Native Village
Youth and Education news
 Volume 2, February 2011

Inuit kindergarten class in Vanier gives taste of life in the North
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Ontario: Ottawa has 1,800 Inuit residents, the largest Inuit population south of their homelands. Most families come from Nunavut and The Canadian North. They move to Ontario for work, school and medical treatment. 

The Inuit Children's Centre in Ottawa had been serving the youngest Inuit youth. Now they have a new Inuit kindergarten -- the first one in Ontario. It serves 15 Inuit students.

"We had children already enrolled here through our aboriginal head-start program and our childcare centre," said Karen Baker-Anderson, the centre's executive director.  "We thought, 'why not give them a school-based curriculum but have it here and have the culture embedded in everything we do?'"

The Centre's kindergarten, which opened last October,  "... blends the best parts of Inuit culture and language with all of the elements of full-day kindergarten," said Jim Grieve from the Ontario Ministry of Education.  He added that it "...serves as an outstanding example for other communities partnering to serve First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children and their families."

Students at the Inuit Children's Center are immersed in their Inuit culture. They speak, read, and write in their Inuktitut language, are told Inuit legends, dance to and sing their traditional Inuit music, learn of their ancestors environment, the animals of their homelands, and explore all cultural and lifestyle areas of their Inuit people.

"The best way to continue to have a strong resilient community is by having strong resilient children who know their culture," said Baker-Anderson. "You can imagine, moving from the north, you're isolated from your family, what you know, the way that you've lived your life. When you come here and hear your language and eat traditional food you feel a sense of belonging."

Among the comments:

"Not only are they learning their ABCs, they're learning about polar bears and the northern lights."  Jane Kigutaq, teacher. 

"It's awesome. It helps a lot. He's learning things he's not able to learn in other schools.  He's learning about his own culture and traditions, like hunting and how to survive.  He loves it." Mahtoonah Arngna-Naaq, parent.

"We mustn't forget our history. It's her culture.  If I'm not there teaching her, it is part her everyday, who she is." Sue Qitsualik, parent.

"I think it builds self-esteem.  It builds confidence in who you are. They're not alone.  They're part of a community and it's valued. That's why it's so important for me to help the kids to have a voice so that when they go back into the regular system, they can say, `No this is what our culture truly is about' and represent it accurately as opposed to using stereotypes and biases."   Beatrice Ocquaye, teacher.

"I think we would all agree in Canada that we want to support our native and indigenous people in terms of maintaining their culture.   "
Barrie Hammond, Director of education.

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