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Yukon government launches cultural safety team to improve health care for Indigenous people

The cultural safety team is key to implementing commitments from the Putting People First report
The newly announced cultural safety team aims to improve medical care outcomes and cultural safety for Indigenous people in the Yukon. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

On May 23, the Yukon government announced the establishment of a cultural safety team as part of its ongoing efforts to implement the recommendations of a 2020 report on the territory’s health and social programs.

The Department of Health and Social Services created the team, which will be led by director of cultural safety Candace Parsons. It aims to improve medical care outcomes and cultural safety for Indigenous users of the Yukon’s health and social systems.

According to Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, a big part of achieving these goals is education and ensuring the care system is culturally sensitive and incorporates traditional healing practices and values.

“There was a recognition that many First Nations citizens felt or had experiences of racism or stereotyping when accessing health care and that just simply can’t exist in our system any longer. We need to strive to make that an experience that is not repeated,” McPhee told the News.

One of the cultural safety team’s major milestones for 2023 will be the release of a Declaration of Commitment that will pledge to work with Indigenous people and outline the importance of cultural safety and humility.

Other steps the group is expected to take are the launch of compulsory cultural safety and humility training for all department employees and incorporating these values into the leadership, culture and policies of relevant organizations.

In many regards, the new cultural safety team is the latest step in a long-running process to improve medical treatment experiences for Indigenous people in the Yukon.

This year is the 30th anniversary of Yukon First Nations Health, a project that runs in the territory’s three hospitals and strives to provide culturally attuned care for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. A significant part of this is ensuring that Indigenous patients can access traditional foods.

“We have a donation program of wild meat and then it’s cooked by the hospital authorities and chefs to serve to people so that they can feel more connected to their culture while they’re in the hospital, which is a very stressful situation for most people, but certainly for someone who is perhaps more used to traditional practices in their home,” McPhee said.

“So to say that we are starting from the ground [with the recent measure] wouldn’t actually be accurate. But we also must — and do — recognize that there are still concerns, there is still reticence on behalf of some individual First Nations persons to seek health care.”

The Putting People First report was released in April of 2022 and included 76 recommendations to improve the Yukon’s health and social systems. Currently, 14 recommendations have been incorporated into the territory’s health and social systems, while 39 are being implemented.

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