Some time ago, I came across the term “cultural safety.”
This term was developed in New Zealand in the early 1980s in response to Maori discontent with the nursing system.
In reference to nursing care, the term requires nurses to be respectful of nationality, culture, age, sex, political and religious beliefs.
This is in direct contrast with nursing care that requires nurses to deliver services to patients regardless of any of these.
Cultural safety allows a nurse to establish a more trusting relationship with the patient.
In turn, this will empower the patient to see themselves within the system of care instead of on the outside and thereby leading to more open communication.
By recognizing that indigenous people bring with them unique values, beliefs, and customs health professionals are in a position to provide better care.
In education the same can be said for colleges and universities.
Most Canadian post-secondary institutions were built upon an academic culture that was well established hundreds of years ago in Great Britain.
Through time and colonization many countries adopted the same western attitudes and models of education.
Forcing aboriginal children to attend residential schools in the past century is a perfect example of imposing an educational system that didn’t take into account the values, beliefs, language and customs of an ethnic group.
This negative history of education policies along with a multitude of other factors impacts on Canadian aboriginal post-secondary participation rates.
In 2006, 35 per cent of the aboriginal population aged 25 to 64 had a post-secondary credential in comparison to 51 per cent of the non-aboriginal population.
Aboriginal students also have higher high school dropout rates and lower literacy rates have been and continue to be a problem for aboriginal communities that are located in isolated communities.
To provide a culturally safe environment for aboriginal students many colleges and universities have provided space and funding for on-campus aboriginal student centres.
At Okanagan College each of our campuses has an aboriginal centre where aboriginal mentors work with aboriginal students to help them find educational success.
Most post-secondary institutions could improve the learning experience for aboriginal students by providing aboriginal content within a number of courses, which are predominately western focused.
These courses would require a shift in curriculum where the focus may include theory and knowledge from an aboriginal perspective.
Finally, professors and instructors need to realize that not all of their students come from the same western culture. Like nurses, they too need to be aware of the different values, customs and beliefs aboriginal students (and international students) may bring to the classroom.
The term cultural safety is more than just nursing care, it can impact on just about any organization or professional who works within a multicultural society.
Jane Muskens is the registrar at Okanagan College.