Glen Abernethy: Building a Culturally Competent Health and Social Services System

Mr. Speaker, over the past few years there has been an increased understanding and awareness that in Canada there is a disparity between the health status of indigenous people and other Canadians.   Acknowledging this reality forces us to confront difficult issues, including the legacies of colonization and the residential school system, and the fact that mainstream institutions have often not served indigenous people effectively.

But we must confront these issues if we are going to change.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action challenge us to acknowledge that the current state of Aboriginal health in Canada is a direct result of previous Canadian government policies.  They further challenge us to establish measurable goals to identify and close the gaps in health outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, to recognize the value of traditional Aboriginal healing practices, and to provide cultural competency training for all health care professionals.  The Government’s mandate speaks to the need to deliver culturally appropriate services, and to implement the calls to action of the TRC. 

Mr. Speaker, during my time as Minister of Health and Social Services, I have travelled to all the communities in the Northwest Territories.  I’ve met with community leaders, attended Aboriginal Government Assemblies, and convened meetings with Aboriginal governments to discuss how to transform the health and social services system.  I’ve heard over and over again that our system needs to do a better job of respecting the needs of Indigenous people, and of honouring their traditions.  I’ve heard that we need to ensure our staff are given the opportunity to learn, not only about northern cultures and history, but about the lasting impact of residential schools on today’s families and communities.  I’ve heard that there needs to be a place for traditional healing and traditional knowledge in our system.

We also need to recognize that other groups have experienced the effects of bias and lack of sensitivity when accessing services.  The LGBTQ community has challenged us to do a better job of meeting their needs.  Our communities are home to people representing cultures from around the world, and they all deserve to experience a high standard of service in our system.

Mr. Speaker, at the appropriate time today I will be tabling a document entitled, “Building a Culturally Respectful Health and Social Services System”.  This document outlines what we’ve heard from people across the Northwest Territories, what we’ve learned, and how we plan to move forward in full partnership with Aboriginal governments, the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Leadership Council, the Tlicho Community Services Agency, Regional Wellness Councils, and other key stakeholder groups like the Rainbow Coalition of Yellowknife.

This document represents a commitment to action.  The action planning will not be done in isolation. It will be done in collaboration with our partners, recognizing the principle of “Nothing about us without us”.  This commitment is consistent with the Government’s priority of collaborating with Aboriginal governments.

I look forward to working with people across the Northwest Territories as we continue to improve care and services for all our residents.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.