Cheryl Ward is the Interim Director of Indigenous Health and the Provincial Lead for the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training program at the Provincial Health Services Authority. Cheryl’s work conceptualizing and developing San’yas, her inspiring leadership, and her commitment to social justice and equity, make her a leader in quality and a champion for improving care for Indigenous people across British Columbia.

Cheryl Ward
Cheryl Ward

The San’yas training program helps health care professionals understand what equitable, culturally safe, and high quality health care looks like for Indigenous people. To date, it has reached over 30,000 people in BC and across Canada. Cheryl’s role directing the San’yas program has been a key factor in its success: her tireless work and commitment to improving care for Indigenous people, innovative and critical pedagogical stance, rigorous attention to curriculum development, and empowering approach to leadership inspire those around her to do their very best work.

Cheryl’s team describes her as a “master,” having skillfully managed the difficult task of wrangling historical information, current research, and Indigenous perspectives into a curriculum that addresses racism and stereotyping in an engaging and supported way. She trains facilitators to “walk beside” learners and support them in their own self-reflection, as opposed to having a “teacher-student” mindset where the teachers have all the answers.

Cheryl’s transformational and visionary leadership style has been an integral factor in the San’yas program’s growth and in influencing the perspectives of people who take the training. Through her curriculum, Cheryl’s vision enables participants to become leaders and champions in cultural safety, who advocate for and work towards structural change in their own institutions, and who take responsibility for improving the care Indigenous people receive.  To recognize and further support new and budding Indigenous cultural safety champions, Cheryl created an Exemplar Award certificate in honour of their outstanding contributions in the training and their demonstrated commitment to fostering cultural safety in their own work or practice.

The reach of the San’yas program has doubled within the last year. Its curriculum has been adapted for new contexts such as mental health, child welfare, public service, and the justice sector, as well as expanded to other provinces such as Manitoba and Ontario.

Cheryl continues to broaden her work in BC as well, as a leader informing Indigenous cultural safety work in  multiple health authorities, as a partner with UBC researchers in developing and studying cultural safety interventions, as a sought-after keynote speaker on cultural safety in national and international contexts, and as a coach and mentor on cultural safety across disciplines. She is currently leading the development and implementation of an Indigenous cultural safety Framework at PHSA to improve quality of care for Indigenous people and increase cultural safety through organizational transformation.

Cheryl has dedicated her career to addressing stereotyping and discrimination in BC’s health care system and to improving quality of care by responding to racism towards Indigenous people on both individual and structural levels. She continues to deepen her own understanding of anti-racist pedagogy through her doctoral research and studies, which builds on her lifelong work and will further contribute to improving health care for Indigenous people. Those who work with her know her to be a keenly intelligent, empathetic, and visionary leader who is invested in the success and good work of each member of her team. Her passion for better health care for Indigenous people is inspiring and those who engage with her are moved to look at health and social issues in a new light. The indelible impact of her work signifies an important moment in addressing longstanding inequities and injustice towards Indigenous people in the health system, and in working towards truth and reconciliation in health care in British Columbia.