Construction is set to begin on a new Indigenous children’s centre in Grand Forks after local elders, government officials, program managers and families gathered Monday for a ceremony to honour the future site of the building, directly behind Grand Forks Secondary School.
The Talking Little Feet Aboriginal Head Start Centre, slated for the space to the east of the school’s tennis courts, will host 24 free spaces for infants, toddlers and young children in daycare and be devoted to Indigenous kids. By opening up a safe and supportive cultural space for young Indigenous people, organizers told the crowd gathered in the heat on Monday, those children will be given a better chance at success through their school-age lives.
“It [offers] reconnection to culture for families that have been disconnected maybe for generations, because of our history, whether it be residential school, or 60s Scoop,” explained Laranna Androsoff, the program manager for the new facility. By providing a solid and safe cultural platform, Androsoff said, the centre will “give [Indigenous children] a safe place to engage in their culture, be proud of their culture, be proud as indigenous children and as indigenous peoples.”
Sheena Rogers, the AHS program manager in Williams Lake, attested to the value that the pre-school and daycare program can offer its community.
“We’re seeing that parents are proud to be aboriginal, which I think hasn’t happened for a long time,” Rogers said.
The announcement comes after COINS, the Circle of Indigenous Nations Society which serves the Kootenays and Boundary, heard last January that they would be afforded the opportunity to re-apply to the program and funding, despite being left off the province’s list after a first round of applications.
B.C. Minister of Children and Family Development Katrine Conroy was on-hand to make the announcement in Grand Forks, while a dozen other communities around the province also received the official word on Monday.
“When you see the children and they’re engaged in learning their cultures and learning their languages, it’s really moving,” Conroy said about Aboriginal Head Start (AHS). The program has been running for 25 years in B.C., offering cultural connections and childcare support to Indigenous families, free of charge.
Funding for the new AHS spaces across the province comes from a $30-million pledge from the province and federal governments and will be managed through AHS and the First Nations Health Authority.
AHS is particularly welcomed in the Boundary, Androsoff said, noting that as of the 2017-2018 school year, 26.8 per cent of students in SD 51 – Boundary self-identified as Aboriginal. It’s a figure that Androsoff said could be even higher. “Those were just the ones who raised their hands,” she said.
Aboriginal student graduation rates in SD 51 have shot up recently as well. In 2018, 88 per cent of Aboriginal students who started grade 8 in the district up to six years prior graduated, only two per cent lower than the overall non-Aboriginal graduation rate for the same cohort. Province-wide over the same time frame, 70 per cent of Aboriginal students and 86 per cent of non-Aboriginal students completed high school in B.C.
Androsoff, who grew up in the Boundary, told the eager crowd how she came to connect with her Métis roots in high school, thanks to family and community connections. It was her grandfather, Thomas Taylor, who helped found the Boundary Métis Association.
“There was a time in his life where he felt shame for being Métis,” Androsoff said. “He was called a ‘half-breed’, he was teased, he was bugged.” But, the AHS program manager said, it was when Taylor learned about his own ancestry that he felt pride in his heritage and identity.
“He instilled this pride in me as a youth,” Androsoff added, noting that she became a youth representative with the Métis society and the Boundary Education Advisory committee. Currently, she said, there are no youth representatives on either board.
“I’m hoping that by having our Aboriginal Head Start program right on high school grounds, we can involve the youth more and make them proud of their heritage,” she said.