Eagles Nest Aboriginal Head Start celebrated the graduation of six of their children on Tuesday, June 21, with a ceremony held at the Dutch Lake Community Centre. Parents sat in the DLCC gymnasium as the head start program educators and honoured guests spoke about the children’s growth and performed rituals to signify their rights of passage into the next stage of their lives.
Program Manager Georgina Leppky noted it was the biggest graduating group the Eagles Nest has had since it began in 2018. The program is for families identifying as First Nations, Metis or Inuit, providing care for children from zero to five, giving strong attention to the children’s ancestors and connection to the land. In March 2022, the Eagles Nest program expanded into an Aboriginal Head Start.
“When we chose our name Eagles Nest, we were very conscious of not just calling ourselves a day care, because we wanted to be more than that,” Leppy said to parents. “We wanted to create a place that felt like home.”
Cindy Wilgosh, executive director of the North Thompson Aboriginal Cultural Centre Society, presented Brigette MacDougall, who recently received her Early Childhood Educator certificate, with an honorary feather, given to a person who has “shown kindness, generosity and been extremely brave or has accomplished a wonderful role.” Wilgosh thanked MacDougall for all the help and support she has given the children of Eagles Nest.
Elder for the program, Sheila Nyman, performed a smudging ritual with the children, before moving to a blanket ceremony for each child.
The blanket ceremony represents a right of passage or an achievement, said Nyman, and are recognized from the West to the East Coast. Many years ago, the blanket would’ve been a hide which was very important because it would keep people warm in the winter. A person’s “richness” would be determined by how many blankets they had. The blankets can also be passed on to others, she added.
Each child in the Eagles Nest program had an Indigenous art-inspired blanket wrapped around them before they were turned around once and helped to sit back down. The ceremony was to signify the children’s coming of age as next year, they will all be entering Kindergarten.