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  • Writer's pictureAHSABC

The Aboriginal Head Start Educator

Transforming Lives with Love, Culture & Compassion

Who is the AHS Educator?

In an Aboriginal Head Start (AHS) context, the responsibilities of an Early Childhood Educator are diverse and, as such, the AHS Educator is someone who is open-minded and flexible, respectfully adapting to meet the needs of families. The AHS Educator does their “work” from a place of love and compassion. They have chosen the profession of Early Childhood Education often because the responsibility of loving, caring for and nurturing the youngest members of society speaks to their heart. They know that children are a Gift and they strive to provide a strong foundation upon which Indigenous children can thrive, growing up to be proud of who they are. This deep commitment to children’s well-being is what makes Early Childhood Educators and the field of Early Childhood Education increasingly recognized as instrumental for a child’s future success, contributing to the health of families and communities, and ultimately society as a whole.

“Children are a gift from the Creator and that connection to land, culture, heritage and Elders is what helps us to grow into healthy, happy adults.” – AHS Program Coordinator“You must love, honour and respect children; you must keep their flame burning.” – AHS Elder

AHS Educators help each child to recognize their own gifts – those strengths that make them a unique and valuable member of society – and support that child in building relationships with the land, their culture, Elders and community in order to ensure the flame inside of them continues to burn brightly. When imagining the AHS Educator, it is important to keep in mind that the holistic nature of AHS programming makes it necessary that an AHS Educator be passionate about supporting the child AND their family, as the two are intricately intertwined; to achieve good health the child needs the support of their family. The Educator, then, seeks to build a respectful relationship with the child’s family, meeting them where they are at, and actively includes family members (including aunties and uncles, and grandparents) in programming and activities for the child as well as at events specific to the family.

It’s family caring for families...which to me is the purest place to be.” – AHS ECE

AHS Educators recognize the importance of multiple domains of development, including a child’s spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical needs. This holistic approach is culturally-centred, as AHS childcare centres and preschools bring First Nations, Metis and Inuit children together and ensure each child is able to see themselves in their environment. By fostering a sense of cultural belonging, AHS Educators support the development of the child’s self-esteem and self-concept, which has a positive impact on their social and emotional well-being across the lifespan.

I think it is important to me as an educator to hold space for children who do not have as much access to their culture as others. Being part of their culture and having a space to be who they are can give them a head start in life that is needed when so much of their culture was stripped of them.” – AHS ECE “I go to work every day to give children the culture that I didn’t have.” – AHS ECE

AHS Educators recognize culture is a privilege that not everyone has had the chance to experience, motivating them to share it and grow that cultural knowledge together. This mutual growth is what leads Educators to often describe their work as “healing”. Going one step further, Educators as well as Elders often describe ECE work as “sacred medicine”, highlighting the deeply spiritual and culturally-centred nature of their work and the opportunity for healing generational trauma with love and compassion.

How do AHS early childhood Educators do this work in a good way?

AHS Educators work from one mind and one heart. This means that they recognize that nurturing, supporting, and caring for children is necessary for a child to thrive emotionally, socially, spiritually, cognitively and physically. They come to work each day with a passion that flows through their interactions with their colleagues, the children and the families. During training sessions for AHS, staff across many different roles use the phrase “lead with love” when describing their work. There is consensus amongst Educators that the foundation of their work is love – whether your task is to cook a meal for the children, teach them to put on their coats, comfort them in times of distress, walk with them through the forest, listen to them share their new ideas – each of these comes forth from a place of love. The environment this creates, then, is safe and secure, starting children from a good place each day. When a child arrives at a centre, they experience the warmth and comfort that comes from seeing the eyes of an educator light up with joy upon seeing them.

By giving children and families the opportunity to receive love at [Aboriginal Head Start] they will be able to love for generations” – AHS ECE

AHS Educators strive to meet the diverse needs and abilities of the children in their care. They constantly grow and change in order to provide for the needs of each child and family, recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to early education. They recognize the privilege of supporting a family in a unique way honours and respects that family, including their past, present and future.

AHS Educators recognize the important role of language in culture, and they are passionate about promoting language revitalization and cultural connections. Early childhood educators play a crucial role in the language development of little ones, including the learning of traditional languages. They can support children on their journey to learn their language that may have been lost to their parents or family members and bring that language back to their family. This role is pivotal in supporting the health and well-being of the child and family as it repairs the damage of colonization and empowers the family to proudly embrace their culture.

