The Martin Family Initiative (MFI) and Maskwacis Health Services (MHS) celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Early Years program on May 19.
The first 30 families who participated in the program were honoured during the event, held at the Maskwacis Early Years building, located at 14 Ermineskin Ave.
The Early Years program is an Indigenous-led approach to supporting early childhood development built on the belief that a strong society depends on the ability to nurture the development of its next generation.
“The Early Years honours parents as their children’s first and most important teachers,” stated a press release.
“The impact of the Maskwacis Early Years program on Ermineskin Cree Nation has been enormous,” said Chief Randy Ermineskin in a release. “Through this program parents will have the confidence and participate in their children’s education.”
From its beginnings in 2018 as a collaboration between the Ermineskin Cree Nation, MHS and MFI, in 2018 the Early Years program, due to interest and demand it was soon embraced by all four Nations of Maskwacis, as well as Indigenous communities across the country.
“Ermineskin is proud to have led the beginnings of this program with guidance from Elders and community members. The Early Years is helping our young families thrive,” said Ermineskin.
“We are honoured to celebrate the fifth year of the program with Maskwacis,” said MFI vice resident Chloe Ferguson. “Every Indigenous child deserves to grow up happy, healthy and at home learning with their families.”
The Maskwacis Early Years program has now grown to include 30 full-time staff working in collaboration with more than 200 Maskwacis families.
“As Indigenous People, we have always thought about health holistically — starting from before our children are born,” said MHS health director Randy Littlechild. “Maskwacis Health Services’ collaboration with MFI has supported the delivery of early childhood programming grounded in our community’s culture and values.”
Founded by the Right Honourable Paul Martin, Canada’s 21st Prime Minister, MFI works together with First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Nation People to support education, health, and overall well-being for children, youth, and adults.
MFI now supports the development of Early Years programming in communities across the country.
“The Early Years Program is an undeniable example of the long-term and sustainable success that can be achieved when Indigenous communities have direct control over their own services,” said Martin.
Dignitaries present at the celebration included Elder Lorraine White, Treaty 6 Grand Chief Leonard Standingontheroad, Chief Ermineskin, MHS health director Littlechild, and Senator Dr. Margo Greenwood.
Also present on behalf of MFI was vice president Ferguson and Early Years director Jessica Hayden.
The concept of Maskwacis Health Services evolved as a result of the lack of proper facilities and services available to the residents of the Four Band membership
MHS embraces a different approach to health care, using traditional healing methods as well as contemporary healing practices.
Ermineskin Cree Nation is one member of the Four Nations of Maskwacis, located in Central Alberta, with a land base of approximately 25,000 acres. The area is traditionally known as the Bear Hills or Maskwacheesihk.