Despite a growing body of critical scholarship in nursing, the concept of culture continues to be applied in ways that diminish the significance of power relations and structural constraints on health and health care. In this paper, we take a critical look at how assumptions and ideas underpinning conceptualizations of culture and cultural sensitivity can influence nurses' perceptions of Aboriginal peoples and Aboriginal health. Drawing on examples from our research, we examine how popularized assumptions about culture can shape nurses' views of Aboriginal patients. These assumptions and perceptions require closer scrutiny because of their potential to influence nurses' practice with Aboriginal patients. Our specific aims are to: (a) consider some of the limitations of cultural sensitivity in relation to health care involving Aboriginal peoples; (b) explore how ideas about culture have the potential to become problematic in nursing practice with Aboriginal peoples; and (c) explore the relevance of a 'critical cultural approach' in extending our understanding of culture in relation to Aboriginal peoples' health. We discuss a critical cultural perspective as one way of broadening nurses' understandings about the complexities of culture and the many facets of culture that require critical consideration. In relation to Aboriginal health, this will require nurses to develop greater critical awareness of culture as a relational process, and as necessarily influenced by issues of racism, colonialism, historical circumstances, and the current political climate in which we live.
Indigenous knowledge (IK) has the potential to complement the dominant epistemologies central to nursing curricula. Acknowledging IK as a thriving set of worldviews, we discuss how nursing educators might access and integrate IK in ways that are respectful and sustainable. IK is highlighted as an entry point for understanding concepts such as cultural safety, ethical space, and relational practice and as a strength-based approach to learning about Aboriginal people's health. As with any use of knowledge, consideration must be given to issues of ownership, misappropriation, institutional responsibility, Indigenous protocol, and the creation of partnerships. Recommendations are provided for educators wishing to explore how to incorporate IK into nursing curriculum. With appropriate partnerships, protocols, and processes in place, the incorporation of IK may provide educators and students an opportunity to explore divergent epistemologies, philosophies, and worldviews, thereby encouraging broader perspectives about the world, ways of being, various types of knowledge, and nursing care.