Health-care staff in Fort Smith, N.W.T., are receiving made-in-the-North anti-racism training.
The two-day program, run by the territory's health and social services department, is offered to employees of the territory's health authorities. The goal is to address anti-Indigenous racism. Employees received the training last month.
Karen Blondin Hall, who manages the program, said she learned about cultural safety from an Indigenous professor while attending university. She said it felt important to her and decided to focus her education on learning more.
She took what she learned back to the N.W.T., when she started a new position with the territorial government in 2013.
The health department tried piloting different approaches from other jurisdictions, and then realized it had the expertise to create its own "made in the North" program, explained Blondin Hall.
"We pulled together folks from the communities, like Indigenous-knowledge holders or elders to deliver key aspects of the training," said Blondin Hall. "As well as ensuring that we're meeting the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] recommendations and government of the Northwest Territories critical incident recommendations."
After a few years of piloting the program, the team started delivering it across the N.W.T. in June 2021.
Blondin Hall said the team is a mixture of Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees and an elder speaker. It's up to the elder to decide what they say and how they share their story. Even the way they do introductions is unique.
"We start off with an activity called community introductions, where we introduce ourselves in a community way," said Blondin Hall. "Within Indigenous communities, we don't introduce ourselves based on our credentials, we talk about our family."
Non-Indigenous staff support the program and deliver some parts of the training — like training on settler colonialism and privilege.
Because of the sensitive nature of the subject, another aspect of the training is self-care. The program requires participants to commit to taking care of themselves, and to be aware of triggers, especially after the first day.
Glenda Simon is a licensed practical nurse at the Fort Smith clinic who is Cree. She was very impressed with the program after she took it for the first time. It was an opportunity to learn more about the history of her home community, something she was never taught, she said.
Simon said a sharing circle, led by Julie Lys, had the most impact on her. She said it was very powerful to hear the teachings shared by Lys. The sharing circle also incorporated smudging, something which Simon said was very cathartic.
Simon said there is a strong need for the training to be offered to everyone across the N.W.T., especially newcomers.
"To learn more about how we live off the land and why," said Simon. "There are some people in the North who don't have a clue what cultural safety and anti-racism is."
Simon said she is looking forward to using the training with patients, being respectful of their needs and giving them a space to share if needed. She also hopes to incorporate her basic knowledge of the Cree language into these interactions.
Blondin Hall said the response to the training has been very positive and they are constantly improving it, based on feedback from participants.
"It's kind of groundbreaking work," said Blondin Hall. "Staff here are really receptive and hungry for this type of training."