The Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation in Alberta is celebrating its 20th anniversary of its Head Start in Urban and Rural communities program.
The program is designed for preschool children to learn about their language and culture.
“We prepare them into Kindergarten. Into schools,” said Chief Tony Alexis. “Into University or College. When they succeed in that way, they come back to the Community to enrich our lives.
“It’s a cycle that we’ve learned to adapt and we are building on.”
(Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation Chief Tony Alexis at the Head Start program celebration)
Council members, former chiefs, teachers and officials from the Government of Canada were at the MNE Koodie Centre to re-open the school after a $1 million renovation.
The school was the first site in Canada to offer the Head Start program to preschoolers in 1999.
The program teaches three to five year olds local culture, language, social skills, nutrition and more.
It is now offered in 134 communities and teaches nearly 5,000 preschoolers across the country.
“We still have our culture and our identity here,” Alexis said. “And we have some strong spiritual leaders that come here that continue to teach, continue to transfer knowledge, continue to transfers songs and stories.”
Louise Potts is a teacher at the school
She is helped bring the Head Start program to Alexis 20 years ago.
Potts said the program works and would like to see it offered in every Indigenous community in Canada.
“We have more grade 12 graduates, more self aware people, more helpful people, more open minded youth,” said Potts.
“Of course we are not going to get everybody, but as long as we keep this moving, it’s going to overtake the rest.”
(Adults and children alike celebrate the Head Start program and the newly renovated school)
Jayda Potts took the program in 2003.
She said when she came back to the community after being away for years she was able to quickly relearn the Stoney language.
“I found it all came back because of this program,” she said. “Because of this program, because of Louise, because of Geraldine and all the workers who helped me retain the language as a child.
“I think that’s one of the benefits of the program. Because it was so culturally immersive.”
The newly renovated school now has more space, is energy efficient and has a quiet room.