Island Health introducing voluntary Indigenous self-identification program at all care facilities


As part of our commitment to providing safe, culturally appropriate care that is free of racism and discrimination for all patients, Island Health is implementing a voluntary Indigenous-self identification program (ISI) at all care facilities where patients are registered to receive services.

As the program is implemented over the coming months, patients will be asked if they wish to self-identify as First Nations, Métis or Inuit. The ISI program will enable Island Health and Indigenous partners and communities to work together to improve health care for people across the region and is paramount to closing the gaps in health and social disparities for Indigenous people.

“The information provided to us will better help our staff connect Indigenous patients with Indigenous-specific services available at their care site, such as an Indigenous Liaison Nurse or Indigenous Patient Navigator,” said Leah Hollins, Island Health Board Chair. “If a patient has Indigenous ancestry, they can self-identify and choosing to do so is completely voluntary. The information collected will be used for the sole purpose of providing the best possible care for our Indigenous patients.” 

Once a patient provides their response, it will be saved in the patient's electronic medical record and they will not be asked again when registering in the future. Everyone registering at an Island Health facility will be asked if they wish to self-identify as Indigenous as no assumptions are made about a person’s identity. Proof of Indigenous ancestry will not be required. All information is completely confidential and protected by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

“This work is a great step forward for Island Health as we continue to respond to The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action related to health care, and the recommendations coming out of the In Plain Sight report: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health Care,” said Dawn Thomas, Aa ap waa iik, Vice President of Indigenous Health & Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “We know Indigenous people face inequities in health care access and experience a higher rate of chronic disease and injury when compared to non-Indigenous people; the ISI will help us in closing that gap and addressing accessibility through improved patient care. I raise my hands up to all the Island Health staff who have been working on this initiative for many years now to bring it to this point, and for ensuring it reflects the needs of community." 

The ISI program will launch at Saanich Peninsula Hospital on November 15. Regional rollout of the program is expected to begin in spring 2024. 

“ẊAẊE EN SNA’ means ‘your name is sacred’,” said TELAXTEN. “Our names are sacred to our people.  When we use our language and names, it is carried for life.  It is used in ceremony and out of respect.  In a long house, there are certain things I can and cannot do because I carry my name and this is the same for data; it should be respected the same way.”

“By knowing if patients are Indigenous, our staff and physicians will be able to tailor care to their health needs in a culturally safe and respectful way, and integrate traditional practices, if requested, into a patient’s care plan,” said Hollins. “This may include additional support navigating the health care system, assistance transitioning from hospital to home, advocating for choices and decisions with care providers, or connections to community services and organizations.”

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Note: Island Health has adopted the use of the term “Indigenous” to encompass three distinct Peoples of Canada: First Nations, Métis and Inuit. A distinctions based approach recognizes that First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples’ history, culture and traditions are unique and in order to ensure that services are inclusive and to appropriately meet needs, we must respect the diverse priorities of each group.