Former Quebec residential school site now a place for Indigenous kids to learn about language, culture

The constructing in La Tuque, Que., as soon as housed a residential college, however now the house is getting used as a daycare the place Indigenous youngsters are inspired to talk their native language and study their tradition.

About 60 per cent of children on the First Steps daycare are Indigenous, they usually participate in particular programming the place they get to take part in actions that join them with their Atikamekw heritage.

The daycare additionally provides applications the place Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids spend time exploring the forest and studying in regards to the values and data of Indigenous communities.

The employees on the daycare say that introducing Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids to those values and fostering relationships between them is paying off.

“It removes prejudices. It creates nice connections,” stated Christiane Morin, who has been the daycare’s director because it opened in 2001.

Employees say bringing collectively kids from totally different cultures helps break down boundaries for each youngsters and oldsters. (Delphine Jung/Radio-Canada)

Morin says it has the identical impact on mother and father whose youngsters take half in this system.

She says at the start, many non-Indigenous mother and father had preconceived notions in regards to the Indigenous kids.

“When there was an outbreak of lice, they thought it was because of the Indigenous children,” stated Morin.

Morin says she did not tolerate this sort of angle, and that giving the children time to get to know one another helped break down boundaries.

The daycare contains a forest program the place the children get to discover nature and study its worth in Indigenous tradition. (Delphine Jung/Radio-Canada)

Whereas she acknowledges the sombre historical past of the constructing, Morin feels {that a} new chapter is being written inside its previous partitions.

“We no longer see sadness. We see children who are happy. We can see that they are having fun. It buries the tears that were here before.”

‘A method to keep in mind that it occurred’

For Indigenous mother and father, giving their youngsters a spot the place their language and tradition will likely be validated and celebrated brings peace of thoughts.

Laurianne Petiquay, who comes from the group of Wemotaci on the north shore of the Saint-Maurice River, says she felt that placing her youngsters in a program the place they may converse Atikamekw would give them a greater probability to succeed.

Petiquay felt this system at First Steps would additionally assist her youngsters really feel extra included.

Laurianne Petiquay sends her three youngsters to the daycare. She stated she’s comfortable to have them in a spot the place she is aware of they will not face discrimination. (Delphine Jung/Radio-Canada)

“It’s hard to choose to stay in an urban setting when you’re an Indigenous mom who speaks the language and whose kids speak the language. I worried they were going to suffer discrimination [elsewhere],” she stated.

Contemplating the constructing used to accommodate an establishment aimed toward separating kids from their language and tradition, Petiquay stated she feels the brand new mission of acceptance and inclusion is vital.

She stated repurposing the constructing is a “way to remember that it happened. The fact that this place has come back to life in another way, by bringing back children with a beautiful program for the First Nations … is a way of remembering and not just demolishing it to forget.”

Solely the constructing that housed the school rooms stays of the previous college. The chapel and dormitories have been demolished as a result of they have been dilapidated. 

On the daycare, Indigenous and non-Indigenous youngsters are repeatedly open air and discover the forest with magnifying glasses, shovels and a vegetable peeler.

Taniassa Laloche, an educator on the daycare, speaks to the children in Atikamekw and helps them develop their vocabulary. (Delphine Jung/Radio-Canada)

Once they return to the classroom, the Atikamekw youngsters spend time with Taniassa Laloche, who runs this system for Indigenous youngsters. Laloche speaks to them in each French and Atikamekw, and runs particular programming the place they take heed to tales and myths instructed by elders or study cultural practices, like tanning moose cover.

Conserving the language

Laloche introduced her father, Jean-Yves Birothé, into the category to show the children find out how to make bannock.

Whereas they waited for the bread to bake, Laloche taught the children find out how to say numbers and shapes in Atikamekw to broaden their vocabulary.

“It’s important for the conservation of our language,” she stated.

Romeo Saganash, a Cree lawyer who served because the member of Parliament for the Quebec driving of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou from 2011 to 2019, attended the residential college in La Tuque for 10 years when he was a baby.

Romeo Saganash, a Cree former MP, hung out on the residential college in La Tuque that now homes the daycare. (Hugo Belanger/Radio-Canada)

He remembers the scent of the previous constructing and the way in which the employees would deal with the kids in English, regardless that Saganash at the moment spoke neither French nor English.

He remembers being at college and being instructed his father had died and that he would not be allowed to attend the funeral.

“I stayed in my seat without crying, totally enraged. I told myself I would try even harder to get out of that place,” stated Saganash.

He says he helps the influence the daycare is making at present, however says that educating younger folks in regards to the historical past of these buildings and the legacy of residential faculties is essential to shifting ahead.