A long-awaited program for young Indigenous children in Langley area was opened Monday with a joyful ceremony on the grounds of Parkside Centennial Elementary in Aldergrove.
Although the new Aboriginal Head Start is on school grounds, it was shepherded from idea to opening, and will be run by, the Lower Fraser Valley Aboriginal Society (LFVAS).
“We’re very excited,” said LFVAS CEO Katie Pearson at the opening ceremony.
The society got approval for a local Aboriginal Head Start program back in 2018, but it has been a long process of getting the centre up and running.
“Aboriginal Head Start is about more than just child care, it’s about building communities and supporting families,” said Pearson.
The new centre will supply childcare to 24 children aged three to five years old, up until they transition into the school district.
It’s free childcare, which is a big help for any family, but Pearson emphasized that the goal is not just to support the kids.
There will be a heavy emphasis on parental support and involvement, she said.
There will also be elders on site some of the time to work with families, along with with part-time Aboriginal infant development workers who will be watching out for any kids who seem to have a higher level of needs as they grow.
Those are in addition to the approximately six full-time staff and administrator who will be there every day, said Pearson.
Administrator Lorie McDonald said she’s looking forward to helping create strong self-identities for the children coming through Head Start, and to connecting them to their culture.
The opening ceremony was begun by Kwantlen First Nation elder Cheryl Gabriel, who reminded everyone present that they stood on sacred ground.
“We have always been here,” she said, noting the tradition of remembering the past back seven generations, and planning for the future ahead seven generations as well.
Gabriel spoke of the many Indigenous peoples of the region whose children are likely to use Head Start, but also noted that there are Indigenous Canadians from many regions who call Langley home. She has a friend who is Innu, from northern Canada, who lives here as well.
Gabriel’s son, artist Brandon Gabriel, and her husband Lekeyten were also present, because Brandon carved the pole that was installed outside the new centre.
Brandon carved the pole with the assistance of Lekeyten and Jonas Bige.
Monday was the first time they had been able to see the pole standing up and complete, Brandon noted.
“Really proud of the work we did on it,” he said.
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