Decolonizing Health Studies: A Workshop Aimed at Promoting Cultural Safety and Mitigating Bias Among UW Faculty

TRC Calls to Action Dreamcatcher

Grant Recipients

Colleen McMillan, School of Social Work

Elaine Lillie, School of Pharmacy

Jenna Bright, School of Optometry and Vision Science

Lisa Christian, School of Optometry and Vision Science

Alice Schmidt Hanbidge, School of Social Work

Rhona Hanning, School of Public Health and Health Systems

Rosemary Killeen, School of Pharmacy

Ken Manson, School of Pharmacy

Andre Stanberry, School of Optometry and Vision Science

Sandra Juutilainen, Ryerson University

Shanlee Connors, Research Assistant

(Project timeline: May 2019 - May 2020)


This pilot project aims to build on the momentum created by President Hamdullahpur’s endorsement of an Indigenization Strategy at the University of Waterloo. Since the release of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report and Calls to Action, Canadians are learning the truth about Canadian nation building and oppression of Indigenous peoples.  We will develop, implement and evaluate a full-day workshop for faculty and staff from the Schools of Public Health, Pharmacy, Optometry and Social Work to promote cultural safety and mitigation of implicit bias. We see faculty training as a critical first step toward building understanding of Canadian nation building and improving student learning. Results will be shared with UW’s senior leadership. More broadly, this effort will influence other faculty members and students and suggest mechanisms for training others across UW and those health professionals outside the UW community who engage with our students.

Questions Investigated

Questions investigated for the purposes of teaching enhancement included;

  1. How effective is a workshop format to promote cultural safety and mitigate bias among educators within the professional schools of Social Work, Pharmacy, Optometry and Public Health at UW?
  2. Can the proposed workshop increase understanding of the impact of Canadian nation building pertaining to Indigenous health inequity?
  3. Can the proposed workshop identify and make known implicit biases of educators and how they impact behavior, teaching methods and potentially patient care?
  4. How does the content presented by an Indigenous Elder and members of the Ontario Cultural Safety Program encourage faculty to apply new learning in the classroom?


Consenting attendees completed pre- and post-event surveys as a component of the LITE grant research that supported the workshop.  The survey aimed to assess changes in knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of participants and evaluate the workshop. A copy of the tabulated results is attached for your information. Our goal and related objectives were accomplished in that participants identified shifts in the following areas;

  • understanding of the systemic barriers Indigenous people face in healthcare
  • knowledge gained of the impacts of colonization on Indigenous peoples in Canada
  • better understanding of cultural safety and how to promote it within a learning environment
  • heightened awareness of implicit biases that non-indigenous students might have towards indigenous peoples in Canada
  • implicit biases that non-indigenous students might have towards indigenous peoples in Canada and how to respond regarding creating cultural safety
  • feeling more prepared to include topics related to Indigenous health in courses 

A finding that has spurred current work by the team was the finding that participants, who were educators, felt the content covered in the workshop should be revised to focus on student learning. The involvement of Elders or Indigenous peoples who could speak to their healthcare experiences and the importance of unlearning history in order to unpack implicit bias and prejudices is important for students who intend to practice in healthcare. Related to this was the confirmation by participants that it is important for students to hear from current health care workers who are Indigenous of their observations regarding structural barriers that prevent equity in the delivery of health services. It was highly recommended by the participants that a panel of Indigenous scholars and health care providers be developed for students and possibly a wider population (similar to the workshop panel composed of Susan McNaughton (Pharmacist) Hilton King (Social Worker) and Kelly Gordon (Registered Dietitian) and Sandra Juutilainen (Indigenous Health and Nutrition).


*Fitzpatrick SA, Haswell MR, Williams MM, Nathan S, Meyer L, Ritchie JE, Jackson Pulver LR. (2019). Learning about Aboriginal health and wellbeing at the postgraduate level: novel application of the Growth and Empowerment Measure. Rural and Remote Health, 19: 4708.

Hojjati A, Beavis A, Kassam A, Choudhury D, Masching R, Fraser M, Nixon SA. (2018). Educational content related to postcolonialism and Indigenous health inequities recommended for all rehabilitation students in Canada: A qualitative study. Disability and Rehabilitation 40(26), 3206-3216

Narruhn R & Schellenber, I.R. (2013). Caring ethics and a Somali reproductive dilemma. Nursing Ethics, 20(4), 336-8. Doi:10.1177/096973302453363

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action. Winnipeg: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Wepa, D. (2015). Cultural Safety in Aotearoa New Zealand. Second Edition, edited by Dianne Wepa. Cambridge University Press.

Return to browse projects