Cultural Activities for Urban Programs

Reviving the Culture: Adaptation not assimilation

We cannot move backward in time, nor would we want to. Our Grandfathers would have used a power saw to buck up a tree for carving or building if they had had one. Our Grandmothers didn’t hesitate to use clothing made from cloth rather than cedar bark or hides.

“It’s not about assimilation, it’s about adaptation… if our ancestors had the same availability of modern means as we do, they would have used it too.”
- Chief Ian Campbell, Hereditary Chief of the Squamish Nation

To preserve Aboriginal culture, we can focus more on the inherent values and traditional customs that connect us to the land and nature. In this way, even in situations where there are no Elders available to teach our languages and no animals to hunt, we can still pass along the ways of the Aboriginal People in a modern day context.

Aboriginal children in the urban Head Start preschools experience their culture through dancing and drumming, singing songs, hearing stories, tasting traditional foods, making crafts, touching nature, learning about animals and plants, smudging, playing with model villages, and so on.

Included in this guide are samples of curriculum ideas from many AHS sites. Most of the cultural activities can be adapted to the seasonal calendar, themes, animals, customs, traditional foods, and so on of any region or Aboriginal background in urban programs or on reserves. The 6 Component Areas of the Aboriginal Head Start program provide opportunities for incorporating culture into all learning experiences.

  • Here is a list of ideas on ways to incorporate Culture into each of the 6 Components

  • Photograph every cultural activity! Use photos to make a book about the activity - children love to see pictures of themselves, read about things they have experienced and will recall what they’ve learned and pass it along to others in the family.

  • Make your own cultural books:

    1. Glue one photo on each side of an 8x8 inch sheet of coloured card. Write a word or short phrase in the Aboriginal language and English underneath.

    2. Laminate pages, punch two holes and bind with rings.

    3. Suggested book themes are: cleaning a fish, smoking salmon, skinning a moose or deer, making a drum, spinning wool, beading a bracelet, making dream catchers, making bannock, making a button blanket, visiting the Elders, and so on.

  • Create culture kits – collections of regalia, smudge, traditional art, tools and instruments from each Nation. Preparation is ongoing every year, with new ones started as each new Nation is represented in the class. Ask parents to help make regalia and decorate them according to their Nation’s customs. For example, moccasins may be decorated with specific coloured beads and lightning bolts in one community and be plain with no beading at another.

  • Cultural Tables are a popular interactive play station in the preschool classroom. Comox Valley AHS has developed a versatile model that can be adapted to any cultural setting. Click to learn how to build these early learning tools for your own program.

  • Help parents, staff and volunteers to learn and use traditional language by reading and pronouncing Aboriginal words with the children. AHSABC has created Language Revitalization posters for programs in BC and across Canada, available in English and French. These have a space for a ‘word of the day’ to be written in an Aboriginal language to encourage everyone to learn together.

  • Use name tags at circle time to help everyone (especially visitors) remember people’s names and Nations, and encourage the children to practice calling each other by name. An image of the child’s clan or totem animal may be added to contribute to their sense of identity.

  • Look for song and story books from cultural departments of First Nations Bands and agencies, such as the BC Aboriginal Child Care Society. For example, Laichwiltach Family Life Society at has several CDs of Kwakwala songs suitable for young children. Elder Sophie Hansen of Qwallayuw AHS has written a Kwakwala book for children called The Crow and the Raven. It is available from Amazon at

  • Audio and/or video record Elders or family members leading a cultural activity. With permission, these CDs, videos or tapes can be shared with family members and at cultural workshops and classes.

  • Watch videos of Elders teaching singing and dancing with the children and encourage them to imitate by dancing along with the performers. These videos may be available from Friendship Centres and cultural groups, such as from the ‘Ksan Cultural Association in Hazelton at Other videos may be available from School District Resource Centres and public libraries.

  • Introduce the children to Tobacco, Sage, Cedar and Sweetgrass – teach the significance of the four sacred medicines and use them for smudging, cleansing, protection and healing ceremonies.

  • Create ceremonies for the class and families to celebrate feasts. Here is a Sample Carrier Curriculum for the potlatch ceremony of the Dakelh People of the Prince George area of BC.

Cultural Protocol

AHS programs are often faced with controversy over which territory, dialect and protocol is correct. Most centres choose to provide the language and culture of the territory on which they are situated. When teachers of the local culture are available, inviting them to take part in the program is the best way of offering the children an experience of traditional culture.

However, sometimes there is a shortage of Elders from the local community to participate in the program. In this case, the parents and staff decide on what cultural experiences to offer the children. If there is an Elder from another culture who is willing to participate, then his or her language may be the main one taught. Many ECEs report that it may become confusing for the young students if more than two different languages are included in the daily routine.

“We are very fortunate to have staff who are members of the local culture and speak the language. I have connections to the Elders and people in the community, so I know who to call for advice and resources. We follow the protocol of the culture, such as asking permission from our Elders to play their cultural CD for the children at the centre. When we sing a song at circle, we always acknowledge who it belongs to and where it comes from.”
- Zelda Williams, Future 4 Nations AHS

  • Granny & Grampa Connections Box
    Success by 6 has created a toolkit of cultural resources and puppets for learning about culture with children & families. Check out our Other Resources page for more info.

  • UBC Literacy Project/ Dr. Jan Hare
    UBC professor and researcher, Dr. Jan Hare, has led a unique study on how children are teaching parents about their Indigenous culture.
    Jan has prepared a Book List for Aboriginal children which is available at other resources page.

  • School District Resource Centres use connections to school district staff (such as Kindergarten pre-assessment meetings) to borrow books translated by local speakers and videos for families in your program

  • Community Library children’s books and storytellers

  • Friendship Centres connections to resource people

  • Aboriginal Senior’s Homes a treasure trove of Elders who may enjoy singing or talking with children

  • Band Offices provide referrals to other Band Councils/ Tribal offices in Canada and US

  • BC Aboriginal Child Care Society this organization offers print and online resources; a lending library of over 800 books, videos and newsletters; rotating curriculum boxes with hands-on play materials and West Coast Aboriginal traditional resources that are shipped by courier to child care programs throughout BC.

  • BC Government. A Guide to Aboriginal Organizations and Services in British Columbia 2011/12 is available in booklet or download the pdf from the BC Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation website at

  • Parents and Families enlist them to seek out or make resources for the classroom

  • Other Head Start Programs and Aboriginal Preschools. Share cultural materials and resource people at community gatherings, conferences or through social networking online.

  • Check our website for more resources and ideas.