Cultural adaptation in Aboriginal mental health

On January 11th and 12th, 2013, Dr. Joshua Moses and Dr. Laurence Kirmayer, two representatives from the culturally-based, family-centered mental health promotion for Aboriginal youth project at McGill, paid a visit to Vancouver, British Columbia to discuss cultural adaptation.

The meeting brought together three projects across the country, all funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, who are culturally adapting mental health promotion initiatives to fit an Aboriginal cultural context and ensure cultural relevancy. The primary purpose of the meeting was to begin to develop a toolkit on guidelines in cultural adaptation in Aboriginal communities for funders, practitioners and researchers based on the experiences of the three projects.

In addition to the McGill project, at the table were representatives from Manitoba, from the Towards Flourishing Project, and representatives from British Columbia from the Connecting the Dots project at the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division and the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres. For more information on Connecting the Dots see or contact For more information on the Towards Flourishing project please email or

During the first day of the two-day meeting each project presented on key learnings in cultural adaptation, based upon their work in their own projects. Although the primary focus was on cultural adaptation in Aboriginal communities, Manitoba also presented on potential considerations in cultural adaptation in an immigrant context. In the second day of the meeting, the team discussed the format of the toolkit to be developed and major topics that would be covered in that toolkit.

Although the toolkit is still under development, consensus was reached on the importance of several considerations when undertaking cultural adaptation work in an Aboriginal context, including:

  • The importance of relationship building to cultural adaptation
  • Ensuring a respectful and culturally competent process
  • Active involvement of Aboriginal communities in the adaptation process
  • The need for a flexible structure and approach to cultural adaptation order to promote cultural relevance and cultural safety
  • The importance of understanding fiscal year budget constraints and their impact on cultural adaptation work
  • The need to acknowledge the diversity and complexity of culture

These lessons and more will be discussed in the upcoming toolkit, providing policy makers, government, practitioners and researchers, with a needed overview of possible challenges and promising practices in cultural adaptation work in Aboriginal communities. The toolkit will also offer a literature review on cultural adaptation in both an Aboriginal and immigrant context and a scoping of Canadian cultural adaptation initiatives.

Stay tuned for future updates on the status of this cultural adaptation toolkit!


Caitlin O’Reilly

Canadian Mental Health Association




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