Working for the Future of Aboriginal Children: Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP)

Michele A. Sam, Senior Aboriginal Researcher and Liaison at Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP).  Photo submitted by Michele A. Sam.

Michele A. Sam, Senior Aboriginal Researcher and Liaison at Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP). Photo submitted by Michele A. Sam.

Greetings! I am Michele A. Sam, member of the Ktunaxa Nation and the mother of two children. I am the eldest of eight children, all of whom experienced the 60’s scoop. As a result of the many social, cultural, professional, and personal roles I live, I am deeply aware that the well being of children is critically important in nation-rebuilding, good governance and cultural continuity. When I returned to my homelands and to my relations, it was my people who taught me about my gifts, my role, and my responsibilities, including learning.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Satsan believed in “creating new memories in the minds of our children.” This was an idea he learned from an elder and it is a lesson I keep in mind as I embrace my work with the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) here at UBC. I am honored to be living and working in Musqueam territory. I hold my hands up to those whose work was ahead of mine, making it possible for me to be here.

As the Senior Aboriginal Researcher and Liaison at HELP, I provide leadership to Aboriginal communities, nations, and organizations whose visions include their children thriving.  HELP is an interdisciplinary network of researchers and community members working together and is founded on knowing that what happens in the first years of a child’s life has lifelong influence on that child, their family, their community, and their nation. Utilizing a variety of Western methodologies and Indigenous ways of knowing, HELP is committed to creating and applying research that is accessible, meaningful, and useful to Aboriginal communities, nations,
and organizations.

HELP is guided in this purpose by a dedicated group of individuals gathered together as the Aboriginal Steering Committee (ASC). The ASC has been an integral part of HELP’s work since 2001 and was formally established in 2006. We are blessed to have the knowledge, love, and kindness of mothers, fathers, uncles, grandfathers, aunties, and grandmothers who are also elders, health and education professionals, front line early child development workers, social workers, and healing professionals. Together they contribute to
our shared effort in making change for our littlest of little ones.

HELP is entering its tenth year of Early Development Instrument (EDI) implementation across British Columbia.  The EDI is a population health tool that provides a holistic measure of children’s development in kindergarten. As such, its results are gathered and mapped at the level of the various language groups to assist local leaders and organizations to best plan for and support young children and their families in their homelands. This tool has undergone studies looking at its cultural validity and reliability. We are confident in its responsible use to supplement and support current nationrebuilding, cultural revitalization, and good governance initiatives within Aboriginal communities, nations, and organizations.

We have been working on increasing the relevance of the EDI data to Aboriginal communities. This year we added two questions to the instrument that are related to identity and language of heritage for Aboriginal children. Indigenous languages are core to our identities, providing knowledge and cultural continuity, yet most of us have been denied the opportunity to learn our languages. It has been difficult to know how many children are learning their traditional languages and how many children are potential speakers. Gathering this information can reinvigorate opportunities that are integral to the overall development and growth of
Aboriginal children and are necessary for local communities and provincial organizations to access in developing selfgovernance initiatives.

All of the local school districts in British Columbia have participated in the EDI project. Data for Aboriginal children who attend these schools has been collected but not yet disseminated as these children are members of the local Aboriginal nation and jurisdiction for this information thus lies with the nation itself. Working together, we will use the data to support their local efforts.

From various disciplined and Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing, we know we are a growing population without adequate opportunities for cultural reflection in our day-to-day experiences. Indigenous communities, nations, and organizations have many individuals working hard to make changes for our future that are grounded in our inherent identities, knowledge, and understanding. The Aboriginal research agenda at HELP supports social and cultural determinants for Aboriginal children’s development. In doing so, HELP recognizes that there is a diversity of approaches, understanding, and knowledge that are unique to Indigenous communities. A reinvigoration of Indigenous traditions of intellectual inquiry and the bringing together of ideas and people, both at home and in the university, requires learning from each other and suspending our own disbelief and differences. Together, we can teach and learn from each other
within this diversity of ways to “create new memories in the minds of our children.”

For more information about HELP, please visit