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About the BC Regional Innovation Chair in Aboriginal Early Childhood Development

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Background of BCRIC for AECD

Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, BC, announced the appointment of Danielle Alphonse, Linda McDonell's successor in May 2013, to the BC Regional Innovation Chair (BCRIC) for Aboriginal Early Childhood Development (AECD). The Leading Edge Endowment Fund of BC provided $1.25 million for the Chair and an additional $1.25 million was granted by the previous Federal Government’s Early Learning & Child Care Fund. An endowment was established to invest in Aboriginal Early Childhood Development to help strengthen the health and prospects of Aboriginal children. Ms. Alphonse will continue the task of implementing the research and innovation plan formed in collaboration with many committed individuals and organizations.

A proposal outlining a vision for a comprehensive and collaborative research and innovation plan and a nominee to undertake the work was put forward in March, 2009. The collaboration between VIU, First Nation communities and Aboriginal organizations and agencies holds great promise for strengthening educational preparation and professional development of ECD practitioners. It is believed this will support best practice in AECD programs and services ultimately positively influencing the health and development of children and families in Aboriginal communities.

A Letter of Intent (LOI) to establish a BC Regional Innovation Chair (BCRIC) in Aboriginal Early Childhood Development (AECD) at Vancouver Island University (VIU) was developed in collaboration with the First Nations communities and Aboriginal organizations in the Central Island region. The LOI was submitted to the Leading Edge Endowment Foundation in 2004 and approved in 2005.

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Summary of Proposed Research & Innovation

The vision for the AECD Chair is to strengthen the local and cultural relevance of education for ECD practitioners that would enhance promising practice, and to create new opportunities to develop innovative, high quality, locally relevant, community-based programs and services that will positively influence the holistic development of Aboriginal children, families, and communities.

This will occur through building both new and strengthening existing connections with and between Aboriginal agencies and communities, VIU, licensing and professional bodies, and other public postsecondary institutions. A new model for community development and ultimately Aboriginal leadership in the AECD Chair position will emerge and guide the activity.

While the ongoing work of the Chair for AECD will evolve to reflect a collaborative vision based on participatory action research and consultation with First Nation Communities and Aboriginal organizations, and agencies the focus will be to:

  • Enhance family and community knowledge about the importance of high quality early learning and care experiences in the healthy development of children, families and communities through a holistic, culturally-based approach.
  • Support and strengthen healthy Aboriginal early childhood development by working with communities to enhance the responsiveness of activities and programs to address the emerging needs and issues of Aboriginal families, agencies, and communities.
  • Mobilize and integrate knowledge about ECD, including Aboriginal perspectives, between and across early childhood professionals, families, communities and educational institutions.
  • Enhance accessibility to and expansion of culturally sensitive and relevant basic, advanced and professional development and training opportunities for Aboriginal students and professionals working in AECD.
  • Strengthen existing , and promote new connections among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal professionals and organizations working in the areas of AECD regionally, provincially, nationally, and internationally to strengthen AECD professional practice through knowledge transfer.

The initial First Steps are planned for the BC Regional Innovation Chair for AECD to:

  • Connect and reconnect with First Nation communities and Aboriginal organizations and agencies to inform and/or remind them about the establishment of the BC Regional Innovation Chair for AECD at VIU and the purpose and objectives of the new position.
  • Collaborate with the communities and organizations to determine the ways that the Chair can build on and supports the vital AECD work already happening.
  • Collaborate with the communities and organizations to develop a plan for how the work of the Chair will unfold and to co-create a vision for the ongoing work of the position.
  • Work with both the university and external community to create a plan to improve and streamline access for Aboriginal students to post-secondary education. Creating advanced education opportunities at both the undergraduate and graduate level will build education and leadership capacity for AECD students and practitioners.

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Research & Innovation Goal

In much of Linda McDonell’s previous research, data was collected through surveys/questionnaires and face-to-face focus meetings with discrete ‘communities’ (e.g., practitioners, parents, professional organizations). Such data collection allowed the gathering of specific information to identify issues, and generate ideas through open and facilitated group discussion. These research activities were planned to move toward creating new or different ways of approaching issues to best support groups and communities to optimize opportunities for positive change. The methods used are in keeping with community-based collaborative action research (CBCAR) and are useful ways to both develop collaborative community partnerships and move toward action through the development of an innovation plan to guide our work together. Using CBCAR methods will enhance the ability to follow through with suggestions made by Aboriginal individuals, groups, and communities consulted in the AECD proposal development. Those consulted initially recommended that the researchers:

a) focus on strength-based solutions,
b) link research to concrete outcomes, and
c) become familiarized with appropriate community protocol for working with Aboriginal communities.

Using CBCAR methods is consistent with Ms McDonell’s experience collaboratively developing Aboriginal Early Childhood programs and with the findings of other successful community initiatives in Aboriginal ECD. In Hook and Hub: Promising Practices in First Nations Communities the importance of AECD work being community-driven was emphasized as a way to better ensure communities are fully engaged in planning, development and implementation. In this way community vision and values provide the foundation for effective collaboration (Ball, 2004).

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