are able to participate, you also will be challenged to learn, to acknowledge, to understand and to integrate anti-colonial practices in your way of being in the world and in delivering services.