Early childhood education and care (ECEC) is a critical policy issue for Canada's Indigenous people. For many years there has been a call for a sustainable Indigenous ECEC system that is controlled by Indigenous communities. Developing ECEC policy and programs that maintains Indigenous culture by adopting a culturally appropriate approach yet is flexible and robust enough to accommodate diverse needs has long been identified as a major concern.
On June 3, 2015, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released its findings and calls to action following a six year mandate during which the three Commissioners heard more than 6,750 survivor and witness statements from across the country. The TRC's call to action includes 94 recommendations on topics ranging from child welfare, preserving language and culture, promoting legal equity and strengthening information on missing children. Specific to ECEC, a recommendation in the substantial education section calls upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Indigenous governments to develop culturally appropriate early childhood education programs for Indigenous families.
For a more clear depiction and imagery and to build a better understanding of the needs of the calls of action, more than 6,750 survivors and witnesses were called upon to provide statements of their experiences from around the country. These statements bring to life the reality for the Indigenous people and children and share stories of the love, laughter, and nurturing they received from their families. Survivors spoke about the love and respect they had for their elders as they shared their stories with the children, teaching and sharing with them their cultural values. Ultimately, the survivors spoke about happiness, togetherness, and the unity of their families before the residential schools. Amongst these survivors were intergenerational survivors whose parents had been survivors of the residential schools. The intergenerational survivors spoke about the trauma that was reflected in their parent's behaviors, and how their experiences at the residential schools negatively affected their ability to be parents.
The TRC is but the most recent Canada-wide inquiry into issues affecting Canada's Indigenous people. Some previous inquiries have recognized the importance of ECEC; in 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended that:
federal, provincial, and territorial governments co-operate to support an integrated early childhood funding strategy that a) extends early childhood education to all Aboriginal children regardless of residence; b) encourages programs that foster the physical, social, intellectual and spiritual development of children, reducing distinctions between child care, prevention and education; c) maximizes Aboriginal control over service design and administration; d) offers one-stop accessible funding; and e) promotes parental involvement and choice in early childhood education options.
The benefits of investment in the early years for Indigenous families are far-reaching. In addition to commonly discussed benefits of high quality ECEC programs, centres can be significant community hubs - locations where parents can build social capital and seek supportive resources. As Indigenous populations and children have been found to be especially vulnerable in the Canadian population, ECEC in the more than 600 First Nations and other communities where Indigenous families live is a vital issue for policy discussion.
A federal government publication on ECEC (Public Investments in ECEC 2010, available online at http://www.ecd-elcc.ca/eng/ecd/ececc/page00.shtml), includes the following contextual section:
"Aboriginal peoples" is a collective name for the original peoples of North America and their descendants. The Canadian constitution recognises three groups of Aboriginal people: Indians (commonly referred to as First Nations), Métis and Inuit. More than one million people in Canada identify themselves as an Aboriginal person, according to the 2006 Census.
Aboriginal communities are located in urban, rural and remote locations across Canada. They include: First Nations or Indian Bands, generally located on lands called reserves; Inuit communities located in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Northern Quebec (Nunavik) and Labrador; Métis communities; and communities of Aboriginal people (including Métis, Non-Status Indians, Inuit and First Nation individuals) in cities or towns which are not part of reserves or traditional territories.
Jurisdictional considerations regarding the planning and delivery of ECEC services are complex. Funding for on-reserve social programs is generally the responsibility of the Government of Canada, but some provincial governments may carry out regulation of on-reserve child care, while others do not. Social programs for other Aboriginal peoples may be a federal, provincial or territorial responsibility.
This Issue File is intended to promote discussion about how Indigenous child care and early childhood education features within policy debate about ECEC in Canada. It is organized into online documents and a list of useful resources including organizations, websites and other information. It builds on an earlier online CRRU Issue File titled Aboriginal Early Learning and Child Care: Policy Issues, compiled in 2011.
Special thanks to our CRRU interns, Vittoria Rotiroti and Jessica Trinh for their hard work on updating this important Issue File.