Advocating for community and communication

Speech-language pathology student receives first-ever Rehab Med Indigenous graduate award

21 June 2021

MScSLP student Melina Sinclair is the inaugural recipient of the Honouring Our Grandmothers Indigenous Graduate Award in Rehabilitation Medicine. Thanks to alumni donors Michelle Moon and Dan Sander, the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine's first-ever Indigenous award recognizes a First Nations, Métis or Inuit student involved in community building and wellness initiatives in the Indigenous or broader community. Take a few minutes to get to know Melina!

Can you tell us a bit about your background? What did you want to be when you grew up?

I was born and raised in Edmonton. My family has been here in Region 4 of the Métis Nation of Alberta for many generations, and I am happy to have been able to stay here for university.

My parents always emphasized the importance of learning and education, and while I never really knew exactly what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’, I knew I wanted to keep studying the things I was passionate about! Many close family members of mine did not have the opportunity to pursue education beyond high school, so it was so important for me to take advantage of all the opportunities afforded to me.

What inspired you to study communication sciences and disorders?

In high school I wanted to pursue a health-care career in pharmacy or medicine. But I realized early that I was more interested in the integration of the arts and science through fields like linguistics, psychology and education. Ultimately it all converged in communication sciences. Communication is such an essential part of our daily lives, and language is deeply intertwined with culture and our social relationships. To have this taken from you is life-altering. I’m grateful that speech-language pathology gives me the opportunity to give every person a voice.

As an undergraduate I did an honors thesis in the Alberta Phonetics Lab under the supervision of Dr. Benjamin Tucker. I analyzed audio clips from aging speakers over a 50-year period and gained insight on the impact of aging on subjects’ speech production. This research opportunity confirmed for me that I wanted to continue pursuing communication in my career!

Tell us about your involvement in community building and wellness initiatives in the Indigenous community. 

 I’m passionate about staying connected to the Métis community. Between my undergraduate and graduate degrees I took a year off to gain some real-world experience and worked for the Métis Nation of Alberta as a mental health and addictions research and project coordinator. This was an amazing opportunity where I carried out community-focused research with both Métis and First Nations communities across Alberta. I learned from Knowledge Keepers, Elders, and individuals with lived/living experiences in the area of addictions and mental health, and learned about best practice in trauma-informed care, harm reduction, and cultural safety and humility. I gained a deeper understanding of the complexities of health care and saw first hand the disparity of health-care outcomes among Indigenous people. I am able to integrate this knowledge as I move forward in my health-care career and continually advocate for my community.

One of my most meaningful community-building activities is through my role as a writing mentor and linguistics tutor for Indigenous undergraduate students. Through First Peoples’ House I assist undergraduate students who need support researching, writing, editing, and generally navigating writing at the university level. For many students, the entry to university is stressful and shockingly new. I am passionate about sharing knowledge and culturally relevant advice and support to make this transition a little smoother! An added benefit of this role that I cherish is being able to chat with students about their long-term goals, and talk to them about graduate school (especially promoting the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine!), and how it could potentially support them in their career and life aspirations. As a Métis student myself, I can relate to the journey of many undergraduates. As the first one in my family to attend graduate school, I know it’s not a common path for Métis students, but I hope that by sharing experiences, more and more students will feel confident enough to pursue graduate studies. I believe a strong, resilient Indigenous community is strengthened by educated and motivated scholars!

I also use my position as a graduate student to advocate for the betterment of all Indigenous students at the U of A. I have held two leadership positions on campus – as an executive member of the Indigenous Graduate Students’ Association for the University of Alberta, and as an executive member on the diversity council in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. In these positions, I made connections with other Indigenous graduate students, promoted the awareness and preservation of Métis culture, and advocated for better support for Métis students from university administration.   

How do you feel about being the inaugural winner of this award?

 It’s wonderful to see the indigenous-focused initiatives that the university has introduced, and I am very grateful to be the inaugural recipient of this award. Master’s degrees can be costly and awards like these really help to reduce the financial burdens. I am so excited to be the first student to receive this award, and hope that this award will support Indigenous students for years to come.

Where do you see yourself in five years and how will your work involve Indigenous communities?

 It’s hard to say what the future holds! I hope to work with older adults in a hospital or long-term care settings, however I have yet to find a population I don’t enjoy working with! I’ve also really enjoyed academia and can absolutely see myself pursuing a PhD. I would love to continue working in my community in some way, either doing community-based research in communication sciences and disorders, or as a frontline health-care provider. I know much work is needed to improve health outcomes in the Métis community, and I would love to continue to be a part of this process.


Answers have been edited for length and clarity.


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For more information about Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine graduate awards and how you can impact students and communities, please contact John Voyer, Assistant Dean, Development, at 780-248-5781 or