"Our land is our medicine. We go there to heal," says Liz Williams, manager of the Wo'umxhl Simalgyex Daycare. The preschool teaches children about the Gitksen language and culture in Gitwangak First Nation, a northern community 40 minutes from Hazelton.
The preschool recently received over $93,000 in provincial funding to create an outdoor cultural play, learning and healing environment for children and families, and will serve as a hub for traditional gatherings and healing circles. The space will include a fenced area that will feature a Smoke House, Clan Houses for the children, a portable washing station and washrooms.
“Every day, we will have this space to focus on healthy ways of being who we are," says Williams. “Language and culture are who we are, and this will continue to enhance the important work we do."
Wo'umxhl Simalgyex is one of 78 Aboriginal Head Start On Reserve (AHSOR) and 12 Aboriginal Head Start programs in urban and away from home communities in BC receiving wellness funding. In all, 90 Indigenous early childhood development programs are receiving up to $100,000 each from the province's Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program (CERIP).
In Mission, the Future 4 Nations Aboriginal Head Start preschool will also receive funding to update its outdoor play spaces.
Ay' Wha Tia Zelda Williams, program coordinator at the preschool, says they aim to improve the quality of education for their children by utilizing the natural environment in the way of our ancestors.
“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," she said, adding that parents and caregivers will feel more confident to send their children to school, knowing they will spend most of the time outdoors.
FNHA CEO Richard Jock said the programming is possible due to a unique partnership with the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development.
"These programs create culturally safe and appropriate outdoor learning and play spaces for First Nations children, and ultimately contribute to the overall health and wellness of First Nations families and individuals living both on- and off-reserve," he said.
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. By helping to coordinate and administer the funding, communities with AHSOR sites can then create, enhance or refurbish outdoor early learning and play spaces.
AHSOR focuses on early childhood development, in a culturally appropriate manner, to support children's spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical growth from birth to age six. All AHSOR programs include culture and language, education, health promotion, nutrition, social support, and parent and family involvement.
The FNHA oversees 143 AHSOR programs in BC, recognizing that each Aboriginal Head Start program is unique and designed to meet the specific needs of the community it serves.
For information on Aboriginal Head Start in Urban and Northern Communities, visit: https://www.ahsabc.com/
For information on Aboriginal Head Start On-Reserve sites, visit:
For more about Childcare BC, visit: www.gov.bc.ca/childcare