New program offers cultural support for Indigenous families at home

Sunday, January 8th, 2017 6:20pm

Indigenous families in Calgary, when their youngest child is six years old, are getting the opportunity to connect with cultural ways of child raising.

“We saw a need for the families we served already, but there were too many restrictions and we were turning families away or sending them somewhere else. And we were losing them,” said Michelle James, strategic communications leader with Pathways Community Services Association.

But with funding from the City of Calgary’s Family and Community Support Services, Pathways was able to start a new program--Nitsanak Mamawintowak (which means “families coming together” in Cree) to speak to the needs of this specific clientele.

“We envision this program as one way our organization can respond to the 94 Calls to Action [of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission],” said Pathways CEO Kirby Redwood. “We want to see children and their families thriving in our community.”

Now, two home visitors, one of whom is Indigenous, make weekly house calls to Indigenous families to provide traditional parenting support. That support is available to expectant mothers as well as single moms, single dads, parents, or grandparents who are raising children. And unlike other programs, which have a cut off for support anywhere from when the child turns three months old to three years old, Nitsanak Mamawintowak offers support to a family where the youngest child is six years old.

That support, says James, can range from using sharing circles to resolve conflicts, smudging, facilitating families attending sweatlodges, or providing guidance from an Elder.

The traditional parenting support is being guided by a Kookums council, specifically formed for the program, and an Elders council.

As well, the home staff is taking Cree language classes to learn Cree words that are appropriate for the home and child-rearing.

Pathways is reaching out to a variety of social services agencies and Indigenous organizations, such as the city’s friendship centre, to let families know about the new service. Funding was received in July and workers were recruited. The first families signed on in September. Up to 30 families will be able to join the program, with support from workers to last a full year.

Response has been good, says James, noting that the program is voluntary for families, so those who are being helped are those who have chosen to get support in the traditional ways of child rearing.

“This was so important to us when designing the program – our desire to create a community-based program that immediately supports and strengthens vulnerable families and lessens child welfare involvement,” said Redwood.