Why Cultural Competency?

“Most people in the mainstream healthcare system don’t know anything about our people, our history; about the trauma we went through in residential schools and the colonization process, or the ensuing cycles and how they transcend to today. If they haven’t been exposed to the correct knowledge…then they are coming from a place of ignorance rather than intentionally being rude, hurtful, discriminatory, or racist.”

—quote from a Syilx Aboriginal Patient Navigator


All too often, service providers make erroneous assumptions about Aboriginal clients. For example, a recent multi-year study of Okanagan Valley healthcare for Aboriginal women found that colonial stereotypes and structures continue to be perpetuated within the current health care system. The study noted that, “Although many health care providers follow ethical standards and generally believe that their relationships with clients are culturally appropriate, many are unaware of how their practices may unintentionally demonstrate discriminatory attitudes.” The women in the study shared that they often encountered racism, discrimination, and communication barriers and, as a result, they were hesitant or outright refused to use services.

To understand the Syilx Okanagan Nation, you must learn about colonization and the ongoing impacts it has had on our people. Although the residential school era is over, many current government policies are still paternalistic toward First Nations and perpetuate the colonial mentality. For example, there are more children in State care today than at the height of the Residential School System.

Before we begin, it is important to remind yourself that you did not personally create or implement any of these policies. It is equally important to open your mind and your heart to the plight of those who have been adversely affected by these policies; and to consider seriously whether you, in some small way, have been affected by them too.

This short introduction to colonization and residential schools provides some understanding of how the recent history of the Syilx people continues to impact our lives today. It explains something of why our people often respond better to services that take a holistic approach to personal and collective wellbeing.