What is Cultural Competency?

We are all bearers of culture. The process of developing cultural competency involves reflecting on our own attitudes, beliefs, and values and how these can influence how we understand the cultural norms of others, like the Syilx. Aboriginal people have a unique socio-political history, one that has been marked by injustice and violence between new comers and First Nations. Therefore one must remain mindful of the power relations between certain groups, such as their economic and political positioning in society.

Cultural awareness is the first step. It means acknowledging that cultural differences exist. Cultural sensitivity is recognizing the need to respect cultural differences. It means acting with respect towards people of other cultures. Cultural competency is both knowledge and behavior that enable practitioners to provide quality care to diverse peoples in a way that is sensitive to differences. Culturally competent service providers are more likely to recognize the effects of colonial history on Aboriginal people and adapt the way care is provided to more effectively meet our distinct needs.

Cultural safety is what happens when Aboriginal people feel we can trust our service providers. Culturally safe care:

  • builds trust with Aboriginal people and recognizes the role of socio-economic conditions, history, and politics in our lives
  • communicates respect for our beliefs, behaviours, and values
  • creates a service environment where we are treated with empathy and dignity- “Cultural safety refers to what is felt or experienced by a patient when a health care provider communicates with the patient in a respectful, inclusive way, empowers the patient in decision-making, and builds a health care relationship where the patient and provider work together as a team to ensure maximum effectiveness of care.” – National Aboriginal Health Organization, 2008
  • History: The term “cultural safety” was developed in the 1980s in New Zealand in response to the discontent of the Maori people with the care they were receiving. Since then, the concept has resonated with Indigenous people around the world and been explored extensively in academic literature, government reports, and professional studies.