Benefits of Aboriginal Head Start

AHS is making a difference for...

Making a Difference for Elders

Many of today’s Elders are the children who were taken away to Residential Schools. Elders and parents alike have also drawn distinctions between the conceptual foundation of Aboriginal Head Start and the historic wrongs of the Residential School system, contrasting Head Start’s modern encouragement and support for cultural and language lessons with the Residential Schools’ goal of removing the ‘Indian’ from Aboriginal children in efforts of assimilation. River Hill, a parent and volunteer at Singing Frog AHS in Vancouver, told Project staff how his Grandmother continuously sings the praises of Aboriginal Head Start because she didn’t have anything like it when she was at that age and instead was forced to attend Residential School.

“Aboriginal Head Start gives back what Residential School took away. It took away our children, it took away our culture and language, it took away the family, and our spirituality as well.”

– Audrey Waite: Program Coordinator, Comox Valley AHS, National Aboriginal Head Start Council Representative and former Chairperson

“Most Elders are still in their pain because of Residential School… Lots of us old-timers never had any love in our childhoods… got taken away from our families and never had parenting skills… Being here with the children teaches me a lot because I wasn’t a good father to my children, so today I do my best to be a good father and grandfather to all these small children.” – Willie Alphonse: Elder, Little Moccasins Learning Centre

“There’s been a big turnaround in the school system Drumming is most important to our people. There was a story in every song, teardrops, joy, tears of joy, a celebration of life. That was all forbidden for us from a long time ago. In the last 10 years, 12 years or so it’s being introduced in schools… All of the things that were forbidden for us are coming back strong.” – Eugene Harry: Elder, Eagle’s Nest AHS & Singing Frog AHS

“I teach Carrier language and songs to the children at the centre… also Level 1 Carrier to parents in PAC – this helps engage them in their child’s learning. I’m still learning language on my own, taking courses…” – Theresa Austin: Elder, Prince George AHS

For many Elders living in urban areas, the Aboriginal Head Start community provides them with a family, a second home. As well, they often become surrogate grandparents to the children in the preschool.

“I’m going on my 12th year here. So every year, I decide I’m gonna retire, but come September, I’m so excited to see who the new children are, and the ones who’ve moved up from Little Fry over to Head Start, and then from Head Start up to the afternoon program. I guess I can’t seem to quit coming here. Not only do I have fun doing what I do, but I’ve met a lot of children. They come through my life, they leave… but for that little bit of time that I’m with them, I’m hoping that I have made a little bit of impact in their lives.” – Sophie Hansen: Elder, Qwallayuw AHS

“When I come into Head Start … I know that I am appreciated for what I do, and the children appreciate me as well as the staff. It makes it nice to come here.” – Jean Walker: Elder, Power of Friendship AHS

“We have our Kokum (Christine Auger) who is now 85 years old. She allows us to bring the Head Start children to her home and help her set up her tipi when the weather is dry. She has a variety of displays for the children to ask questions, she shows them rabbit and Beaver furs, baby papoose, campfire, bannock making, tea on the fire, and she shows the children how it was in the old days; she tells them lots of stories.” – Darlene Conley: Program Coordinator, Sas Natsadle AHS

“Ten or 11 years ago, I was asked to teach songs and dance to the children, and with every song and dance there is a story. So I’ve tried to instill in the children the importance of this… The children have such an innocent spirit and I’m really honoured to be involved with teaching them song and dance. I’m also impressed with how they’re learning the Tsimshian language and I think this is very good for them… I’m teaching them Haida songs and a prayer… every day I feel I’m learning from them as well as teaching them.” – Margaret Adkins: Elder, Prince Rupert AHS

“This is absolutely the most incredible place to work. It is an incredible program. I didn’t know something like this existed and it just gives me a feeling of joy that these children come here and have such a head start! It’s beyond anything that I knew existed. They receive love and they receive discipline and they are encouraged through everything. It’s just an absolutely incredible program and it’s enriched my life. I love to come and see these children grow. What is wonderful about the cultural program is the support system. Every one of the workers participates in it. They learn the language, they participate in the dancing, and it is just an immense sense of pride.” – Gloria Roze: Elder, Qwallayuw AHS