First Nations elders Willie Alphonse and Bertha Cardinal offer blessings and say a few words as Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre executive director Chris Beaton looks on at the opening of the Munu Learning Centre daycare on Fifth Street. GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin

Free daycare spaces intended to help give indigenous children in Nanaimo a head start

Munu Learning Centre on Fifth Street officially opens

A new free childcare program will help to give indigenous kids the right start with their education.

The Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre announced on Thursday the grand opening of the Munu Learning Centre, operating out of the Boys and Girls Club of Central Vancouver Island building on Fifth Street.

The new daycare will offer up to 24 spaces for indigenous kids ages 3-5, and the initiative is in partnership with the Aboriginal Head Start Association of B.C. The provincial government announced in 2018 that the association would receive $19.5 million to expand its program and create new licensed child care spaces.

RELATED: Early learning programs for indigenous kids get $30M boost

Joan Gignac, executive director of Aboriginal Head Start, said “incredible opportunities” are being created in communities.

“Head Start is about all of you. It’s about all of our children. This place is about bringing 24 children and families and their communities together,” Gignac said. “The beauty of Head Start is it strengthens society.”

Chris Beaton, executive director of Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre, said his organization has a vision of a 100 per cent graduation rate for aboriginal students and said the new childcare plays a part in that. He thanked the Boys and Girls Club, the project team and others and credited his staff.

“Nothing that we do, including this program, would be possible without staff like this,” he said. “Committed, passionate, strong advocates for our community members.”

Amanda Rossiter, the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre’s Head Start coordinator, said the daycare will open Monday with eight children and grow from there.

She said the programming will be based around education, health, nutrition, social support, culture and language, and parent and family involvement.

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