The demand for Indigenous cultural safety training in Quebec is high, but the obstacles remain deeply rooted
Sylvie Roy did not expect that her career as a child psychologist will lead to where it is now: teaching health professionals in Quebec about Indigenous history and realities and explaining how decades of colonial prejudice can hurt Quebec. their interactions with patients.
This notion is at the heart of the cultural safety training that Roy has offered for years – a service that is more in demand than ever in Quebec.
This is a subject that will probably be raised when a coroner this week begins an inquest into the way in which Aboriginals are treated by the Quebec health system. The investigation focuses on the death of Joyce Echaquan last year in a hospital in Joliette.
And that’s something Roy is more and more concerned about as she watches her own mother, who is Atikamekw, grow old.
“I am worried about her and the treatment she will receive when she needs more hospital care,” Roy said.
The use of his father’s name protected Roy from discrimination for the most part. This was not the case with his mother, who is called Awashish, a common Atikamekw name.
“When my mother came to the hospital there was a certain look of disdain, disinterest, or indifference – all of it was expressed through people’s body language.”
This fear of discrimination has been expressed many times by Indigenous peoples in the context of various government inquiries, including the Quebec Viens Commission on relations between Indigenous peoples and public services.
It resonated louder than ever when Echaquan filmed nurses mocking and insulting her, moments before her death at Joliette hospital in September 2020.
The coroner’s three-week inquest into his death begins Thursday at the Trois-Rivières courthouse, where healthcare workers and experts will be called upon to explain what happened that day.
Roy was approached by the regional health authority that manages the Joliette hospital, the CISSS de Lanaudière, shortly after Echaquan’s death to give him an intensive one-hour course on cultural safety – a request that left Roy speechless.
“I said,” Do you really think we can tackle something like this, do you think we can fix this in an hour? “, Did she say.
Roy ended up giving four separate three-hour lectures that were also videotaped and have now been viewed by 9,000 of the 14,000 employees.
“Things get better, unfortunately, in a crisis. That’s when people take action, ”said Donna McBride, Algonquin First Nation member of Timiskaming.
McBride has been working alongside the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT) since 2008 to develop its cultural safety training program.
“Nearly 8,000 people have been trained on Aboriginal issues over the past 10 years, and we will train another 10,000 in 2021-2022,” said Julie-Anne Bérubé, project manager.
These demands are pouring in from all kinds of workplaces, including mining companies, municipalities and the health sector, including the CISSS de Lanaudière.
Two seven-hour sessions for its employees are in preparation, in partnership with Atikamekw contributors from Echaquan’s hometown of Manawan.
“This is how you build trust and openness,” said McBride, “with the expertise of First Nations at the table”.
Last November, the Quebec Minister responsible for Native Affairs, Ian Lafrenière, announced that this type of training will be offered to health managers and workers across the province’s health network.
A first step, says Roy, but useless if the participants “are not animated by a sincere and honest desire to provide better services to the First Nations”.
“If you don’t have it, 100 or 1000 hours won’t be enough.”
Cultural security “ a process ”
After the end of his contract in Lanaudière, Roy was stunned to learn that his class was being used “as an excuse” by the nurses’ union to explain why two employees had asked a patient to sing a song in Atikamekw and offered her to call her by the nickname “Joyce”, last March.
Patient Jocelyne Ottawa said at the time she felt humiliated and intimidated, while the union said employees were trying to show an interest in Atikamekw culture.
“I don’t see how the training could have been misinterpreted,” Roy said. “I thought it was ridiculous.”
Still, Roy said the incident reflected how “cultural safety is a process, not a one-time event” and that people need to educate themselves more when they leave the classroom.
Donna McBride said many participants felt guilty after the training was completed.
“They wonder why it wasn’t taught in school and can’t believe they aren’t behind this part of their story,” she said.
Melissa Gill, who identifies as Anishnabe, said she herself carried some of this ignorance. “Growing up in school, I had this belief that once I graduated, I would be the expert.”
Gill, a member of the Matachewan First Nation Band, works for the Temiskaming Native Women’s Support Group in early childhood care.
She attended several UQAT sessions with her colleagues, which made her wonder how the Canadian education system had left her so many blind spots.
“This system needs to be humbled, to bring about the societal change that needs to happen to work together,” said Gill.
Roy said she often meets participants whose only Aboriginal references are “those given in history books decades ago, or the Oka Crisis.”
“I am sometimes amazed to realize the sheer ignorance of people when it comes to First Nations.
But she is tempted to forgive this ignorance.
“Cultural safety is the responsibility of the whole system.”