The Exploration Place and the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation enjoy a close relationship based on mutual trust, built over 25 years of working together. We are thrilled to be entering into a brand-new project that will help shape the lives of our community’s youngest citizens. New Spaces funding through Childcare BC has made it possible for the Lheidli T’enneh and The Exploration Place to build a new childcare facility in Prince George. The new centre, opening in 2022, will be located on the original village site of Lheidli in Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park, a place of great significance.
In early 2019, The Exploration Place and the Lheidli T’enneh began discussions with the provincial government and the City of Prince George to explore the possibility of building this new centre. With the Lheidli T’enneh’s experience in capital builds such as Uda dune Baiyoh (House of Ancestors) and The Exploration Place’s experience operating licensed childcare, partnering on this project made sense as a great step forward for our community. Last November, the grant application was submitted. The Lheidli created the non-profit Daycare in the Park Society and began working to secure land.
Yet to be officially named, the Lheidli T’enneh childcare centre will provide a well-rounded, culturally safe program in an area in dire need of more quality childcare spaces. The project will create 75 new spaces, including 24 for infants and toddlers, 25 for children aged three years to kindergarten, and 26 for school-aged children. The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased and highlighted the importance of childcare to families and our economy, and new spaces can’t come fast enough.
There are only enough licensed childcare spaces in the province for 20 per cent of the children who need them, and waitlists are often years long. With a lack of spaces, high fees, and low salaries for Early Childhood Educators and other childcare staff, childcare has become a significant political issue. There is currently a lack of qualified ECEs across the country, making staffing childcare facilities extremely challenging. The provincial and federal governments are taking measures to remedy these concerns, but accessible childcare remains an important issue that will take multiple years to address and improve.
Children hold a sacred place in Indigenous cultures, and with that comes a sacred responsibility to care for them. High-quality, culturally specific, and well-supported early learning programs make a genuine difference in children’s early experiences, giving them a strong sense of identity. High-quality care provides educational opportunities and school readiness, contributing to people’s overall health and wellness from the early years into adulthood. High-quality programs also support workers in the early learning sector by offering them a fulfilling workplace environment and fair wages.
Programming at the new centre will be developed and delivered by Early Childhood Educators and certified Responsible Adults in consultation with Elders and Knowledge Keepers. The Lheidli T’enneh calendar will be the foundation of program design, providing a landscape on which to base themes and activities. The curriculum will emphasize language and culture, including Elder involvement, storytelling, song and dance, blessings and prayers, family connections, and land-based learning. Cultural experiences increase children’s tolerance, empathy, and critical thinking skills, helping them connect activities, objects, and experiences to their own lives. The Lheidli T’enneh childcare facility will further contribute to this connection, providing a place to teach and welcome diverse cultures, languages, history, and knowledge to all children in our care.
The Exploration Place’s childcare programs have traditionally focused on STEAM education. Indigenous people have developed empirical knowledge of their environment and the nature of the world, offering a natural intersection of science and traditional knowledge. With Indigenous ways of knowing as a foundation, we aim to care for and educate both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children aged zero to twelve, promoting a unique symbiosis of traditional knowledge, science, and the arts, while staying true to Lheidli T’enneh culture and teachings.
The continued partnership between the Lheidli T’enneh and The Exploration Place will allow learning and care that ultimately support the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, and the ancestors. Centralized childcare will enable more parents in Prince George to support their families while knowing their children are in a safe and nurturing environment that stimulates their minds and embraces all cultures and languages. An infusion of science-based learning together with traditional knowledge will support so many families in our area, starting from the youngest generation.
May is Child Care Month in BC, so it’s only fitting that the Lheidli T’enneh were announced as New Spaces recipients this week. This project has been years in the planning, and there is much more work ahead. The Exploration Place is excited and honoured to be part of this project and to have reached this milestone. We look forward to many more milestones in the future as we work together with our friends and neighbours.