Tips & Tools for Supporting Elders and Staff

The Gift of the Elders

Elder involvement is our greatest strength in creating the AHS cultural experience. Elders can be involved in any aspect of the AHS program. It is up to staff members to point out the opportunities where they might play a role. If Elders are more comfortable with adults than children, they might become an advisor to the staff or PAC group, teach them language and culture, or provide resources for cultural activities, such as food or crafts.

In the classroom, Elders can be involved as little or as much as they are willing. Some are simply a presence for the children, providing the children with an opportunity to learn respect and care for their Elders.

Elders who are willing to become language and cultural instructors need to be assured of support for travel arrangements and classroom assistance. We can show respect and appreciation for Elders by giving traditional gifts and/or monetary honoraria. Each community has its own protocol about payment for services, and the AHS staff needs to find out what is the acceptable procedure.

“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. All of the things that were forbidden for us are coming back strong.”
- Eugene Harry: Elder, Eagle’s Nest AHS & Singing Frog AHS

  • Create a welcoming, safe and pressure-free environment for them to observe, interact and enjoy the program. Let them know how they can become involved with the program.

  • Invite Elders to be members of the Advisory Committees, as well as teaching staff and students about the traditional customs and beliefs.

  • Hold Grandparents’ and Elders’ Dinners and Events to give staff a chance to get to know extended families and let the community know the needs of the program. Serve traditional foods when possible.

  • Visit senior’s centres/old age homes or bring Elders to the centre to offer the children an opportunity to be with them.

  • Friendship Centres may have role models who speak the local language and are willing to share with staff or students in AHS.

  • Contact community libraries and school districts to ask about storytellers and cultural resource people.

  • Contact First Nations communities whose territories you are in for information regarding local protocol and resource people.

    “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 AHS

    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

  • The guide book called Honouring Our Elders (see our Resources for working with Elders) was developed by AHSABC to support and encourage AHS staff in how to involve Elders in the program. This guide contains lots of examples of how Elders participate in the 6 components of Aboriginal Head Start.

  • Your staff might need to help Elders with their Criminal Record Check and if necessary, obtaining a pardon. (More info and sample forms are included in the Honouring Our Elders guide mentioned above.)

  • The DVD, called The Gift of Our Elders, is a recruiting tool for use at AHS sites and in other settings. This video presentation for Elders demonstrates how they can become part of the Head Start program and the benefits for not only the young children, but themselves as well. The entire 15-minute movie can be viewed on our Media page and the DVD is available for purchase for your program. An accompanying brochure handout can be taken home by the Elders as a reminder of this information.

    “This is absolutely the most incredible place to work... 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 & Cultural Teacher, Qwallayuw AHS

Making a Difference for Staff

Aboriginal Head Start staff members often speak of their love for their jobs, and say they can’t imagine doing anything else because this is where they feel they belong and that their work is about much more than the job – it’s about making a difference to the children, their families, and the community. In addition, they also speak about their own personal benefits from being involved in the AHS Village.

“Head Start helped me grow as a person, and I’m grateful for that. It’s empowerment of who I am. That’s helped me over the years…”
- Carolyn Reed: Senior ECE, Awahsuk AHS

  • Identify and draw on the individual gifts and skills of staff members to increase their involvement and sense of purpose.

  • Network with other Head Start and Early Childhood Development programs in activities, such as field trips and celebrations, and at conferences. This is an important way to connect staff members with others who enjoy the same work.

  • Visit the AHSABC website often and contribute ideas and experiences from your own programs to this ‘virtual AHS Village.’ You will find many program resources and links to professional development opportunities for supporting program staff as well.

  • Take advantage of online seminars and interactive communication formats – these are constantly being developed to enhance learning and networking among AHS community members and Aboriginal Early Childhood workers everywhere.

    “AHS continues to invest in my educational pursuits. We have dollars budgeted for the staff to attend training, and the support from our host agency to be able to access training that staff may be interested in. There are opportunities that are made available through the efforts of the Executive Director of AHSABC in seeking funding to train all of the urban sites in BC. All of the sites with the same training – that is pretty remarkable!”
    - Leona Antoine: Program Coordinator, Singing Frog AHS

  • Workshops and training sessions, such as Aboriginal Head Start Leadership Administration and Management (AHSLAM), are offered throughout the year for staff, Elders and parents. AHSABC covers the costs of attending these events to ensure participation.

  • Many resources based on the 6 Components of Head Start have been produced to support staff in creating cultural experiences for the Aboriginal children and families. These are available from our website.

  • AHSABC organizes ongoing cultural conferences and gatherings to bring together staff, Elders and parent reps from all 12 AHS sites in BC. Staff have this opportunity to share ideas and expertise with each other, as well as support one another in facing challenges and solving problems as teams.

  • Caring for the Caregiver is an interactive workshop that covers topics such as recognizing signs of stress and burnout and building positive work relationships. It explores ways to rebuild enthusiasm in your work life by practicing activities that improve relationship communication, dealing with feelings of fear and anger, creating positive support systems, and understanding your values and beliefs. The workshop will incorporate teachings from the Medicine Wheel and other cultural traditions. This is one of many workshops to support Aboriginal Early Childhood workers that are offered by BC Aboriginal Child Care Society. For more info, go to:

    “It has been a huge privilege and honour to work with the Aboriginal Head Start Association. This work had profound impact on me personally and professionally, in a good way. It affirmed my desire to contribute to the Early Years and to those who are helping raise up our future generations. It also was a catalyst for a deepened commitment to ensuring all of our children have the opportunity to participate in programming where culture and language are not an add on, but rather the heartbeat of the programming.”
    - Monique Gray Smith: Former Executive Director, AHSABC