Nation-Based Sovereign-Based Government

Thinking About Early Years and Beyond…

October 25, 2019

Treaty 2 Territory – Life Long Learning Circle Keeper and Research Assistant have been spending time looking at and thinking about First Nations schools, Education Acts, and Early Years transitioning. Culture and language are almost always at the forefront when education planning discussions take place among First Nations peoples. We hope to preserve, to renew and to revitalize our ways, integrating and centering them while at the same time utilizing the Western system.

Ways in which First Nations and other Indigenous peoples are doing this important work are through language nests (and programs), culture camps (schools & community-based), community history courses (school-initiated), First Nations (Indigenous) Studies courses, Elders and Knowledge-Keepers in the school, land-based learning, and much more.

If most language speakers among First Nations peoples are of the ages 35+, how do First Nations continue the important work of maintaining and teaching the language throughout Life Long Learning? Many may feel that the focus needs to be in early years–with the little ones–as studies show that children have the highest ability to learn language from the age of three until about puberty. Of course, if a baby is fully immersed in the language at home he or she will learn the language. According to, if one parent is fluent that parent should fully immerse the child in the language at home; however, if the child has not been immersed by the fluent parent then it is best to wait until the child is two and a half years old to begin teaching the language. Having said that, we know that the fluent language speakers in First Nations communities were immersed in the language at home–they think, speak, and dream in the language. Does this mean that we worry less about Western credentials for teaching and simply bring language speakers into early years settings (especially if the parents and/or caregivers of children are not fluent)? What does an early learning program such as this look like? What happens when that child returns home where the language is not spoken? Are parents willing to learn what they can so that they, too, can speak the language at home?

When we think about little ones and their learning, learning begins at home, at birth, and it continues throughout a lifetime; hence, Life Long Learning. First Nations are working hard to support the early learning of little ones. It would seem that most communities wish to support parents and caregivers at home to prepare little ones for transition into school; not only in language and culture, but with the skills and education required to participate in today’s society as well. Health Centres may initiate parenting, literacy, and nutrition programs. And many communities now have Jordan’s Principle, Head Start, daycares and Nursery & Kindergarten.

According to York Region District School Board, good early years (birth to Gr. 3) transition plans consist of building continuity for little ones. That is, creating environments that address local needs and priorities (ie. language and culture). Programs in community become partners actively working together to build on this continuity in learning. And partners make a plan to ease the transition of early years, to Kindergarten, to primary grades. What can this look like from a First Nations’ perspective? Or to push the question further, what can transition plans look like for older students in middle school, junior high, and high school? There are First Nations who have active transition programs for high school students to move into post-secondary which is very beneficial.

There is school in Albuquerque, New Mexico that is Indigenous-focused: Native American Community Academy. Students learn the language and culture. Academic standard is high. According to the School of Education at the University of Colorado (2018), 86% of students who attend this school are economically disadvantaged and “seventy-five percent of NACA students have parents who have never attended college, yet 100 percent of the past four graduating classes have been accepted into a college program.” Indeed, New Mexico is a distance away from First Nations here in what is now Canada, but the Nations there would have a common experience with colonization and it seems many are doing the important work of undoing the effects of colonization.

This hard work will continue as we think about the education of little ones, youth, and community members: Life Long Learning. The hard work to preserve, renew, and revitalize language and culture within communities and learning environments will continue…

I once heard someone say that speaking just one word of your language is an act of resistance. A seemingly small act but by doing it you are maintaining (and passing on) that one word. What is your word?

Last modified: October 25, 2019

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