Opening of a daycare center to meet the needs of the city’s growing Inuit community


The goal is to provide high quality, culturally rich programs to Inuit infants, toddlers and preschoolers to equip them with the skills and confidence to succeed in school. .

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A new $1 million child care centre, opened on the site of the former Rideau High School, will meet the needs of Ottawa’s growing Inuit community.

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The Pirurviapik daycare will welcome 49 Inuit children aged six months to six years.

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Its goal is to provide high quality, culturally rich programs to Inuit infants, toddlers and preschoolers to give them the skills and confidence to succeed in school.

The center will focus on connecting Inuit students to their language, culture and community. Students will learn the sounds and words of Inuktitut, one of Nunavut’s four official languages, in an environment that also includes French and English.

Children are expected to master about 200 words of Inuktitut by the time they reach the age of two.

« Language is tied to culture, so it’s extremely important to us that they hear the sounds of their first language, » said Heather Ochalski, Early Years Program Director at the Inuuqatigiit Center for Children, Youth and Inuit families, who operate the daycare.

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Children will take part in a series of activities related to their culture – building polystyrene igloos, making snow goggles, sewing mittens, cutting modeling clay with ulus, eating traditional foods – which will expose them to the associated Inuktitut language.

Cultural educators, Ochalski said, will also sing aqausiqs to the center’s younger children: songs about each child’s personal history and kinship ties. « It’s really singing to the child about the child and the life story of the person they’re named after, » Ochalski explained.

Literacy skills are transferable, Ochalski said, so a student who can speak, read and write Inuktitut will be able to use those same skills to learn English or French.

Studies have shown that early literacy skills are a critical component of future academic success: students who can read fluently by the end of Grade 3 are much more likely to graduate from high school than those who have difficulty reading at the same age.

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Research also suggests that Aboriginal students who study in their mother tongue or who receive bilingual education do better in school.

Kathleen Jadan, head of early childhood at the Pirurviapik centre, called it “a unique and exciting program”. « This is the first step in a long academic journey, so we want it to be positive and rewarding, » she said. « We want to help them cope with the demands of school, and we want them to like it. »

A section of Rideau High School was renovated in three years to accommodate the Pirurviapik daycare. Ottawa-based CSV Architects designed the space to showcase Inuit art and took inspiration from the Northern Lights when choosing the color scheme.

A life-size polar bear pelt adorns one of the walls.

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The City of Ottawa, the Government of Ontario and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board all contributed to the $1 million project.

The Pirurviapik center — the Inuktitut word means “a place to grow up” — will employ six people, including four Inuit early childhood educators.

Ottawa now has approximately 6,000 Inuit residents, meaning the city has the largest Inuit population outside of the Arctic. For decades, Inuit families have migrated to Ottawa for health care, education and jobs.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, in its Calls to Action, has stated that Indigenous children are in urgent need of culturally appropriate early learning and child care programs.

An inauguration ceremony and an open house will be held at the Pirurviapik center, located at 815, boul. Saint-Laurent, September 17 between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

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