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'Alarming' cultural competency gaps in health services: Deh Cho MLA

·3 min read
Deh Cho MLA Ronald Bonnetrouge wants regional input on the territory's cultural competency training because of 'alarming' issues at health centres and with social services.  (CBC - image credit)
Deh Cho MLA Ronald Bonnetrouge wants regional input on the territory's cultural competency training because of 'alarming' issues at health centres and with social services. (CBC - image credit)

An N.W.T. MLA says that health and social services staff need cultural competency training because they do not understand First Nations family structures and the history of Canada's treatment of Indigenous peoples.

Deh Cho MLA Ron Bonnetrouge said that, in a conversation about the cultural competency of health centre staff, the chief of Deh Gáh Got'îê First Nation in Fort Providence said he "has no faith in what they do ... that they do not understand us."

Bonnetrouge wants regionally specific consultation with First Nations on the content of the cultural competency training, especially because health and social services conducts the removal of children from their families.

"They are going strictly by the book. This is alarming," he said. "We have people within the community that are family members … that should have first rights to refusal for that child when they're being taken away."

Bonnetrouge asked for cultural awareness training for all existing staff and new hires for health centres in the territory.

"Many [territorial government] employees are being hired from out of the territory to deliver programs and services," he said. "They do not know the struggles of our people, how we operate as a family system and how we operate as a community."

Deh Gáh Got'îê First Nation Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge said COVID-19 has exacerbated problems in the community and accessing services has been "difficult" for community members.

"People that come here to work for and with our community ... they do need to have a good ground to get to know us," he said.

"That can be done by having good cross-cultural training workshops or even some time out on the land with the community members here, so they can know us and where we're coming from," he said, "some of the cultural values and more positive stuff [rather] than only engaging when there's a crisis."

Wellness councils have opportunity to comment: minister

Health Minister Julie Green said the department settled on a model for its cultural competency training following the completion of 13 pilot programs.

The department will show a framework to community wellness councils across the N.W.T., but there is no timeline for when the training will be made available, she said.

A file photo of the Fort Providence health centre in June 2015. Bonnetrouge first raised issues with the care residents were receiving at the centre in June of last year.
A file photo of the Fort Providence health centre in June 2015. Bonnetrouge first raised issues with the care residents were receiving at the centre in June of last year.

Bonnetrouge said that while employed at public works, he took cultural sensitivity training which left out valuable information such as the history of residential schools and attempts to assimilate Indigenous peoples in Canada like the 1969 White Paper.

"Each community has a unique history and situation," he said. "It's very important that we get the insight of community leaders from every community."

Complaints in Fort Providence not new

In June, Bonnetrouge raised concerns about racism at the local health care centre in Fort Providence.

There are several complaints filed to the Northwest Territories Registered Nurses Association, he said.

"Northwest Territories residents, especially the Indigenous residents of my community, should not be treated like the treatment they receive at the local health centre," he said in the Legislative Assembly in June.

"They should also not be treated with racist overtones just for being Indigenous."

Bonnetrouge said at the time that comments made to patients — such as "you Indians are a bunch of drunks" and remarks about their treaty rights — are unacceptable.

Diane Archie, who was health minister in June, told Bonnetrouge there was a complaint filed to the nurses association and she could not speak to specifics about the complaint.

The CBC has reached out to the Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut for comment, but has not received a reply.