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Indigenous Children to Benefit from Land-Based Programming to Promote Wellness

About 90 Indigenous early childhood development programs are receiving up to $100,000 each to improve wellness for over 1,700 children through land-based cultural programming.

“The pandemic has made it clear how important getting outside is to our mental, physical and spiritual health,” said Katrina Chen, Minister of State for Child Care. “This funding will help improve outdoor programming for Indigenous children and support the development of stronger connections to children’s cultural identity and traditions.”

Twelve Aboriginal Head Start in Urban and Northern Communities (AHSUNC) sites (off-reserve) sites and 78 Aboriginal Head Start On-Reserve (AHSOR) sites are the first to receive support to create safe, outdoor early learning and play spaces for children. The organizations will receive this funding through a $10-million investment under the Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program (CERIP). Indigenous communities have identified that improving access to land-based programming is critical to supporting the wellness of families living both on- and off-reserve.

Aboriginal Head Start (AHS) programs offer high-quality, culturally based early learning and child care programs that are designed for and with Indigenous families and communities. These programs aim to help keep Indigenous children connected to their culture and to support Indigenous families in becoming better connected to their community. AHS offers preventative supports like parent education, encourages family participation and provides referrals to early intervention services, such as counselling and speech therapy.

The Wo'umxhlSimalgyex Daycare is an AHSOR site in the Gitwangak First Nation. The preschool teaches children about the Gitksen language and culture and received over $93,000 to create an outdoor cultural play, learning and healing environment for children and families. The space will include a fenced area that will include a Smoke House, Clan Houses for the children, a portable washing station and washrooms. The space will be the location for traditional gatherings and healing circles.

“Our land is our medicine. We go there to heal,” said Liz Williams, manager, Wo'umxhlSimalgyex Daycare. “Every day, we will have this space to focus on healthy ways of being who we are. Language and culture are who we are, and this will continue to enhance the important work we do at AHSOR, and our children will benefit.”

In Mission, the Future 4 Nations AHSUNC site is receiving funding to update its outdoor play spaces.

“We will improve the quality of education for our Aboriginal children by utilizing the natural environment the way our ancestors were taught,” said Ay’ Wha Tia Zelda Williams, program co-ordinator at Future 4 Nations AHS in Mission. “It will increase our children’s social skills, help develop a deeper sense of curiosity in nature by exposing them to the natural environment and help to keep them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents and caregivers will feel more confident to send their children to school, knowing they will be outdoors 90% of the time.”

The CERIP is providing $100 million in one-time infrastructure grants for projects throughout B.C. to improve community economic resilience, develop tourism infrastructure, support unique heritage infrastructure and support economic recovery for rural communities. CERIP’s funding is distributed across five different streams managed by separate partner ministries: Municipal Affairs; Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport; Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operators and Rural Development; and Children and Family Development.