Cultural Safety Module 2: Peoples Experiences of Oppression

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Shame-based Power Imbalances

If we take the ideas related to racialization and intersectionality further, we can shed some light on what Aboriginal peoples refer to as "shame-based" experience.

As described in Module 1, the colonization process disrupted Aboriginal cultures through relocation, residential schools, introduced diseases, and changes in diet. When traditional knowledge that would have been passed from grandparent to parent to child was interrupted and children were removed from their families, sometimes by force, Aboriginal children lost their role models and identity. Instead, residential schools reinforced ideas of inferiority and imposed silence.

Children were not permitted to speak any language but English, they were told that their beliefs and practices were worthless, and they were abused and punished if they expressed support for their culture. Over time, they began to believe they were inferior. This is another example of internalized oppression where shame is the primary sense of self.

At this point, you may wish to review the section on colonial history in Module 1, particularly the section on residential schools.

In the "Shame-based Family" clip, Sheila Dick speaks about her fears about being an effective parent. In the second clip, "Breaking the Cycle," she notes that her daughter has no shame about her identity and her grandchildren are confident, happy, and proud. This is not Sheila's experience of herself.

Click to watch video clips/read text transcripts.

Sheila Dick, Shame-based Family
Sheila Dick,
Shame-based Family

[Text Transcript]
  vertical line   Sheila Dick, Breaking the Cycle
Sheila Dick,
Breaking the Cycle

[Text Transcript]

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Racialization and Intersectionality

In the "Breaking the Cycle" clip you just listened to, Sheila mentions examples from her shame-based experiences. These include Sheila's fear of society in general, of being judged by her appearance, of being seen as a shop-lifting risk, and of being labelled as bad or dirty.

Members of the dominant society racialized Sheila by making assumptions about her, based either on her Aboriginal heritage or on perpetuated learned stereotypes. In the next clip, Sheila speaks of "putting on the armour" and of the power of the "look" she feels is used to judge her.


Sheila Dick, Putting on the Armour and the Look
Sheila Dick,
Putting on the Armour and the Look

[Text Transcript]


Reflect on Sheila's experiences. Then, in the morning when you get up, think about what your armour looks like. Does it include putting on armour against racism or other differences that you think you have or you think others think you have? What might your armour look like?

Take a few minutes now to do Activity 5, Reflection on Racialization.  

People's experiences of social services can reflect the intersections of difference. Social service policies are a form of institution in our society, an institution that is part of the "social safety net." However, the policies that support these services may also support discrimination. Even though as Canadians we like to think we value resources such as social services, people's experiences show that it is not acceptable to be different and that if you use social services, you may be marginalized and labelled.

Evidence of discrimination and recreating trauma through policy and practices may also be evident in things such as the language used on forms and criteria to meet eligibility. Sheila's experience echoed this in the "Social Assistance Office Workers' Attitude" clip.


Sheila Dick, Social Assistance Office Workers' Attitude
Sheila Dick,
Social Assistance Office Workers' Attitude

[Text Transcript]


Look at the nursing forms you use on a daily basis. Do the forms make assumptions about who is filling them out? For admission histories, are assumptions made about who are family members? For example, are "aunties" who may not be biologically related but who are pivotal to family life for many Aboriginal people recognized?

The conflict between valuing social services and other aspects of our social safety net and judging people as different, or not "normal," is discussed in detail by Henry et al in "The Ideology of Racism". Take time now to read about what they call "democratic racism" and "everyday racism." In short, democratic racism is holding the values of equality at the same time as you discriminate against certain people.

Sheila tells the East-end nurse's story and then talks about male-dominated society and laws. These powerful clips underline the intersection between race, class, and gender.

Clearly, social policies, including health policies, can perpetuate racism and discrimination. Those with decision-making power often remain unaware of and unconcerned about the consequences of their decisions, especially as they relate to influential policies such as the Indian Act and Bill C-31. Sheila's preceding examples reflect systemic internalized colonialism — the process through which laws and policies associated with colonization actually transform our cultures and change the way people think about themselves.

You may find information provided so far in Module 2 disturbing and distressing. If you do, the Suggestions for Self Care may be of help.

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