Sunlight flows through the floor-to-ceiling windows spaced evenly around the circular, natural wood building.
Shafts of light enhance the welcoming feel of the smooth wooden furniture and the large, brightly coloured carpets, also circular, adorned with silhouettes of wildlife and other images.
This is the new Switzmalph Child Care Centre near Salmon Arm, a bright, beautiful structure and accomplishment for the Neskonlith First Nation.
Daycare manager Crystal Cox says three programs are offered: the Ckwltahm or Meadow room for children up to 18 months; Ckelpipelt, or Coyote Cub, for children 18 to 36 months and the third, Sqwalaxsiselt, or Baby Bear, for children three to five years, altogether accommodating a total of 44 when at full capacity.
The child care centre is currently taking registrations.
Cox explained although the centre offers culturally enriched programs featuring the Secwépemc culture, it is open to and welcomes children of all heritages.
Fittingly, a photo of Mary Thomas, a revered Neskonlith elder who died in 2007, hangs near the entrance to the centre. She was a strong advocate for young people and served on the national childcare program for four years.
The roots of the centre were planted in 2010 when a daycare was one recommendation in the Neskonlith comprehensive community plan. At that time, studies from town were also pointing to the lack of daycare spaces for children, Cox said.
A Secwépemc concept of ‘helping each other for the people yet to come’ was essential to the plan.
“When we were planning it we were thinking of the babies yet to come. That’s part of our mission, part of our culture,” Cox said.
Later came the need to find staff, during a Canada-wide shortage of early childhood educators. In a partnership with Okanagan College, a cohort was formed at the college for the Neskonlith, Adams Lake, Little Shuswap and Splatsin bands, along with local Métis, for the early childhood education (ECE) program.
“Quite a few had just finished up their practicum and graduation requirements last summer, so it flowed really nicely,” she said, referring to the centre’s opening.
Centre staff include four ECE graduates with their special needs certification in addition to their infant-toddler designations.
“Because of the cohort program, that partnership, we were able to get them all trained up to the highest level. So we do have highly trained staff that can also work with special needs.”
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Regarding health requirements, she said the centre works with Interior Health and, because it’s federal, also works with the First Nations Health Authority.
“We’re double safe,” she smiles.
Asked about the circular shape of the building, Cox pointed out that the circle is central to Secwépemc culture.
Traditionally, Secwépemc people lived in circular kekulis, underground winter buildings.
The circular Medicine Wheel encompasses mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects, Cox noted. “Those four components, I feel we bring into the centre, and we want to teach balance to our children and also to our community… to live a healthy life.”
Neskonlith band councillor and knowledge keeper Louis Thomas refers to another reason for the circle’s significance.
“In our culture, the kids are put in the middle, all the elders and parents and everything are around them, nurturing and raising in the right way. So that daycare is similar to that.”
He also said with a laugh that daycare staff have been trying to get him to take his ECE because he has a way with the kids.
“If he’s up around the building, they just run toward the doors. They just love him.”
Diane Little, an ECE instructor at Okanagan College, has been working at the centre.
“It’s an amazing centre,” she said, with top quality supplies and toys, nature-based programs, a state-of-the-art building and an opportunity to learn about First Nations culture.
Regarding rates, Cox said as a start-up centre, they are competitive but not too high. “We wanted to make sure all populations could access.”
The band funded 75 per cent of the centre costs, Cox said, with 25 per cent accessed through grants and other funding opportunities. Along with creating employment, she thinks the centre has brought the community together.
Neskonlith councillor Cora Anthony, who has tracked the centre’s evolution, sees it as a big accomplishment.
“Oh gosh, it was exciting. Even before the first child came through the door…”
Thomas said he sees it as a start to more economic development.
“We’ve been dormant for too long…,” he said, adding it is a challenge to mix into the dominant society.
“With the non-native involvement, they don’t realize it but it’s for them too. To me it’s the beginning stages of something maybe bigger and better for the community.”
The Switzmalph Child Care Centre can be reached at 778-824-0376 or by emailing: email@example.com.
“I think everything’s a win win… I feel like the positive impact for our community, it’s going to be felt for generations,” Cox said.