Wednesday, 26 July 2017

What is "cultural awareness"?

I was listening to the CBC News this morning about the death of Romeo Wesley during a take-down by two police officers in a nursing station at Cat Lake First Nations, Ontario. The resulting inquest into his death just came out with a jury's report that includes 53 recommendations including:

-Ensure nurses in Indigenous communities get cultural awareness training before getting placed in a community. [emphasis mine]

It got me thinking again about what exactly "cultural awareness" is. I think I've made mention of this concept and concluded somewhere in this blog or elsewhere that "culture" as used by government-indigenous relations is really an empty, umbrella buzz-word. And I'll tell you why.

I've thought a lot about the concept Inuit (sans 'traditional') Knowledge or IQ especially in my years as a policy analyst/advocate for Inuit language and education rights. Never have I heard nor seen a realistic, let alone satisfactory, definition/explanation of "culture" throughout all my years in the discourse. In other words, it is one of those things in government reports intended to be dangled in front of Indigenous peoples mostly as a "negotiation" tactic.

It is intended most of all to pass the buck back to the aboriginals so governments can rightly claim that they've listened and heard what we want without having to own up. This is because the obverse of the argument is the uncomfortable notion of government fiduciary responsibility, plain and simple.

Let no one be responsible, most of all not the government, if things go drastically wrong in the interventions such as the one that resulted in Wesley's death which are all to common. Let no notions of human decency interfere in the mindless operations of government.

But I'm not here to lay blame. Why I'm writing this entry is to argue that what we (both sides, I mean) have fundamental responsibilities to try and better this unjust and unjustifiable relations.

What I mean is that we need to ensure ethics (not "culture awareness") training for not just nurses, but for every non-indigenous government employee who serves in the frontlines in our communities (I would include in our non-indigenous communities here).

Don't get me wrong: I have great respect and appreciation for most of these souls who take their jobs, their calling, most seriously and want nothing but the best be reflected in their service records simply because of who they are and what their characters demand of them. We (the both sides) can learn so much from them. These are people who can see beyond race and colour of those they've come to serve in the name of human decency.

In being confronted by novelty all of us start out from a probationary position. We learn proper etiquette and behaviours by learning from others. Our education, in this respect, has nothing to do with "cultural awareness" and everything to do with well-formedness both in the professional and personal senses.

It has always been the kindness and compassion of others that have me carried this far. And, like people like me, I've done and said things I'm not proud of at all. I've needed to be talked down from great mental and emotional distress in my life, including by the police. I'm talking here about decent people who've been there to do their jobs with honour and decorum (sadly, above and beyond the call of duty).

No one, among us, after all should ever be judge, jury and executioner. Usually, when we do our jobs it is a small part we've been assigned within a much larger picture. This "small" part is a link in a chain, though, mind you, a very important link nonetheless.

There are always community leaders, respected healers/elders. Perhaps we should seriously think about including them in the protocols where their safety and security are not jeopardized. I think had an elder or healer been called in, Wesley's meaningless and unnecessary death would had been avoided. I don't know, but I think he was asking desperately for help with his alcoholism...

I think what I'm trying to say is that community involvement (not "cultural awareness") in police and medical intervention, wherever realistic and possible, is what is missing, sorely missing.

Jay

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