Cultural competence and safety in Circumpolar countries: an analysis of discourses in healthcare

Int J Circumpolar Health. 2022 Dec;81(1):2055728. doi: 10.1080/22423982.2022.2055728.


Circumpolar Indigenous populations continue to experience dramatic health inequities when compared to their national counterparts. The objectives of this study are first, to explore the space given in the existing literature to the concepts of cultural safety and cultural competence, as it relates to Indigenous peoples in Circumpolar contexts; and second, to document where innovations have emerged. We conducted a review of the English, Danish, Norwegian, Russian and Swedish Circumpolar health literature focusing on Indigenous populations. We include research related to Alaska (USA); the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavik and Labrador (Canada); Greenland; Sápmi (northmost part of Sweden, Norway, and Finland); and arctic Russia. Our results show that the concepts of cultural safety and cultural competence (cultural humility in Nunavut) are widely discussed in the Canadian literature. In Alaska, the term relationship-centred care has emerged, and is defined broadly to encompass clinician-patient relationships and structural barriers to care. We found no evidence that similar concepts are used to inform service delivery in Greenland, Nordic countries and Russia. While we recognise that healthcare innovations are often localised, and that there is often a lapse before localised innovations find their way into the literature, we conclude that the general lack of attention to culturally safe care for Sámi and Greenlandic Inuit is somewhat surprising given Nordic countries' concern for the welfare of their citizens. We see this as an important gap, and out of step with commitments made under United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We call for the integration of cultural safety (and its variants) as a lens to inform the development of health programs aiming to improve Indigenous in Circumpolar countries.

Keywords: Aboriginal; Arctic; Greenland; Inuit; Scandinavia; Sámi; equity; health care.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alaska
  • Canada
  • Cultural Competency*
  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Humans
  • Indigenous Peoples