July 12th, 2024

Indigenous program graduation celebrates Blackfoot culture

By Alexandra Noad - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on June 21, 2024.

Herald photo by Alexandra Noad Children from the Opokaa'sin Early Learning program celebrate their graduation at the Elks picnic area in the city's river bottom.

Opokaa’sin Early Intervention Society held their year end celebration and graduation ceremony on Wednesday.

What started as a daycare in a basement office in 1996 has grown to help Indigenous children age 19 months to 12 years through their various programing.

Jocelyn Davis, CEO of Opokaa’sin, says the primary focus is on Blackfoot culture.

“Blackfoot elders come on site and they really guide our program, our language and our curriculum development,” said Davis.

Opokaa’sin provides resources for Indigenous children they wouldn’t normally get in an urban setting.

“We want to bring them back to our culture where they have a sense of belonging. So a lot of the families that are attending don’t have some of the resources that they would normally have access to (on the reserve),” said Davis.

Along with the elder’s participation they also have a grandma in the classroom to assist the teachers as well as to speak Blackfoot to the children.

“Language development starts so early. Our goal is to try and get us to really incorporate language development at the young at a young age. So we start seeing children here. They’re being exposed to the language, our culture from Blackfoot resources, like the Elders,” said Davis.

Opokaa’sin has an Early Start program which prepares the children for Kindergarten, which Opokaa’sin also provides.

Once the children graduate from the kindergarten they are eligible for the after school program until they are 12. The program helps the children learn more about their culture as well as keep them engaged with the community.

“It just encompasses a lot of community engagements, physical activity, health and well-being, Blackfoot culture and language land based activities. So we try to hit a lot of different areas with the after school children. We want to make sure to keep it fun and engaging for them so that they continue to come back,” said Davis.

This year they celebrated five graduates from the after school program which is the most they have had in one year.

“Their future is promising and we’re looking forward to them coming back to Opokaa’sin in one capacity or another,” said Davis.

Along with Blackfoot culture Opokaa’sin also values individuality. Their successes are celebrated at the end of every year.

“So at the end of the year, we want to celebrate those successes that they had and we want to make sure that they feel empowered either graduating Head Start and going into kindergarten, or graduating kindergarten and going into grade one, because Opokaa’sin has kind of been, like a little hub for them,” said Davis.

Opokaa’sin is currently accepting applications for their programs in the fall as well as summer camps in July. They also offer parent education to help parents with their child’s development.

“We want to make sure that our parents have that knowledge and they make sure that their children are attending so they’re reaching of milestones. So by the time they leave this, they’re ready. They’re ready to go for grade one. They’re ready to be at the big school and be out there in the world,” said Davis.

More info about Opokaa’sin’s programs can be found at http://www.opokaasin.org.

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