Association News

Published on June 16th, 2017


Improving Communication Health Services for Indigenous Peoples – One Student at a Time

By the Advisory Group Members, Course AUDI 540, University of British Columbia

In 2009, the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) School of Audiology and Speech Sciences (SASS) inaugurated a required course entitled “Approaches to audiology and speech-language pathology for people of First Nations, Métis or Inuit (FNMI) heritage” (AUDI 540).

Recently, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released calls to action for change in all aspects of life relative to FNMI people in Canada. Item 24 calls for institutions to:

“… require all students to take a course dealing with Aboriginal health issues, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, and Indigenous teachings and practices… [with] skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.”

This call to action suggested a need to reflect on the course, with a view to future directions.

The Course

In 2009, none of the SASS faculty had FNMI heritage, education or experience. Funding allowed us to hire consultants, with a part-time First Nations Community Learning Coordinator. We also engaged an advisory group of educators and practitioners (with and without FNMI heritage) from the community, the former student body and other indigenous programs at UBC. The 4/5 R’s of Kirkness and Barnard (2001) from the UBC First Nations House of Learning provide our frame of reference: Respect, Relevance/Reverence, Relationship, Reciprocity.

The goals of the course, which spans a 10-month period, are for students and faculty to:

  1. Take steps on the lifelong journey to culturally safe and humble interaction and practice.
  2. Develop discipline-specific knowledge, skills and approaches for working with people of FNMI heritage.

Course leaders include the Community Learning Coordinator, one speech-language pathology (S-LP) faculty instructor and one audiology faculty instructor. Other faculty members attend on occasion. Oral and online shared-learning activities include:

  • meetings with Elders and practitioners;
  • videos, including of residential school survivors;
  • online forums;
  • and community learning experiences.

A workshop on Moe the Mouse® provides one example of culturally relevant programming. Other cultural learning opportunities include journal reflections and a student arts night (drama/music/visual arts).

Discipline-specific learning assignment options include video or written reflections or culturally relevant protocol development. Faculty members stress that the course is only a first step. Students are encouraged to continue on the path when they graduate as part of their ever-evolving practice.

Reflections on the Course

Audiology graduate with First Nations heritage:

“There are experiences I have had as a student in the course that have stayed with me. I think of all the experiences, the most powerful were the ones in which I saw some of my peers express their emotions about what they had learned as a result of their experiences with interacting with community members in their externships and community [learning] experiences.
“Each of us are connected to many others in our lives. I feel when we take steps towards growth and learning, perhaps even sometimes outside of our comfort zones, these experiences can help shape us into being better overall friends, parents, family members and, ultimately, clinicians.”

SLP graduate with First Nations heritage:

“For me, I think [the course] helped me to not only reconnect with my own heritage and aboriginal ancestry, but allowed me to think critically and reflect upon my practice as an S-LP practitioner in my first year in the field. For the community at large, being able to work on a project that developed preliminary guidelines specifically for S-LPs working with aboriginal populations was extremely rewarding and needed.”

A non-First Nations student:

“I found the course to be helpful in developing my awareness of Aboriginal history in Canada, ongoing systemic discrimination and Aboriginal community events and activities around me. It increased my participation in my community, and gave me clinical skills in working with the many Aboriginal clients I interacted with in my practice.”

A First Nations teacher:

“Working as a program assistant [for AUDI 540] and now hosting students in my Aboriginal Focus school has allowed me to have a better understanding of the gaps in education in the general public so I can adjust my teachings when addressing the public regarding Aboriginal education.
“Opportunities of mutual learning have also been a great connecting place for families and students. The students gain hands-on experience with the children and families in speech therapy, and the families benefit from the [service]. The community visits are central to learning.”

Practicing S-LPs:

“I have worked with several Aboriginal and First Nation agencies. My experience with the S-LP students has been extremely positive. They have ensured cultural security in the way they engaged with children, families and staff.
“The students have also demonstrated knowledge of indigenous cultures and an openness to new learning. They put aside the mainstream lens of intervention and have experienced the benefits of language enrichment and conversation with all children. The students were sensitive to the effects of intergenerational trauma and were careful and respectful in all their interactions. In short, they were welcomed back.”

Future Directions

The reflections above indicate the vital importance of maintaining the core principles of the course:

  1. An indigenous focus that resonates with Action Item 24 from the Truth and Reconciliation Report, with course objectives including cultural humility, safety, and relevance.
  2. Promoting learning about people by meeting with people with FNMI heritage — ensuring not only that people with FNMI heritage are at the heart of the instructional team but also that students gain active community learning experiences.

On- and off-campus resources will provide new and continued opportunities for indigenous education, such as:

  • a UBC Health Professions Indigenous Curriculum currently in preparation;
  • a planned UBC Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre;
  • the First Nations House of Learning on campus;
  • and on- and off-reserve community programs (e.g. friendship centres, aboriginal headstarts, schools and health programs, BC Early Hearing Program).

Redress of social injustice does not happen overnight. SASS will be on this journey for many years to come.


About the Advisory Group for Course AUDI 540, University of British Columbia







The Advisory Group includes:

  • Current and former Community Learning Coordinators Marie Nightbird and Tiare Laporte, respectively.
  • Community practitioners Lori Bell, Fiona Laporte, Shannon Osmond, Heather Phillips and Kate Wishart.
  • SASS Faculty Barbara May Bernhardt (retiring course coordinator, S-LP), Valter Ciocca (Director), Barbara Purves (Emerita, S-LP), Navid Shahnaz (Audiology) and Stacey Skoretz (S-LP)

Contact Barbara May Bernhardt for further information and access to student theses and projects.

Pictured: From L to R, Fional Laporte, Tiare Laporte, Barbara May Bernhardt, Valter Ciocca, Marie Nightbird.
Photo credit: Advisory group member, Stacey Skoretz.

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