Nova Scotia

NSCC grads hope to better teach Mi'kmaw children about identity

The first ever cohort of Mi'kmaw early childhood education students are now on their way to better teach children in their communities about aspects of Mi'kmaw culture.

'We didn't realize the true impact that it could potentially have on our students'

NSCC's Mi'kmaw early childhood education program recently had its first 13 students graduate from the program. (Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey)

The first graduates of a unique program in Nova Scotia are now on their way to better teach children about aspects of Mi'kmaw culture.

The 13 students recently celebrated their graduation from a special early childhood education program at the Nova Scotia Community College aimed at helping Mi'kmaw children — and their teachers.

"I feel like it will really help for children to really build on their identity," Adrianna Bonnell, one of the recent graduates who works at a daycare in Membertou, told CBC Radio's Information Morning.

"I always knew about our culture. But going into this program, I feel like I came out knowing so much more. I came out more proud of who I am, too."

An instructor with the pilot project says they didn't realize the impact that some aspects of the program, such as creating traditional drums and rattles, would have on the students. (Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey)

The pilot program taught people who were already working as early childhood educators how to use Mi'kmaw culture in their work. 

Instructor Nik Phillips said the partnership between NSCC, the province and Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey — the Mi'kmaw education authority — came about after leaders in Indigenous communities acknowledged a need for qualified educators who understood the culture.

"So the cultural piece of it was obviously acknowledging our colonial counterparts ... But even going further than that, acknowledging that we have 13,000 years of history and knowledge that has to be brought forth," Phillips told Information Morning.

One of the 13 recent graduates, Adrianna Bonnell, is shown here with her classmates taking notes on plants in the woods. (Carrie Sylliboy)

"We didn't realize the true impact that it could potentially have on our students in terms of reclaiming identity, using language, creating traditional drums and rattles, learning traditional medicines, and how they can be incorporated into lesson plans and delivery."

Bonnell said one of the highlights of the program was her paper on the role of godparents in Mi'kmaw culture. Godparents are chosen based on who the parents believe will best help mentor their child.

"Research on this really showed me how much they already knew the importance of the first seven years of a child's life and how they shaped everything into this to help build the child's foundation," she said.

"It went right down to picking four godparents and celebrating each milestone, like birthing ceremonies when your baby was being born. Everything was just words of encouragement."

Future of the program

Phillips said there are ongoing conversations about the future of the program now that the pilot is over and how to best move forward to support the Mi'kmaw community.

He also said they are hoping to bring some of the aspects of this pilot project into other early childhood education programs.

"There are conversations across the board in terms of how we can implement and Indigenize some of our courses and our programs, being that the vast majority of Nova Scotia graduates are most certainly going to come in contact with Mi'kmaw people," he said.

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning