ARCHIVED—Preserving the Maliseet Culture
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Suzanne Belanger builds flexibility into her schedule to accommodate elder and parent participation, which is so important to First Nations culture. It is with their help that Suzanne structures activities of special cultural importance, such as these:
- Drumming and chanting: This activity is one of the most popular with the children. Every week, Suzanne goes to the drum keeper to fetch the only drum in the community; it was made especially for the children. Under Suzanne's and parents' guidance, the little ones learn to drum using sticks they found and polished themselves, and practice the chants they hear at home. Some days, Maliseet or other First Nation elders join in the fun.
- Collecting medicines. In late summer, Suzanne and elders, older children in tow, go on a picking expedition. Most of the children can already recognize some of the common medicinal plants. When the baskets are full, all pitch in to wash and dry the roots, and to braid the sweet grass they will proudly bring home to their parents.
- Transmitting language: Thanks to a grant from Canadian Heritage's Aboriginal Languages Initiative, Suzanne developed a series of 13 short readers: 12 in Maliseet, complete with a French, English, Maliseet glossary, and one in all three languages.
- Transmitting values: Suzanne takes a spiritual, teachings-oriented approach to child development. As she explains: "In our program, as in our community, we live by the seven traditional First Nations sacred teachings: love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and truth."
Those who sing together, stay together
In the spring of 2009, Suzanne was invited to submit a funding application to Talk with Me, an innovative speech/language program offered by the provincial government to preschoolers, their families and caregivers, in cooperation with Health Canada.
Suzanne chose to apply for funds for a singing project, since singing is a big part of oral tradition and involves all members of the community. The elders, the parents and the band council gave her the green light. They received funding for the filming of elders and parents signing songs to and with children.
The repertoire comprises two drumming chants, the hokey-pokey song and dance, three songs in Maliseet and five in either French or English. Organizing rehearsals is easy, since the children prompt Suzanne for more rehearsal time! The adults that will sing with them, including an elder from another First Nation, never miss the chance to join in.
Once the time comes, a crew will set up either at the centre or at the child's home, depending on the parents' preference, to film each performance. At press time, the project was still at the filming stage. When it is finished, the DVD will be distributed by the Talk with Me staff to all Atlantic First Nations, as well as to all parents, Aboriginal or not, who participate in the provincial program.
For more information
- Head Start Program site (www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fniah-spnia/famil/develop/ahsor-papa_intro-eng.php)
- First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (www.fncfcs.com)