Ensuring early childhood education and child care services are inclusive of all Indigenous peoples

  • April 21, 2023

The Aboriginal Law Section, Equality Subcommittee and Family Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association applaud the federal government’s vision for a countrywide early learning and child care system. As detailed in a letter to the Chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, Bill C-35, the Canada Early Learning and Child Care Act, would benefit from a few improvements.

Clarifying definitions

Two-Eyed Seeing principles relate to learning that combines Indigenous and Western ways of knowing. The CBA Sections recommend the following be added to the preamble of the bill to align it with the government’s commitment to reconciliation: “Whereas Two-Eyed Seeing, Etuaptmumk, aims to bring together different ways of knowing to motivate people, Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous people alike, to use all our understandings so we may leave the world a better place and not compromise the opportunities for our children through our inactions.”

To remove any potential ambiguity in the Act, the CBA letter suggests defining the term “Indigenous peoples” consistently with the words of Sherry Small, Nisga’a Elder: “‘Indigenous Peoples’ has the meaning assigned by the definition of aboriginal peoples of Canada in subsection 35(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982 (peuples autochtones), and includes Indigenous Peoples of Canada who live outside their ancestral homelands, in Canada.”

Inclusiveness and cultural safety

The CBA Sections are concerned with making sure the bill is as inclusive as possible, including for Indigenous individuals who live outside of reserves or in urban areas where they have fewer community supports, and recommend changes to Sections 5 and 6 to that end.

The Act sets out four guiding principles that are in line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 12, for culturally appropriate childhood education programs for Indigenous families. The CBA letter recommends adding a fifth, based on the “nothing about us without us” principle. This fifth principle states that Indigenous Peoples “will be empowered to lead and inform the development of culturally appropriate early learning and child care materials.”

The Sections recommend amending s. 8 of the bill, on funding commitments, “to be inclusive of non-Indigenous entities and the wider definition of Indigenous Peoples who have been displaced or have chosen not to reside on their ancestral homelands.”

The CBA letter also recommends amending the bill to ensure Indigenous Peoples are represented on the National Advisory Council on Early Learning and Child Care, and that they are “empowered to guide programs and services that support culturally appropriate early learning and child care in their communities, using the ‘nothing about us without us’ guiding principle.”