Drumming and ceremonial prayers highlighted the preview launch Thursday of the first Indigenous-led family centre in London, Ont., a facility that officially opens next month, with culture and language "ingrained" in its programming.
The Nshwaasnangong Child Care & Family Centre will feature a daycare for up to 88 children.
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce was involved in the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the soft opening to give those in attendance a glimpse of the facility.
The daycare at the centre at 499 Hill St. will be for children six years of age or younger, with programming from EarlyON geared to Indigenous language and "spirit."
"We do have an infant room and toddler and preschool room, so they'll be here for the daycare," said Jan Martin, director of Indigenous relations at Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre (SOAHAC), the lead agency for the centre.
Martin said the centre "is for the families with children" and offers "programming for fathers, mothers, babies," and all activities will be "ingrained" in the language and culture.
The idea for the centre came from consultations with Indigenous families in the region.
Following the consultations, the Journey Together Indigenous Planning Committee proposed the centre to the City of London, and it was approved in 2018.
"They'll embrace the culture," said Brian Dokis, CEO of SOAHAC, when asked about the benefits for children attending the centre. "It's all about the culture.
"Culture will be at the core of a lot of what we do here, right from the menu to a lot of the programming, a lot of the teaching that they will get here, especially in the family resource centre."
The building, designed by Two Row Architect, which is also Indigenous led, is in the shape of a turtle. According to a news release, it was designed in order "to connect with all people living on Turtle Island."
Martin said the process for child-care registration is easy.
"There's a significant Indigenous population here in London," said Dokis. "A lot of people come here for employment reasons or education. They've left their communities behind in a lot of cases, or in some cases they need to reconnect with their culture, so I thought this was a great opportunity for SOAHAC."