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Indigenous Worldviews and Speech Therapy (Part 1 of 3)

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

This post was written with contributions from SLPs Michelle Dolmaya, Mikyla Grau, Janessa Tam, and Ibtissam Mustaq

For more than 40, 000 years, Canada has been home to Indigenous peoples, with an estimated population of 2 million prior to European contact. As members of a settler society, it's important that we recognize the rich history and the current presence of Indigenous peoples who were here before us and who continue to be caretakers of this land today.

Three groups of Aboriginal peoples recognized by the Constitution of Canada are Indian, Métis, and Inuit. Today in Canada, the term First Nations is generally preferred to the term Indian. There are more than 600 First Nations bands with their own unique cultures, and over 60 different languages indigenous to Canada.

"A Tribute to Aboriginal Women" by Leah Dorion, 2016

Importance of Land

Turtle Island refers to North America, and is recognized by some Indigenous peoples as part of the story of creation of life. There are many different variations, and it's important to remember that there is no singular "Indigenous culture", since each community has their own beliefs and practices. But what is common among most of these creation stories is that the land grew on the turtle's back and all the people of North America live on this same shared space.

Another common element among many Indigenous communities is a strong connection to the land. According to the Assembly of First Nations' Environmental Stewardship Unit, "Traditionally, First Nations’ use of the land recognized the impact on other species around us and we were respectful of the impact we imposed. We do not view people as the masters of the earth, but merely a part of the delicate balance of the earth’s cycle of life."

This connection to the environment brings with it a responsibility to take care of the land. In our current day with so much pollution and waste, there are many reasons to be concerned about the state of the planet. In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of how Indigenous peoples have been able to coexist with nature and use its resources sustainably for thousands of years.

Because of this, many Indigenous Land Stewardship programs have been created in which people can develop their knowledge of resource management, ecosystem conservation and food security through traditional Indigenous education. They are then able to share that information with other decision makers to make the best choices moving forward.

Sharing Knowledge and Education

Knowledge is traditionally passed down from generation to generation through storytelling which comes in the form of lived experiences or teaching stories, sometimes referred to by non-Indigenous people as myths or legends. While stories can be forms of entertainment, they also contain important lessons about morality and are a way to pass on history and cultural knowledge to the next generation.

Education is a process that extends through all four stages of life: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and maturity. Elders play an important role in passing on knowledge within Indigenous communities. There is no definitive age at which someone becomes an Elder, but it's generally understood that an Elder is someone who has lived through all stages of life, possesses significant knowledge of traditional cultural practices, and someone who has a strong connection to spirituality.

When asked for advice, Elders typically do not give direct answers or guidance. Instead, they usually share a story in order to encourage the other person to think for themselves.

"Education" by Leah Dorion, 2016

Perspectives on Health and Wellness

According to the First Nations Health Authority, some Indigenous communities take a holistic approach to a person's wellness that can be viewed as a series of concentric circles: from the human being at the centre to the social/cultural/environmental at the outermost circle.

When it comes to health care, the Second Circle represents the importance of Mental, Emotional, Spiritual and Physical well being all together. If we operate from a Western perspective, we may only be providing a limited approach. It's important in some Indigenous cultures for the whole person to be treated cohesively, which translates to interdisciplinary collaboration.

While this is on the rise in Speech Therapy (ex: collaborating with Occupational Therapists, Physicians, Psychologists and Psychiatrists, Physiotherapists, etc), for Indigenous cultures, this is already a core practice. When discussing treatment with Indigenous clients, recognize the benefits of an interdisciplinary approach to bettering the person's well being.

Connections to Speech Therapy Practice

There are a number of ways that Speech Language Pathologists and other health care providers can take an active role in being an ally to Indigenous populations and advocating for them. Acknowledging the land on which we conduct our practice is a simple but important step. It shows respect for, and brings an awareness to, the presence of Indigenous peoples in the past and the present on the territories where we live and work.

Andalusia Speech Therapy has two clinics in Toronto, for example, that operate on the traditional land of the Haudenosaunee and the Anishinaabe peoples. You can check out this website as a starting point to learn about the First Nations territories where you live. It is also beneficial when preparing a land acknowledgment to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why is this acknowledgment happening?

  • What is your relationship to this territory? How did you come to be here?

  • How are you going to work to combat colonialism beyond this territory acknowledgment?

When conducting therapy with Indigenous clients, here are some ways to modify sessions to make them more relevant to the typical learning styles of Indigenous peoples. *Remember, not every group follows the same customs or practices, and even within communities, individuals can have differing preferences. Have a conversation with the client or their family about what learning style works for them.

  • Experiential learning – Instead of only teaching concepts through one method, experiment with multiple modes of learning, such as auditory, visual, kinaesthetic, etc. You can also integrate real life situations into therapy to make the concepts more relevant.

  • Guide clients towards answers – If this is something the client and/or their family expresses a desire for, you can can use different methods to empower the client to find the solution on their own rather than giving direct answers.

  • Be open – Acknowledge that you don't know everything – it's much more helpful than pretending to know more than you actually do! Listen actively to suggestions from clients, conduct your own research outside of therapy sessions, and when appropriate, ask questions. Make an effort to incorporate the clients' suggestions into your therapy plans and show that you understand the significance of what they've shared with you.

This post is not exhaustive, and we have more to say in the future about Indigenous-related issues and how to be an ally. In the mean time, we hope this has inspired you to keep learning and to make an effort to be inclusive of Indigenous worldviews in your practice!


Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre. (n.d.). Stewards of land. Retrieved May 12, 2021, from

Canadian Association of University Teachers. (n.d.). Guide to Acknowledging First Peoples & Traditional Territory. Retrieved May 12, 2021, from

Elders Handbook: How the Medical School Engages and Works With Aboriginal Elders [PDF]. (n.d.). Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

First Nations Perspective on Health and Wellness. First Nations Health Authority. (n.d.).

Pawson, C. (2019, October 14). Indigenous land Stewardship program applies old solutions to modern problems | CBC News. Retrieved May 12, 2021, from

Statistics Canada. (2018, July 25). Aboriginal peoples in Canada: First Nations People, Métis and Inuit. Retrieved May 18, 2021, from

The Land You Live On: An Education Guide [PDF]. (2019). Native Land.

University of Alberta (Producer). (2015). Indigenous Canada: Looking Forward/Looking Back [MOOC]. Retrieved from


Andalusia Speech Therapy has multiple clinics across Ontario and offers virtual therapy to clients anywhere in the world. Contact us more for information.

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