Earth was broken on the future of Grand Forks’s Aboriginal Head Start program last week, when excavators began carving out the foundation of the to-be two-storey building behind Grand Forks Secondary School.
The building, which will house offices for the Circle of Indigenous Nations Society (COINS) as well as offer 24 childcare spaces for Indigenous children – 16 spaces for 3 to 5-year-olds and 8 spaces for infants and toddlers – was confirmed last summer at a ceremony to honour the site.
Given that School District 51 – Boundary reports that more than 26 per cent of the student population identifies as Indigenous, COINS executive director Kris Salikin said that she expects Talking Little Feet Aboriginal Head Start to be busy.
“I would say that the need is quite large,” Salikin said. “I suspect we’ll have a bit of a waitlist as well.”
To be eligible for child care at the centre, parents need to be either working, looking for work or going to school – all things that can be tough without supports or sufficient resources.
Salikin said that she’s looking forward to “being able to offer Indigenous families some support with childcare so they can better themselves, go to school, get a job, and so they can support their family in a good way and and create healthier families.”
Much of that inspiration, she said, comes from the traditional knowledge that elders will be able to bring to children’s lives at the centre.
“We’ve got a number of elders, both in the West Kootenay and Boundary, that are going to bring some of that traditional knowledge into our programming to ensure that our programs are culturally based,” Salikin said.
Beyond elders, the centre will be staffed with a team of trained early childhood educators and professionals, paid between $25 and $26.50 per hour.
“Caring for our children is such an important part of the work in the social sector and it’s often unacknowledged,” said Salikin. “It’s shown by the wage across B.C., so we’re really hoping this wage will set some precedents […] to really honour the work that’s being done with our kids.”
Beyond the practicalities of wages and family support, Salikin said that the cultural connection provided by the centre will be an invaluable resources as well.
“Having a building there where families can feel a sense of belonging – when they walk in the doors, they feel like they’re welcomed and that their culture is acknowledged and honoured,” Salikin said, is key to the program.
Talking Little Feet Aboriginal Head Start is tentatively scheduled to open on March 1, 2020.