Five Tips for Culturally Safe Service for First Nations Communities

At S.L. Hunter Speechworks, our clinicians provide long-distance therapy services and some fly-in services to First Nations communities! It is crucial for anyone working with someone from a different cultural background to address their biases and create a safe environment.

With the population of First Nations communities on the rise and increasing efforts toward revitalizing Indigenous languages, there is also a rise in services needed for this population that must be addressed and accounted for in all clinicians’ practices.
Here are five tips for SLPs to support your learning of how to create a culturally safe environment for clients:

  1. Cultural humility and cultural safety are a lifelong practice 
The first step is to reflect on, understand, and mitigate the inherent biases we all hold. This is an ongoing process that will continually evolve. It is important to remind yourself the client is the expert; we are learning how to provide the best partnership and the help they want.
  1. Research the linguistic background
Some First Nations people speak in a First Nations English dialect or another language. Encourage bilingualism, bi-dialectism, and code-switching in your clients. Each community is different in their language use so be sure to do your research to know whether something is a difference or disorder!
  1. Change up assessments
Standard assessments can under- or overidentify speech and language disorders for groups that weren’t considered during creation. Get creative and use questionnaires and dynamic assessment methods to account for cultural differences. Continue to search for new resources specific to each community!
  1. Know the cultural history
It is vital to understand the history of the group of people you are providing services too. Trauma from colonization, residential schools, and medical racism are deeply ingrained and have lasting effects. Understand how to create a safe environment curated to the client’s personal history and build trust.
  1. Ask questions!
Each community is different in their culture and in their language. Within each community each family is different, and within each family each person is different! It’s important to focus on asking questions to understand how these differences are realized and how they will change your service.
At S.L. Hunter Speechworks, we provide long-distance online therapy for a range of service to areas that lack access through the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN), and Zoom Healthcare.  We also partner with Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority to provide fly-in services to Webequie, Weagamow, and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug communities.
Remember it’s impossible to be completely competent in someone else’s culture and to completely understand how to create the safest environment, but there are always ways we can continually improve ourselves and our practice to best serve our clients. These tips are not only useful when providing services to Indigenous clients but to any client who is from a culture different from your own!