Since the beginning of April I’ve been working as a casual staff in NCFST’s Child Care Centres and Aboriginal Head Start programs promoting the well-being of children ages 0-6 years old. So far it’s been a very enjoyable yet challenging learning experience for me professionally. Challenging because prior to this new position I’ve mainly worked with school aged children and youth. Spending 7 hours a day with infants and toddlers I quickly learned that they have no – to very limited vocabulary (common sense, I know), so understanding their needs and wants has taken more patience and learning on my part. I must say though, I am thankful for each teaching moment I’ve been receiving from my coworkers. I’ve been adjusting well to this new position based on their feedback on my performance so far.
This month I started working at one of their Aboriginal Head Start (AHS) locations assisting the staff with the program and I love it! I love the fact that I am playing a small part in promoting a sense of cultural identity within these precious youngin’s lives- something the Canadian government has tried to eradicate for hundreds of years. One way that I do this is learning to use their traditional language (at this site the main language is Ojibwae) in everyday speech – which brings me to this quick story of the most adorable, heart-melting interaction I had with a 2 year old’s this week…
I was serving and eating lunch with the group of preschoolers. As I got up from the miniature table to grab the water jug one of them looked at me and said in her tiny raspy voice, “Auntie more biish* pees [please]?”
I had the biggest grin on my face and got the water for her.
Awe shucks did she really just call me auntie? But I was never introduced to the children as auntie Shaleena, I thought. And as soon as I finished thinking that my coworker exclaimed, “Did you hear? She just called you auntie!” I nodded and chuckled.
In my culture (and other Caribbean cultures) it is an expectation of people, specifically the children, to refer to their elders as auntie or uncle even if the person is not their parent’s or grandparent’s sibling. It is a sign of respect. I quickly noticed that this is the same with Indigenous cultures too. All the children in the program refer to the staff as “Auntie so-and-so”. When I observe the interactions between the staff and the children at this AHS site it is evident that they are not just calling the teachers auntie out of respect. They see them as one of their caregivers, their family.
I felt honoured. I felt humbled. This two year old not only made me feel a sense of belonging but she unknowingly taught me a significant lesson. I should never let others, or even myself, down-play the work that I do because of my “low ranking” on the employee scale (i.e. casual supply staff). I shall continue to do my job in excellence because playing even the smallest role in another being’s growth and development is truly something special!
Thank you for reading!
*Biish – the Ojibwae word for water