Promoting cultural competency in health care was examined from the Canadian perspective, and explored practice environments and educational programs for future health professionals that foster cultural awareness and support culturally sensitive care. Many of the issues raised are generic and likely to occur whenever patients' health practices and beliefs differ from conventional Western care. The main theme that emerged with respect to the practice environment was the use of a participatory action approach to foster collaboration with patients, traditional healers and the community. Successful collaboration is likely to result in a blend of ideas and perspectives from traditional health practices and conventional Western health care. With respect to education, programs need to focus on providing opportunities both in the classroom and in the clinical arena for students to work in interprofessional teams. These teams should not only comprise partners from medicine, nursing, physical therapy and other health professions but also include aboriginal paraprofessionals. Pedagogical initiatives also need to incorporate case-based formats and interactive sessions with patients and families. The principles underlying this approach: openness, mutual respect, inclusiveness, responsiveness and understanding one's roles should be fundamental to the delivery of culturally competent health care to all ethnic communities.