Starting in September, a new one-day training course will be given to health and social services workers in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region that is geared specifically at diminishing racism and racial stereotypes of Aboriginals.

Known as the PIWASEHA training project, the six-hour course was developed through the Algonquin Nation Programs and Services Secretariat in conjunction with the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT) and made possible with funding from Health Canada’s Aboriginal Health Transition Fund.

The one-day training course will be offered to employees of the Centres de santé et de services sociaux (CSSS), such as nurses, doctors, social workers, administrators and secretaries to improve relations between Aboriginals and CSSS employees.

According to Janet Mark, a coordinator for First Nations Services at UQAT who will be teaching the course at the university and who worked on developing the program, the PIWASEHA program has been a long time in the works.

Over the last 18 months, Mark has met with a 12-person panel comprised of Natives and non-Natives who work for Aboriginal organizations who used these health and social services to zero in on what was most important as the training only lasts one day.

Since this program is being offered to busy healthcare and social-service sector workers who already have overloaded schedules, the course was designed so that the participants wouldn’t be dealing with a lengthy lecture. Instead, the day is broken up into questionnaires, historical information, group work and scenario training all geared towards getting the participants to examine their perceptions about Aboriginals and how cultural sensitivity could be applied more effectively in their professional lives.

Mark said the day begins with a survey of what the participants know about Aboriginals followed by some history on the residential-school system, assimilation politics and the Indian Act. This is followed by a presentation of 12 questions that get answered throughout the day.

Following this, the participants are divided into groups and go over a series of 20 phrases that address the attitudes and perceptions of CSSS employees when dealing with Aboriginal clientele.

Mark said some of the phrases the participants will get for this exercise are as follows: when I meet a Native woman who was beaten by her boyfriend, I say to myself, it must have been her Algoniquin boyfriend who beat her or I have the tendency to judge more severely an Aboriginal person who is drunk than a non-Native.

“This is one of the activities where people will have to think about their stereotypes and their impressions about why when it comes a non-Native person who is drunk they don’t judge the individual that severely, but when it’s a Native person it’s different,” said Mark.

Another part of the training day is geared towards mock scenarios where the workers are presented with situations similar to ones they deal with daily, in order to examine how some workers perceive Aboriginals and what to do in these scenarios.

Mark gave the example of a Cree woman who speaks only Cree and English calls the CLSC and the employee who answers the telephone tells the caller to phone back because she doesn’t speak English. The idea is for the CSSS workers to examine this scenario in a group to try and understand why the Cree received this kind of treatment and what could be done to improve the situation.

“This is the fun part of the training because when you give situational examples, people need to be able to reflect upon them. Sometimes they even realize they may have done the same thing themselves and so it is about bringing people to change their perceptions,” said Mark.

The PIWASEHA program organizers are looking to potentially train a total of 480 CSSS workers at various locations in the region, including at UQAT, in Senneterre, Ville Marie, Amos, Malartic and Témiscamingue-Kipawa from September to November.

Once the training program is fully completed, the Secretariat will conduct an evaluation of the program’s effectiveness.

Mark said she is excited as well as anxious to get cracking on the program as she has worked diligently on it and is curious to see how it will go.

“I am pretty sure this training will have an impact on other regions,” she said.

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