Working Glossary

Anti-colonialism: Examines systemic power structures that create and maintain racism and oppress the human rights of peoples oppressed by colonialism, and implements corresponding mechanisms to counteract colonialism. Historic racism of colonialism and the modern-day equivalent of colonialism are continuously examined with the goal of social justice for peoples oppressed by colonialism.

Anti-racism: The practice of identifying, challenging, preventing, eliminating and changing the values, structures, policies, programs, practices and behaviours that perpetuate racism.

Bias: A way of thinking or operating based explicitly or implicitly on a stereotype or fixed image of a group of people.

Colonialism: Colonizers are groups of people or countries that come to a new place or country and steal the land and resources from Indigenous peoples, and develop a set of laws and public processes that are designed to violate the human rights of the Indigenous peoples, violently suppress the governance, legal, social, and cultural structures of Indigenous peoples, and force Indigenous peoples to conform with the structures of the colonial state.

Cultural humility: A life-long process of self-reflection and self-critique. It does not begin with an examination of the client’s beliefs; instead, it starts with a thorough examination of the health care professional’s assumptions and beliefs embedded in his or her own understanding, and the goals of the provider-client relationship.

Cultural safety: A culturally safe environment is physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually safe. There is recognition of, and respect for, the cultural identities of others, without challenge or denial of an individual’s identity, who they are, or what they need. Culturally unsafe environments diminish, demean or disempower the cultural identity and well-being of an individual.

Culture: Refers to a group’s shared set of beliefs, norms and values. It is the totality of what people develop to enable them to adapt to their world, which includes language, gestures, tools, customs and traditions that define their values and organize social interactions. Human beings are not born with culture – they learn and transmit it through language and observation.

Discrimination: Through action or inaction, denying members of a particular social group access to goods, resources and services. Discrimination can occur at the individual, organizational or societal level. In B.C., discrimination is prohibited on the basis of “race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, family status, marital status, physical disability, mental disability, sex, age, sexual orientation, political belief or conviction of a criminal or summary conviction offence unrelated to their employment.”

Epistemic racism: Refers to the positioning of the knowledge of one racialized group as superior to another, including a judgment of not only which knowledge is considered valuable, but is considered to be knowledge.

Ethnicity: Refers to groups of people who share cultural traits that they characterize as different from those of other groups. An ethnic group is often understood as sharing a common origin, language, ancestry, spirituality, history, values, traditions and culture. People of the same race can be of different ethnicities.

Health equity: Equity is the absence of avoidable, unfair or remediable differences among groups of people, whether those groups are defined socially, economically, demographically or geographically or by other means of stratification. “Health equity” or “equity in health” implies that everyone should have a fair opportunity to attain their full health potential and that no one should be disadvantaged from achieving this potential.

Health care inequity: The practice of intentionally or unintentionally treating people differently and unfairly because of their race, sex, national origin, disability or other protected class.1

Health inequity: The presence of systematic disparities in health (or in the major social determinants of health) among groups with different social advantage/disadvantage.

Indigenous peoples: The first inhabitants of a geographic area. In Canada, Indigenous peoples include those who may identify as First Nations (status and non-status), Métis and/or Inuit.

Indigenous-specific racism: The unique nature of stereotyping, bias and prejudice about Indigenous peoples in Canada that is rooted in the history of settler colonialism. It is the ongoing race-based discrimination, negative stereotyping, and injustice experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada that perpetuates power imbalances, systemic discrimination and inequitable outcomes stemming from the colonial policies and practices.

Intergenerational trauma: Historic and contemporary trauma that has compounded over time and been passed from one generation to the next. The negative cumulative effects can impact individuals, families, communities and entire populations, resulting in a legacy of physical, psychological, and economic disparities that persist across generations. For Indigenous peoples, the historical trauma includes trauma created as a result of the imposition of assimilative policies and laws aimed at attempted cultural genocide and continues to be built upon by contemporary forms of colonialism and discrimination.

Interpersonal racism: Also known as relationship racism, refers to specific acts of racism that occur between people, and may include discriminatory treatment, acts of violence and micro-aggressions.3

Oppression: Refers to discrimination that occurs and is supported through the power of public systems or services, such as health care systems, educational systems, legal systems and/or other public systems or services; discrimination backed up by systemic power. Denying people access to culturally safe care is a form of oppression.

Prejudice: Refers to a negative way of thinking and attitude toward a socially defined group and toward any person perceived to be a member of the group. Like bias, prejudice is a belief and based on a stereotype.

Race: Refers to a group of people who share the same physical characteristics such as skin tone, hair texture and facial features. Race is a socially constructed way to categorize people and is used as the basis for discrimination by situating human beings within a hierarchy of social value.

Racism: A set of mistaken assumptions, opinions and actions resulting from the belief that one group of people categorized by colour or ancestry is inherently superior to another. Racism may be present in organizational and institutional policies, programs and practices, as well as in the attitudes and behaviour of individuals. It results in the inequitable distribution of opportunity, benefit or resources across ethnic/racial groups.

Stereotype: A fixed image. Refers to an exaggerated belief, image or distorted truth about a person or group; a generalization that allows for little or no individual differences or social variation.

Systemic racism: Also known as structural or institutional racism, systemic racism is enacted through routine and societal systems, structures and institutions such as requirements, policies, legislation and practices that perpetuate and maintain avoidable and unfair inequalities across ethnic or racial groups.


  1. McGibbon, E.A. & Etowa, J.B. (2009). Anti-Racist Health Care Practice. Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press, Inc.
  2. Allan, B. & Smylie, J. (2015). First Peoples, second class treatment: The role of racism in the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Toronto, ON: the Wellesley Institute.
  3. Reading, C. (2013). Understanding Racism. Prince George, BC: National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health.
  4. Paradies, Y., Harris, R. & Anderson, I. (2008). The impact of racism on Indigenous health in Australia and Aotearoa: Towards a research agenda (Discussion Paper No. 4). Darwin, Australia: Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health.
  5. Government of Ontario. (2019). Data Standards for the Identification and Monitoring of Systemic Racism. Available:
  6. Aguiar, W. & Halseth, R. (2015). Aboriginal peoples and Historic Trauma: The processes of intergenerational transmission. Prince George, BC: National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health.
  7. Government of British Columbia. (2020). Anti-Racism FAQs. [website]. Available:
  8. Government of British Columbia. (2020). Define Discrimination & Harassment. [website]. Available:
  9. Government of British Columbia. (2020). Anti-Racism. [website]. Available:
  10. World Health Organization. (2020). Health equity. [website]. Available: