Cultural sensitivity – good for business and good for you!

Image Source:  Retrieved on May 21, 2011.

During this past week, I wrote about undertaking an individual, or series, of music interventions involving evacuees from Slave Lake, AB.  The community has suffered greatly with all 7000 inhabitants being evacuated following a firestorm that swept through the town.  Yesterday, they released a tally of homes and businesses destroyed by the ensuing fire(s) – 485 either destroyed or heavily damaged.  That is just the physical losses – many of the emotional and psychological losses are yet to come.  In part, that is why I felt the need to volunteer my assistance.

There are a number of evacuation centers.  Part of me would like to go to the evacuation center in Athabasca where 800-1000 people are living, at least temporarily, but at this point that is not possible.  So today I am volunteering at the evacuation center located in Edmonton – the Northlands EXPO centre.  In planning and seeking permissions I ran into an unexpected barrier – cultural sensitivity.  Edmonton, and Alberta in general, has a large number of aboriginal/native communities.  The area around Slave Lake has a large number of individuals belonging predominantly to the Cree nation.  When I stated that I wanted to do a “drumming circle” the administrative committee reject the idea on grounds that it might offend some of the evacuees who might consider drumming a sacred activity or an activity associated with particular ceremonies.  I’ve been a music therapists for 15 years and drumming is part of my regular collection of interventions when I am working with clients – I have never have associated it with the potential to offend.  Perhaps it is just the name  “drumming circle” that may have cultural associations?

A factor in your music therapy business practice, cultural sensitivity is receiving increased attention in music therapy training.  Indeed, as the world seems to shrink – via increased personal mobility/job finding geographical location and “easy” access to a huge variety of cultures, your awareness of the predominant culture(s) or ethic groups within your local area.  When I lived on Vancouver Island (the Comox Valley), I found a large percentage of individuals were of German descent or ancestry.  Here in Edmonton, the native population and those of Ukranian descent are two of the most significant cultural groups.  This means that I need to learn songs, musical styles, and understand the beliefs that are a part of these cultures because I am likely to derive clients from those cultural groups.  When you do so, you will be better able to meet their needs and provide meaningful interventions.  Cultural sensitivity might also apply to occupational roles.  When I lived on Vancouver Island, predominant occupations included – logging, fishing, and mining.  Entertainment was not community based, but rather individuals “made their own entertainment”.  In Edmonton, residents are accustomed to accessing community and cultural arts-based activities – “to being entertained” rather than “providing their own entertainment”.  There is also a much wider diversity of employment histories – logging and fishing are not among them!

So what will I be doing today?  My first intervention will involve the children and musical activities, involving movement, imagination, and fun.   Next, I will ask participants directly about their beliefs surrounding drumming. (I have also sought out information sources via the Internet, social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook and personal contacts that have some experience with local/Alberta native populations).   If they are approving of the idea, I will then ask permission of the evacuation center administration to come back and do a second intervention.    I may not call it a “drum circle” and will avoid a “circular” shape – even though that provides a meaningful and psychologically comforting “holding” place for the emotions that are bound to arise.  I might call it “Catching the beat” or “Fun with drums”.  Stay-tuned for further updates!



Filed under Business Tools, Clinicial Skills, Interventions, Music Therapy

4 responses to “Cultural sensitivity – good for business and good for you!

  1. John, i am not sure that this belief applies to the ukrainians-i am from Belarus, as you know, and we don’t have any beliefs like that!

  2. John, I’m just now finding your blog. Thank you for writing about cultural sensitivity and specifically referencing occupational differences.

    I always laugh when people say “We don’t have rules like that!” But, of course, we do! We all do!

    I am from the Deep South in the USA and I once attended some training in Playback Theatre in the Northwest – Oregon, to be exact. I think I spent the entire week putting my foot in my mouth because of the cultural differences – specifically related to the timber and logging industry. Some of the conversations I had that week felt like I was talking an entirely different language!

    I now live in Colorado and, the culture here, too, is radically different from that of Texas, where I was born and raised. The politics are different. What is and isn’t considered socially acceptable to say is different. And, as a mental health professional, it is interesting to note that even the psychological theories that are taught and favored here are very different.

    Ditto for the cultural sensitivity (which happens to seem more like cultural insensitivity) here. For example, it is very common to go to professional networking events and meet others who introduce themselves as “Shaman.” The have no direct ties to indigenous people anywhere other than to have “borrowed” (stolen?) their rituals, tools, and practices – sometimes reportedly “with their blessings” and at other times not. I don’t even know how to ethically begin to address this issue but your post reminds me that I need to figure it out.

    I appreciate you taking the time to acknowledge the professional holes that you step in. It is a gentle reminder to take responsibility for my own gaffs along the way.

    I look forward to following your blog and am happy to retweet your post!

  3. Hey, John – Just tried to click on the twitter button on your website. It does not take me to your twitter page. Thought you might want to check on it. I would like to follow you.

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