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Capital hosts Aboriginal head start conference

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Terry Lusty, Sweetgrass Writer, EDMONTON







Page 3

One of the first Aboriginal conferences in the new year focused on tomorrow's leaders, now children.

The third Alberta Aboriginal Head Start conference at Edmonton's Sheraton Grande Hotel, held Jan. 29-31, was attended by 160 delegates from 31 communities in Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

Alvin Manitopyes, a Health Canada employee from Calgary, was the conference organizer; LeeAnn Murphy, from the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre's Aboriginal Head Start program, chaired the event.

Interestingly, only six or seven of the delegates at "Our Children, Our Future, Our Roots, Our Community," were males. Organizers said they did not know the reason, but might look into it.

Murphy said, "the work we do in preparing Aboriginal children is so important so they may have a head start to succeed in attaining higher levels of education." Head Start is aimed at pre-schoolers. The delegates visited two schools that operate Head Start programs: Ben Calf Robe School and St. Andrews School.

The keynote address at the noon luncheon was delivered by Canadian author and artist Jeannette Armstrong from the En'owkin International School of Writing and Arts in British Columbia's Okanagan region.

Armstrong emphasized the key roles Aboriginal women's compassion and strength play in promoting health, and their importance as keepers of the next generation through passing down values, behaviors and social norms essential to the cultural upbringing of children. She also made the point that this will overcome the legacy of residential schools and foster homes that led to so-called "Indian problem" statistics.

Workshops on parental involvement, roles and responsibilities; on developing cultural curriculum for Metis and First Nations children; on exploring art, language and movement in early childhood development, on creating dreamcatchers; and one called "Ask an Elder" were offered.

Sherri Kimberly and Ronda Evans, Aboriginal staff members from Health Canada in Toronto, held a parental involvement session that talked about planning, developing, implementing and evaluating projects with the aid of parents.

The curriculum development workshop by Cheryl Sheldon, education manager for Alberta's Native education project demonstrated successful Head Start methods including using parents as resources, applying positive energy, arts and crafts, drumming, singing, storytelling, family trees, ceremonies, and fundraising.

Several Elders in the popular Ask an Elder workshop stressed the inclusion of Aboriginal culture, language and protocol, and provided a forum where delegates felt free to ask questions or make observations.

The exploring art, language and movement workshop led by Pat Fontaine, an instructor from Grande Prairie, examined how to employ songs, stories and finger plays to enhance language skills.

Day three saw a repeat of the workshops, followed by a lunch that featured special guest Pearl Calahasen, associate minister of Aboriginal affairs for Alberta.

Calahasen spoke about the importance of meeting the needs of Aboriginal children and commended the Head Start programs and staff for their dedication and service. She also mentioned how thrilled she was that the Speech from the Throne mentioned the fact that Alberta Head Start programs will be receiving a significant increase in funding.