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Indigenous children to benefit from land-based programming to promote wellness

Indigenous children to benefit from land-based programming to promote wellness

June 14, 2021 at 8:34 am  BC, News, Politics

About 90 Indigenous early childhood development programs are receiving up to $100,000 each to improve wellness for over 1,700 children through land-based cultural programming. 

“The pandemic has made it clear how important getting outside is to our mental, physical and spiritual health,” said Katrina Chen, Minister of State for Child Care. “This funding will help improve outdoor programming for Indigenous children and support the development of stronger connections to children’s cultural identity and traditions.”

Twelve Aboriginal Head Start in Urban and Northern Communities (AHSUNC) sites (off-reserve) sites and 78 Aboriginal Head Start On-Reserve (AHSOR) sites are the first to receive support to create safe, outdoor early learning and play spaces for children. The organizations will receive this funding through a $10-million investment under the Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program (CERIP). 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. 

Aboriginal Head Start (AHS) programs offer high-quality, culturally based early learning and child care programs that are designed for and with Indigenous families and communities. These programs aim to help keep Indigenous children connected to their culture and to support Indigenous families in becoming better connected to their community. AHS offers preventative supports like parent education, encourages family participation and provides referrals to early intervention services, such as counselling and speech therapy.

The Wo’umxhl Simalgyex Daycare is an AHSOR site in the Gitwangak First Nation. The preschool teaches children about the Gitksen language and culture and received over $93,000 to create an outdoor cultural play, learning and healing environment for children and families. The space will include a fenced area that will include a Smoke House, Clan Houses for the children, a portable washing station and washrooms. The space will be the location for traditional gatherings and healing circles.   

“Our land is our medicine. We go there to heal,” said Liz Williams, manager, Wo’umxhl Simalgyex Daycare. “Every day, we will have this space to focus on healthy ways of being who we are. Language and culture are who we are, and this will continue to enhance the important work we do at AHSOR, and our children will benefit.”

In Mission, the Future 4 Nations AHSUNC site is receiving funding to update its outdoor play spaces. 

“We will improve the quality of education for our Aboriginal children by utilizing the natural environment the way our ancestors were taught,” said Ay’ Wha Tia Zelda Williams, program co-ordinator at Future 4 Nations AHS in Mission. “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. Parents and caregivers will feel more confident to send their children to school, knowing they will be outdoors 90% of the time.”

The CERIP is providing $100 million in one-time infrastructure grants for projects throughout B.C. to improve community economic resilience, develop tourism infrastructure, support unique heritage infrastructure and support economic recovery for rural communities. CERIP’s funding is distributed across five different streams managed by separate partner ministries: Municipal Affairs; Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport; Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operators and Rural Development; and Children and Family Development.


Mitzi Dean, Minister of Children and Family Development

“The majority of a child’s brain development happens before the age of six, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to give children access to quality, inclusive early learning experiences. This funding will support improvements to land-based programming at Aboriginal Head Start sites and help more Indigenous children build knowledge immersed in their culture and heritage, which includes developing a lifelong appreciation of nature and the outdoors.”

Richard Jock, chief executive officer, First Nations Health Authority

“The First Nations Health Authority is pleased to work in partnership with the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development to provide funding for Aboriginal Head Start On-Reserve programs in B.C. 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.” 

Dr. Nel Wieman, acting deputy chief medical officer, First Nations Health Authority ​

“These Aboriginal Head Start On-Reserve Programs are extremely important to the ongoing spiritual, physical and mental health development of First Nations children in B.C. In addition, these programs offer critical support services to parents that ultimately lead to stronger, healthier and happier First Nations communities.”

Quick Facts:

  • The First Nations Health Authority oversees 143 AHSOR programs in B.C.
  • The Aboriginal Head Start Association of BC, a non-profit society, supports 12 Aboriginal Head Start in Urban and Northern Communities programs in B.C.
  • Each AHS program is unique and is designed to meet the needs of the communities it serves.
  • Budget 2021 includes funding to convert an additional 400 child care spaces into Aboriginal Head Start spaces.

Learn More:

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

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