The concept of cultural safety recognizes that we need to be aware of and challenge unequal power relations at all levels: individual, family, community, and society. The reality is that many Indigenous students, faculty, and employees experience harm on a regular basis because their culture and identity is not respected or accepted within post-secondary institutions.
In a culturally safe learning environment, each learner feels that their unique cultural background is respected and they are free to be themselves without being judged, put on the spot, or asked to speak for all members of their group. Unequal power relations are openly discussed and challenged in a manner that does not make learners feel that they (or groups they belong to) are being put down.
As you Indigenize curriculum, issues of cultural safety may arise. Learning about the negative experiences of colonization and oppression may lead to contentious discussions, the surfacing of racist attitudes and beliefs, and re-traumatization for Indigenous students. Integrating Indigenous content into the classroom could shift the focus to Indigenous students in a way that may feel emotionally unsafe.
As a curriculum developer, it is important to be aware of these potential impacts of Indigenization and to develop a learning approach that lessens opportunities for these impacts to occur. A first step would be to acknowledge that cultural safety is an important issue, and that the instructor will attend to cultural safety throughout the course.
Activity 1: Understanding Microaggressions
Time: 60 min
Review this brief presentation about microaggressions [PDF] by Dr. Derald Wing Sue of Columbia University. In the presentation, Dr. Sue shares examples of microaggressions, which he defines as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights, invalidations, and insults to an individual or group because of their marginalized status in society.”
Can you think of examples of microaggressions that you’ve experienced or seen others experience? How do you think microaggressions would impact Indigenous students?
For specific examples of microaggressions against Indigenous students, watch some of this video in which Indigenous students at the University of British Columbia share ways that they have been made to feel uncomfortable in their classes because of their Indigenous identity. Reflect on the following questions:
- Have you ever witnessed or experienced an incident like the ones described in the video?
- What are the cumulative impacts of these types of incidents on Indigenous students?
How would you, as a curriculum developer, set up the course in a way that creates cultural safety for Indigenous students?