Cultural Safety

“From the romantic representations … to the Marginal Indians of historical and political process, Canadian images of Indians have worked to construct a discourse of subordination.” (Valaskakis, 1993 cited in Dion 2009)

Indigenous people are often portrayed as the romantic, mythical people of the past. Representing  Indigenous peoples in this manner serves to perpetuate myths and stereotypes that push them into the  margins of society, feeding into the racism, discrimination and oppression that are a daily part of their   lives. One way to counter this racism, discrimination and oppression is through the creation of ‘culturally
safe’ services.

Cultural safety is also about understanding and addressing health and social inequities that exist  between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. It is about understanding the social, historical,  political and economic factors have shaped and continue to shape Indigenous peoples’ health. It is  about asking critical questions about why Indigenous people have drastically different health  and social outcomes. It is about disrupting the narratives that blame Indigenous people for the circumstances in which they find themselves. Cultural safety is the acknowledgement of the situations that all  Indigenous people face as a result of colonial experience. It raises awareness of institutional racism and  the nature of social structures that alienate Indigenous people.

Cultural safety is “an environment that is safe for people: where there is no assault, challenge or denial of their identity, of who they are and what they need. It is about shared respect, shared meaning, shared knowledge and experience, of learning, living and working together with dignity and truly listening” (Williams, 2008).

Originating in New Zealand in the field of nursing education, cultural safety has become an influential perspective in developing better health care for Indigenous people. It differs from concepts such as cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity, cultural competency and cultural humility. Cultural awareness is a beginning step where people recognize cultural differences and take steps to sensitize themselves to these differences. Cultural sensitivity involves a process of self-exploration where one examines how one’s own life experience impacts others and legitimizes the awareness of difference. The next step towards cultural safety is cultural competence. Cultural competence and cultural safety are similar in that they both focus on the development of knowledge of cultural issues and self-reflection, which enhances practice with culturally diverse clients. However, cultural safety goes one step further to emphasize the socio-political analysis that is inherent to the situation of Aboriginal peoples (Papps & Ramsden, 1996).

Cultural safety goes beyond learning cultural norms, rituals and practices, or about understanding cultural differences; it is about providing safe services as defined by the service user. In order to accomplish this, it requires positive attitudinal change towards those who are culturally different and learning about power relationships. In many instances, most people are unaware of any racist attitudes they may hold or how these attitudes impact others.

Learning Activities

  1. How does the environment enable and limit culturally safe practice?
  2. How would you facilitate a positive outcome?
  3. How would you achieve cultural safety in your university, your workplace or your community?
  4. How would you utilize the Medicine Wheel teachings to help promote the idea of cultural safety?

Expanding Your Knowledge

  1. The following link contains more information on cultural safety and some of the steps to take in order to achieve it:
    What is Indigenous Cultural Safety – and Why Should I Care About It?

  1. Look into whether there are any cultural safety training workshops or seminars in your region and, if possible, join the workshop/session. Take time to reflect on the language being used and the intent or purpose of that seminar. How will you use the information provided in that workshop/seminar in your own work/activities?


Share This Book