Yukon landscape.

Pathways: Designing a culturally safe and inclusive health and social services system

As an Indigenous person, Candace Parsons says she has witnessed family members and friends shift their appearance and the way they communicate in order to access health and social care services.

Candace is the Director of Cultural Safety with Yukon government’s Health and Social Services department.

“Embedding cultural safety and humility into the health and social service system reflects the voices and stories of many First Nations citizens who provided input into the Putting People First report,” says Candace.

In March 2023, the Government of Yukon launched a cultural safety team to improve health care for Indigenous people. The team was formed to address section 4.1 of the Putting People First report.

Released in the spring of 2020, the report is a road map to help the government create a health and social system that better serves the needs of Yukoners, based on a comprehensive review of Yukon’s health and social services.

Putting People First made 76 recommendations to improve the system. The recommendations will guide the government’s work to transform the current system.

“I’m excited to develop tools and resources for people who work within the system, to create environments where First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples feel recognized, respected, and celebrated for their cultural identity,” says Candace.

This work is an important first step. True progress will require systemic change across the health and social system to reduce health inequities and build a system that is free of racism and discrimination.

The Cultural Safety team is focused on three streams: training; leadership readiness; and Yukon First Nations and Indigenous student and youth engagement to pursue health and social care careers.

Cultural safety training

The first stream focuses on creating mandatory cultural safety and humility training and continuous education for all health and social services providers, managers and leaders.

Candace says they plan to create standard training for all health and social services providers, with additional training customized to the local Yukon First Nation.

The customized training will educate Health and Social Services staff on the cultural protocols, traditions and values within the Traditional Territory they’re providing services to.

“If the healthcare provider is in Haines Junction, they’ll take the Champagne and Aishihik cultural protocol, traditions, and values training,” says Candace, “The training will help them embed cultural practices of that Yukon First Nation into their work.”

The Cultural safety team leads a Leadership Readiness series with Doctor Nel Wieman

Leadership readiness

The second stream reviews leadership readiness within the health and social services system.

Candace says it’s about developing tools and resources to integrate cultural safety practices into the system to improve access to services at any point in time.

"We have to consider what resources need to be developed to support leaders and healthcare providers modify their practice to include cultural safety and humility to reflect culturally safe and welcoming workplaces," she says.

Yukon First Nations and Indigenous student and youth engagement to pursue health and social care careers

The final stream looks to the future and recruiting Yukon First Nations and Indigenous students and youth into the healthcare system.

Candace says it’s about making the system more inclusive for students and providing them with opportunities to explore careers in health and social services fields.

She says bringing more Yukon First Nations and Indigenous students and youth into the system will help shift the culture naturally, embedding more Yukon First Nations culture and traditions.

“I get excited by this stream, thinking of an individual who can provide services back to their home community, or go back and care for the Elders and family members,” says Candace. “We have to shift our thinking from bringing services to communities to building our local capacity to work in the system.”

Training health and social service providers

The newly formed team is moving forward with embedding cultural safety and humility in the health and social service system.

Candace says as the team develops new material, training will begin using work done by the Council of Yukon First Nations (Yukon First Nations Cultural Orientation & Protocols Toolkit) and Mapping the Way website.

The work of the cultural safety team is just getting started, but it's sure to have a positive impact for Yukon First Nations and Indigenous people receiving health and social services and working in these systems.

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