AHS Educators bring the community together. Through their close collaboration with families and the broader Indigenous community, they ensure a supportive and inclusive educational environment for the children. They connect with Elders and Knowledge Keepers within the community to include them in children’s early educational programming so that the children can be educated and loved by many. They also connect with each other, showing up honestly and intentionally, creating a family of Educators doing this work together at each centre and with their extended family of Educators across the province and country.

“The children we are working with each day are the dreams come true of their ancestors.” – AHS Elder

AHS Educators advocate for the rights of Indigenous children and their families and their access to culturally sensitive and appropriate health and well-being services. This advocacy covers education, health, and government sectors, supporting the family to access the services that they need. Respect for each family and their specific needs and challenges is seen as critical to this work and AHS Educators put trust at the centre of each family relationship.

We are a support system not only for the children but each individual family that crosses through our door.” – AHS ECE

AHS is reconciliation in action, as the Educators are the people who share truth each day and grow their own and the children’s understanding of culture and language. Today, over 150 early childhood Educators in AHS programs in BC are reaching over 1200 children and families who are Indigenous from Nations across Canada. AHS Educators strive to fill the children up with goodness so that they have the strength and courage to thrive. By connecting with children on an emotional level, AHS Educators are repairing the damage done to generations and healing the hearts of the future.

“Educators create connections by validating children’s past, present and future.” – AHS Elder

In closing, we honour and respect, with gratitude, those that do this good work. AHS Educators, deeply rooted in culture, community, relationships, and a profound connection to the land and ancestors, emerge as dynamic leaders in the field. Their influence goes beyond their centre, resonating through families and communities, setting the stage for positive generational change. As champions of individuality and inclusivity, AHS Educators are creating a legacy of strength, resilience and cultural heritage for Indigenous children and families for generations to come.

“We’ve heard from AHS Educators, in the writing of this paper, that it is sometimes a challenge to show up in a good way, when the work has been emotionally frustrating and draining, and there are challenges that make it feel impossible to meet the full needs of the children and families. Therefore, we suggest using this documentation as a point of reference, as a vision/goal to strive for in ourselves and those we work with, knowing we are all growing and on this lifelong path together.” – AHSABC Team

What is Aboriginal Head Start?

Aboriginal Head Start (AHS) is an intergenerational, family well-being, early learning and child care program for First Nations, Inuit and Métis children and their families. AHS programs in British Columbia demonstrate how locally controlled and designed early intervention strategies provide Indigenous children and their families with a positive sense of themselves, a desire for lifelong learning and provides opportunities to develop fully. Involving parents, Elders and community in the planning, delivery and evaluation of the day-to-day program respects and ensures the cultural representation and diversity in all our AHS programs.

The AHS Principles and Guidelines create a unique foundation for program delivery that sets AHS apart from others. Each program upholds six core programming components: Indigenous Culture and Language, Parental Involvement, Education, Social Support, Nutrition and Health Promotion.

AHS celebrates and honours the vital role of the early childhood educator as a dedicated professional who recognizes the privilege and opportunity they have to positively impact the lives of children and families every day. This paper reflects a synthesis of ideas shared by members of AHSABC during group gatherings and conversations about our shared passion for our life’s work. Members’ voices have been heard and are summarized here to spark a larger conversation about those qualities of early childhood Educators that are necessary for creating a strong and healthy environment for Indigenous children and families. Our goal is to lift up these characteristics as critical for the culturally-grounded education of young hearts and minds.

Aboriginal Head Start Association of British Columbia

The Aboriginal Head Start Association of British Columbia (AHSABC) is a non-profit society made up of the urban Aboriginal Head Start (AHS) programs in BC, all of which are members of the AHSABC. We work in collaboration with AHS Parents, Elders, program partners and government sharing the responsibility of growing quality early learning environments for children and families. Since 2001, AHSABC has been a leader in Indigenous Early Childhood Education, promoting excellence in the field through the development and delivery of quality early childhood programming. AHSABC develops and provides training, professional development and cultural resources that respond to the needs and opportunities in AHS programs that are reflective of the children and families reached.

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