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Understanding barriers to health care access through cultural safety and ethical space: Indigenous people’s experiences in Prince George, Canada

Sarah E. Nelson, Kathi Wilson

2018 Canada

Almost 1.7 million people in the settler colonial nation of Canada identify as Indigenous. Approximately 52 per cent of Indigenous peoples in Canada live in urban areas. In spite of high rates of urbanization, urban Indigenous peoples are overlooked in health care policy and services. Because of this, although health care services are more plentiful in cities as compared to rural areas, Indigenous people still report significant barriers to health care access in urban settings. This qualitative study, undertaken in Prince George, Canada, examines perceived barriers to health care access for urban Indigenous people in light of how colonialism impacts Indigenous peoples in their everyday lives. The three most frequently reported barriers to health care access on the part of the 65 participating health care providers and Indigenous clients of health care services are: substandard quality of care; long wait times; and experiences of racism and discrimination. These barriers, some of which are common complaints among the general population in Canada, are interpreted by Indigenous clients in unique ways rooted in experiences of discrimination and exclusion that stem from the settler colonial context of the nation. Through the lenses of cultural safety and ethical space – frameworks developed by international Indigenous scholars in efforts to better understand and operationalize relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals and societies in the context of settler colonialism – this study offers an understanding of these barriers in light of the specific ways that colonialism intrudes into Indigenous clients’ access to care on an everyday basis.

Canada, Indigenous peoples, Health care access, Qualitative research, Cultural safety, Ethical space, Health care policy