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Child care program in Clearwater expands into Aboriginal Head Start

The Eagles Nest is now an Aboriginal Head Start program, following four years of support and growth in Clearwater.
Yellowhead Community Services helped launch an Indigenous child care program called the Eagle’s Nest in 2018. (L-r) Sheila Nyman, Syilx Metis elder, Georgina Leppky, early childhood educator and manager of Eagle’s Nest and Aisha Leppky, one of first children enrolled in the new program. (File photo)

The Eagles Nest is now an Aboriginal Head Start program, following four years of support and growth in Clearwater.

Kwseltkten Services Society (Kwseltkten is the Simpcw word for family) is a local non-profit that recently took over the Eagles Nest program from Yellowhead Community Services. A board of directors was established and the society applied for grant money from the Aboriginal Head Start in Urban and Northern Communities program to establish an Aboriginal Head Start in Clearwater. Eagles Nest was one of around 200 programs chosen.

The Eagles Nest Aboriginal Head Start provides a space for children from ages zero to five to access culturally-appropriate care reflecting Indigenous values and beliefs. There are eight spots available in the head start program, but program manager Georgina Leppky noted they already have a sizeable waiting list.

Leppky and elder Sheila Nyman have been with the Eagles Nest since it began in 2018. Over the years, the group has grown, hiring more staff and held ceremonies to honour Orange Shirt Day, the National Indigenous Peoples Day, the Moosehide Campaign, Louis Riel Day and National Truth and Reconciliation Day, among many others.

Leppky acknowledged that she and the Eagles Nest group are very grateful to live, work and play on the unceded territory of the Secwepemc Nation.

She stressed without YCS and Susanne Butcher, YCS’s chief operating officer, Eagles Nest may not be what it is today, noting they were a big reason for their success, providing space and support throughout the years.

Butcher noted “YCS remains an active partner with KSS and we are thrilled at their success.”

Though originally offering services three days a week, Eagles Nest quickly expanded. Now, the new head start program operates five days per week and is 100 per cent funded, meaning there is no charge to parents. The funding also pays for the salary and continued training of its five employees.

Leppky said the Aboriginal Head Start Association also provided funding for new furniture and toys. They were also able to hire a new cook and provide all three meals for the kids. The group also accepts suggestions and ideas from parents.

“We have a parent board and program council where families have an opportunity to share their knowledge and ideas,” said Leppky.

In the program, children learn the traditional language, the medicine wheel and the seven teachings (love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and truth), among many other topics. Because the teachings can be very expansive, the program focuses on a topic monthly. When learning about honesty, for example, the children would be asked what it means to be honest, singing songs about honesty and participating in skits, learning through a wide range of teaching techniques.

It also provides a supported transition to Kindergarten and a connection to elders.

“We share our First Nation, Innuit and Metis family’s pride in reclaiming our Indigenous roots, language and traditions from all across Turtle Island with the support and guidance from our families, Elders and Knowledge Keepers,” said Leppky. “Based in the strength of our ancestors, our pride in watching our Indigenous village grow to raise our children and the next seven generations to come.”

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