Cultural Safety

Inuit have long recognized the importance of receiving health care that is appropriate and respectful of Inuit needs, values and perspectives.

In an Inuit Tuttarvingat workshop on Inuit knowledge in Ottawa in November 2009, Nunatsiavut elder Miriam Lyall told us it is important for non-Inuit doctors, nurses and health care staff to have a better understanding of Inuit health and wellness. Lyall suggested this could be part of their training:

“It would be helpful if there was a way to make the doctors or the medical people or the social workers hear what we want them to understand and what makes our way of life and who we are …. Is there a way to let the clinics or medical professionals know that it is our turn to say ‘listen to us, let us call the meeting and you come and listen and understand.’” [1]

What this elder and others are referring to is the idea of cultural competency – of being willing to learn, understand and accept that other cultures have different world views and different approaches to their health and wellness. Learning about and having respect for Inuit traditional and modern-day knowledge is part of becoming more culturally competent. When a health-care provider is culturally competent, they are being respectful of the patients’ background, heritage, culture, values and life experiences.[2]

There is also a growing recognition in Canada of the need for care for Inuit that is culturally safe.  “Culturally safe care involves building trust with Aboriginal patients and recognizing the role of socio-economic conditions, history and politics in health. It also requires communicating respect for a patient’s beliefs, behaviors, and values”.[3]

Inuit Tuttarvingat resources about cultural safety:


[1] Inuit Tuttarvingat. (2009). Inuit traditional medicines and healing practices workshop. Ottawa: National Aboriginal Health Organization.

[2] National Aboriginal Health Organization. (2008). Cultural competency and safety: A guide for health care administrators, providers and educators. Ottawa: National Aboriginal Health Organization.

[3] National Aboriginal Health Organization. (2006). Environmental scan of cultural competency/safety in health curricula. Ottawa: National Aboriginal Health Organization.

You May Also Be Interested In …

A Different Way of Living, DVD and manual, Government of Northwest Territories Staff Orientation materials, 2007

Cultural Competence and Cultural Safety in First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nursing Education: An Integrated Review of the Literature, Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada, 2009.