Indigenous Solutions for Indigenous Children
The key to fostering identity is to have Indigenous communities develop solutions that they know will work best for their children. Some communities have set up parent circles where parents can gather to share experiences and learn from each other. Others have volunteers who visit the homes of new parents to give them advice and support. Successful programs that serve Indigenous families focus on the parents’ strengths rather than their weaknesses.
A program run by the Métis Nation of Ontario supports Aboriginal parents by matching them up with other parents in the community. The Lay Home Visitors program brings people from the communities who have parenting experience into the homes of families with young children. The home visitors are trained in supporting families and promoting child development. They work with families to build on their strengths, develop their parenting skills and help them connect to community resources.
Indigenous leaders also see an important role for childcare programs in fostering cultural identity in young children. The Assembly of First Nations has stated that Indigenous child care services that “reflect First Nations beliefs and values, [will] restore our children to their rightful place and, in doing so, restore our communities to a place of power and self sufficiency.” And, according to an Inuit Early Childhood Development Issues Discussion Paper, Inuit early childhood development needs to take place in an environment where “…The Inuk child has a positive self image, has a strong foundation in Inuit culture [and] language and feels pride in Inuit ways”.
The Hopedale Language Nest in northern Labrador is one of several ‘language nest’ programs in Canada. The concept of language nests originated with the Maori in New Zealand as a program that immerses young children in their culture and language within a nurturing environment that includes the concept of extended family, and encourages parents to revive the use of the language at home. The Hopedale program, operated in partnership with the Torngasok Cultural Centre, is targeted to infants from 3 to 24 months — a critical stage for developing language skills. The staff speaks only Inuktitut to the children and offers a program of activities built around Inuit culture. The children are restoring pride and hope to their community by keeping a nearly–lost language alive. Childcare programs can foster cultural identity by having Indigenous child care practitioners as staff and by involving the community in creating their curriculum.
First Nations communities in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan have worked in partnership with the University of Victoria to develop a curriculum for teaching Indigenous early childhood educators that combines current knowledge on ‘best practice’ overall with Indigenous customs of child-rearing. The curriculum is taught to Indigenous students who are then encouraged to work in their communities with Indigenous children.
Elders Play an Important Role
At the Katl’odeeche First Nation Children’s Centre, Elders play an important role in passing along beliefs and values.
“One Elder comes to the centre and brings her sewing or beading. The children will climb up into her lap to watch or to be comforted. Some of them are learning to bead themselves. Another Elder who does yard work at the centre is a trapper. Sometimes he brings in the animals he has caught so that the children can see them and learn about them. We also have an Elder who comes to our centre to cook traditional meals”, says Elaine Rene-Tambour.
Rene-Tambour says that her community is proud of what the children in the centre have learned. “Everyone notices the difference in these children. At community feasts, they know the rules and etiquette of the drum. They are able to speak South Slavey with the Elders. Teachers at the school tell us that our children are calm and confident when they start school”.
Rene-Tambour says that she’s seen first-hand the difference that a strong sense of identity can make in a young child’s life. “Language and culture are crucial. Children are hungry for it. They have to know who they are”.
Whether you’re a parent, caregiver or health practitioner, you can help foster a child’s identity:
· Learn as much as you can about the specific culture of the child – its traditions, strengths and challenges. Aboriginal cultures are diverse (there are approximately 50 different Aboriginal cultural groups in Canada) and there is also diversity within each community.
· Try to balance the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions of the child.
· Support the child to learn and maintain his traditional language.
· Provide regular opportunities for her to take part in traditional activities. Fish, gather berries, prepare and eat traditional foods together.
· Provide regular opportunities for him to take part in community events. Attend ceremonial and ritual events.