Kristan Nelson is a speech language pathologist at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. She works with kids having trouble with speaking, and tries to incorporate aspects of their ancestral cultures. Here, she is seated with toys of local animals from the ‘Moe the Mouse’ collection, which she uses during her sessions. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Kristan Nelson is a speech language pathologist at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. She works with kids having trouble with speaking, and tries to incorporate aspects of their ancestral cultures. Here, she is seated with toys of local animals from the ‘Moe the Mouse’ collection, which she uses during her sessions. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Language and culture: Aboriginal speech language pathologist helps Vancouver Island kids

Kristan Nelson was recently hired at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre

Kristan Nelson is surrounded by toys. Some of them are cute stuffed animals, but they’re also tools for kids to learn to speak. Think of the letter ‘M.’ It makes the “Mmm” sound, like “Moose.”

Nelson is an Aboriginal speech language pathologist who specializes in pediatric early intervention, and she works at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC).

While her goals are the same as any other speech language pathologist –to develop a child’s ability to understand and convey a language– at the VNFC there are additional aspects to her job.

“Here it is adapted to be responsive to relationship building, which is a big piece of supporting Indigenous populations, where there have been negative experiences with social services or mainstream health services,” Nelson says.

ALSO READ: Victoria Native Friendship Centre receives nearly half a million for child development

Nelson is an Indigenous woman herself, Cree Metis on one side, and Scottish Norwegian on the other, and while she can’t speak local languages she understands the need to incorporate them in her therapy.

“I don’t think there’s a world where I could learn all the local languages , or even really do them justice, so it’s a lot of collaboration with my coworkers and community members,” she says. “It’s about taking these basic learning strategies and implementing them in whatever language the family speaks at home.”

For Nelson it has also means learning a lot of cultural traditions and taboos that aren’t usually considered.

“For some cultures here it’s not appropriate to look in mirrors, and that’s a lot of what I do, so it’s trying to navigate that,” she says. “I’m really lucky here where most of the staff are Indigenous, and they teach me.”

Since here arrival in June Nelson has gathered a full client load of 25 children six years old and younger, as well as 15 other children on a wait list.

ALSO READ: Youth carve out a bond with First Nations’ culture

The most common issue she sees is “severe expressive language delays,” where young kids, typically aged three or four years old, are still only speaking one or two word sentences when they should be using five or six word sentence in past, present and future tense.

While these kinds of delays are seen across cultures, Nelson points to a 2018 report by Speech-Language and Audiology Canada that found language delays to be “one of the most prevalent development challenges for First Nations Children.”

“But that’s another piece that we’re trying to be very careful about, is not throwing labels on these little ones,” she says. “We’re working on collaborating with families and how they view their child and respecting them.”

For Ron Rice, executive director of the VNFC, hiring Nelson was an endeavor that the centre wanted to take on after noticing a need in their Aboriginal Supported Child Development Program. A three-year grant from the Ministry of Child and Family Development allowed for the hiring of Nelson in June, and has since made a big impact on local families.

“It creates success in so many other areas. I’ve had a parent say ‘We’ve only had three visits but already the child, its’ not that they’re speaking more… but now more than mom and dad can understand them and the child is less frustrated, and happy,’” Rice says. “It’s these kinds of things that are going to ripple in other parts of their life.”


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An Oak Bay Police officer handed out five tickets for “fail to obey stop sign” and two tickets for using a cell phone while driving, all within two hours at King George Terrace on Jan. 11. (Oak Bay Police Twitter)
Man confronts unmasked group at Oak Bay Marina

Oak Bay police issue plenty of tickets in short King George Terrace visit

A 45-metre tall call tower is proposed for Westhills Stadium. (Black Press Media file photo)
New cell tower proposed for Westhills Stadium in Langford

Tower will increase capacity in congested network: staff report

Sidney Pier was one of two sites in Sidney as the Netflix series Maid shot in Sidney in late 2020. The show starring Margaret Qualley was one of 38 productions shooting in Greater Victoria. (Bob Orchard/Submitted)
Head of Greater Victoria film commission warns of lost economic opportunity

Kathleen Gilbert said without full funding, region will not be able to attract productions

Victoria Police Department vehicles outside the headquarters building. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bastion Square attack leaves victim with life-altering injuries

Victoria police looking for witnesses, information

NEW CUTLINE Pacific FC fans fill the stands during a game at the former Westhills Stadium
 Starlight Developments has purchased the naming rights from the City of Langford for the next 10 years.(Gazette file photo)

Pacific FC slid into third place in the league after defeating FC Edmonton 1-0 at Westhills Stadium on Saturday. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)
Langford sells stadium naming rights for $500,000 to Starlight Developments

10-year sponsorship deal largest in the history of Langford, says mayor

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to Chantel Moore police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Dezi, a Delta police dog, retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Canada released proposed regulations Jan. 2 for the fisheries minister to maintain Canada’s major fish stocks at sustainable levels and recover those at risk. (File photo)
New laws would cement DFO accountability to depleted fish stocks

Three B.C. salmon stocks first in line for priority attention under proposed regulations

Trees destroyed a Shoreacres home during a wind storm Jan. 13, 2021. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay woman flees just before tree crushes house

Pamala DeRosa is thankful to be alive

Gin, one of the Kantymirs’ two sheep. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Sheep start up ATV, sit in cars and go for walks in Salmon Arm

Until they bought two sheep, Ken and Karleen Kantymir didin’t realize just how social the animals are

Heather Lucier, a pastor at Kelowna Harvest Fellowship, speaks to an RCMP officer outside of Harvest Ministries on Sunday, Jan. 10. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna church fined 2nd time for violating public health order

Harvest Ministries in Kelowna has previously said they will fight the tickets in court

Emma Nunn from Alberni Valley Rescue Squad waits at the summit of Mount Arrowsmith for the rest of the AVRS rope rescue team on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021. (PHOTO COURTESY DAVE POULSEN, AVRS)
UPDATE: Injured hiker among three rescued in the dark from Mount Arrowsmith

‘It was a very bad, very precarious spot to be able to locate them’

Most Read