Department of Health’ Cultural Safety plan is ‘new way of doing business’: Minister

Health Minister Glen Abernethy

On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Social Services presented a draft of its new Cultural Safety Action Plan.

The two-year plan focuses on “relationship-based care” as a way to improve the outcomes of Indigenous people in the territory’s healthcare system.

Health Minister, Glen Abernethy, said the plan is about more than just new training.

“It’s about doing things differently and recognizing the different cultures across the territory,” he said.


Karen Blondin Hall and Mahalia Yakeleya Newmark led the presentation and both are part of the department’s Indigenous Health and Community Wellness team that helped put the plan together.

The plan aims to introduce additional training, incorporate traditional knowledge and healing practices in the current system, and improve patient experience reporting.

Hall said the maxim “nothing about us without us” is a guiding principle.

Overall, the Social Development Committee, which heard the presentation, was supportive.

MLA Tom Beaulieu shared an experience of initially being refused service at a care facility during his time as Minister of Health and explained this kind of plan was necessary to address ongoing problems in the healthcare system.

MLA Michael Nadli also was also in favour.

“It’s always been the common belief that if we have institutions that serve as Dene, we should have a level of compassion and understanding of the culture and the belief systems that Dene have,” he said.

Will it work?

MLA Julie Green said she wasn’t convinced by the idea of having a better healthcare system for Indigenous people would necessarily benefit other groups that have also been marginalized.

Green said that she’s had “crappy” experiences within the healthcare system as a lesbian woman.

Hall explained that part of the training is on “understanding that historical, social and economic factors impact our health… so those skills alone are not specific to Indigenous people.”

MLA Kevin O’Reilly noted the presentation was thin on how the plan’s success will be measured.

Bruce Cooper, the deputy minister of health, said the department would rely on its current reporting systems—including patient experience reports and ultimately overall health outcomes—as a way to measure the plan’s effectiveness.

Since 2017-2018, the federal government is putting one million dollars a year for four years towards the development and administration of the plan.

Once that funding is up, Abernethy said the training will be absorbed into the department’s budget without incurring extra costs.

For now, he said his department will take the feedback from the committee to “tighten the language” before introducing the plan in the next session.

“A lot of work has been done to get us to this point,” said Abernethy. “I’ve met with Indigenous people across this territory and the constant message I’m getting is, ‘Do it. Get it done’.”

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