By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The head of an Early Childhood Education (ECE) program in northern Manitoba says it is crucial that those who want to work with young children in the north understand how important it is to embed Indigenous culture and traditions into their childcare spaces and into the work they do with children.
“We always want to make sure that Indigenous children feel at home in our childcare centres and our nurseries and daycares,” Laura Ayers said.
Ayers is the ECE Program Coordinator at University College of the North (UCN) a northern Manitoba post-secondary institution that has main campuses in Thompson and in The Pas, and that services a large area of northern Manitoba with smaller learning centres based in several northern, remote and Indigenous communities.
Last week, UCN announced that their ECE program has been granted approval for five years from the province and that graduates of the two-year program will be able to apply for a license as full Early Childhood Educators for childcare facilities.
But Ayers said that with UCN being located in northern Manitoba and servicing an area where there is a large population of Indigenous people, their ECE program has for years put an emphasis on learning “within the context of northern Manitoba and in particular within Indigenous communities.”
“I can’t stress how important it is that we make sure that in nurseries and daycares, educators are not only aware of Indigenous culture, but that they are embedding that culture into everyday activities and learning,” Ayers said.
The ECE program at UCN, according to Ayers, teaches aspiring early childhood educators to bring those cultures and traditions to children in ways including bringing Indigenous Elders into childcare centres to speak to children.
“We very strongly encourage bringing elders into child care centres,” Ayers said. “It is so important for young children to see those elders and see them talk about their lived experiences. We find it often brings the children a lot closer to their culture, and gives them a whole new respect and understanding for their culture.”
She said they also encourage a number of other ways their ECE students can bring Indigenous culture to children, including the reading and sharing of Indigenous books and writing, working on Indigenous arts and crafts, and working on projects and learning activities related to Indigenous culture, history and languages.
She said UCN also believes that those Indigenous teachings are just as important for non-Indigenous children in childcare centres because it gives them greater respect at a young age for their Indigenous peers.
“It is a big deal, because they are learning that respect before they even get to elementary school, and they are learning ways of knowing and being, and that is huge because in many cases they are going to continue going to school together for years and they are going to be growing up in their communities together.
“Learning that respect early can lead to stronger schools and stronger communities and move us closer to that goal of reconciliation.”
On their website, UCN says that as an institution they are committed to working towards reconciliation and said a large part of that involves recognizing the truth of what has happened in the past to Indigenous people and communities in northern Manitoba and across the province and the country.
“This truth includes the legacy of Indian Residential Schools, the Sixties’ Scoops, the appropriation of land, the failure to respect treaties and the continuation of colonization,” UCN said.
“The journey toward reconciliation begins with truths, and the work of reconciliation is the responsibility of all UCN faculties, departments, and areas.”
-Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.