GENGENLILAS PRESCHOOL: COMMUNITY EFFORT FOR COMMUNITY GAIN IN CANADA
When the Campbell River First Nation on Vancouver Island decided to build a preschool for its community, it had specific needs in mind. It wanted a school that would teach children about the First Nation's culture and that would be free of charge to anyone in the community. Today, that school – the Gengenlilas Preschool – is up and running. The First Nation used resources from its bingo operation and from outside sources to build the school and offer the program free of charge. The school has a play-longhouse, First Nation theme toys and traditional articles such as drums and masks. Elders and other community members help teach the basics of the First Nation's culture, including Campbell River stories, dances, and songs. Previously, Campbell River First Nation parents had to pay to send their children to preschool. Now, parents are able to work while their children are at the school, a situation that is providing a boost to the local economy and to the personal pride of the First Nation's members. The school and its program are a vital element of the community's educational resources. Gengenlilas should continue for generations to come, helping to teach the First Nation's children about the wealth of their heritage and to prepare them for their future education.
Gengenlilas is pronounced gin gin lay less
, and it means “a gathering place for children” in Kwakiutl, a west coast North American (Canadian) indigenous language, according to an article in the local Dreamspeaker newsletter (available as a PDF
). The school brings traditional stories and wisdom together with more mainstream education of colors and numbers and such.
I remember my own elementary school education in Maine being full of stories about the native Americans (I even lived on Madokawando Landing, a tiny street by the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, named by the local indigenous peoples), as well as the early settlers from Europe, who struggled to survive in a part of the world that they knew little about. Which was especially appropriate for me, as I'm descended from a family that has both Native North Americans and early European-American settlers (as well as a bunch of other folks!).
Teaching children about local history and about the cultures their family came from, before sending them out into a more diverse world to explore and create new things, is a wonderful way to integrate the past and the future, the local and the global, the personal and the public. There is indeed room in our hearts for all of these diverse things, don't you think?