June 9, 2022
An Immersive Approach to Cultural Safety Education
Written by Emily Carr
How might we develop an immersive approach to cultural safety education that utilizes Indigenous methodologies to promote dialogue and awareness of injustices and racism towards Indigenous peoples, while creating an environment which is conducive to building community connections?
Through a collaboration with the Aboriginal Gathering Place at Emily Carr University and Aboriginal Programs at the College of New Caledonia, the Health Design Lab is working on a systems-change initiative which aims to develop and pilot an approach to cultural safety education that utilizes sharing circles, Indigenous material practice, and oral knowledge sharing to bring together healthcare students and Indigenous students and community members together in an Indigenous-led space to bring awareness to historical and contemporary injustices and racism towards Indigenous peoples in Canada.
Currently, most cultural safety education programs are developed specifically for healthcare practitioners or students. This workshop model brings together healthcare students and Indigenous people together as co-participants for the purpose of shared learning for mutual benefit. Key to the workshop experience has been the inclusion of local artists, knowledge holders, and cultural advisors from the Lheidli T’enneh territory.
The workshop model is 2.5 days with approximately 20 participants, where the team strives for an equal distribution between Indigenous community members and Health care providers. The workshops follow a loosely structured agenda, that relies heavily on the make-up of who’s in the room to facilitate rich and meaningful dialogue through a shared experience. The workshop is less of a teacher-student model, and more about a community coming together.
The workshops start with a brave space agreement, which is an entry-point into understanding Indigenous led mechanisms. The general rhythm for each of the days is convening (bringing a diverse group of people coming together in a shared space), gathering in a sharing circle (an Indigenous method for oral knowledge sharing which creates a structured space where participants felt safe and welcome to be open and vulnerable) and resting through making (a chance to digest what was shared through an embodied experience of connecting to cultural material practices and reflecting (moments of self-reflecting and continued learning after the workshop).
Knowledge holders laid a foundation of learning that the group could build off of in the sharing circles and discussions throughout the weekend, by introducing important historic information as well as personal and contemporary stories of how indigenous people and communities are still impacted today. Learning came from hearing each other’s lived experiences and perspectives. These stories showed how the impacts of residential schools are still very much a part of the current lived experience of Indigenous people today. Through sharing personal stories and the shift between talking and making, the workshops create space for reflections on: allyship and advocacy, courage and authenticity, and learning through embodied experiences. This workshop model provides a culturally immersive experience that shifts away from a deficit-based perspective of Indigenous culture. Indigenous participants were not limited to sharing stories of trauma, but able to share a spectrum of themselves and their stories as present, as embedded and engaged members of their nations and communities.
“when I was making; the anxiety from the tough conversations was being let out through the making. Starting the day with serious discussions, and then during making I was thinking about what we were making, what ancestors used these things for, how to connect to the materials and items we made”.
We have piloted this workshop model four times — twice in person and twice online during the Covid-19 pandemic. From August 11 to September 25, 2022, the Two Rivers Gallery in Prince George will be hosting an exhibit about this project titled Lheidli – Where the Two Rivers Meet , to share the immersive experience of the workshop with the local Prince George community. To complement this, the project team is also developing a publication to share with the broader community, as we work towards continuing this cultural safety education initiative in the coming years and disseminate this workshop model.