Jodie Doctor, a mother of two children in Délı̨nę, had tears in her eyes as she walked through the community’s new daycare and preschool building.
Her one-year-old now has a reliable place to go during the day and Doctor need no longer scramble for someone to watch her child while she is working – a struggle, she said, since she first became a mom 17 years ago.
“Finally, we have a daycare for our kids to go to,” she said. “It will help us a lot, because we know that our kids are safe once they are in the daycare.”
The facility, which took two years to build, was unveiled on Thursday. In a sign of its meaning to Délı̨nę residents, the daycare’s opening was accompanied by a day of community festivities.
While a preschool previously existed, the daycare is new – and almost oversubscribed, even before it officially opens on January 3.
Délı̨nę leader Ekw’atide Leeroy Andre said that demonstrates the need for such a centre, which he said will hand the Délı̨nę Got’ı̨nę Government more control over how youth are taught.
“It’s a start here for us in Délı̨nę,” he said, “to start developing our own education system, which has always been a driving force for our people, and especially our Elders, because our language is getting weaker.
“The customs and values we have for a lot of our Indigenous communities are slowly getting weaker as we get more English-speaking curriculums – and not only that, we have technology now, and phones and stuff like that are just so prevalent in our Indigenous communities.”
Andre said everything inside the building is derived from Dene Kede, a curriculum that encompasses the Dene culture, language, and way of life.
“One of the most important things that our Elders talk about is making sure that our young students, especially when they go into an institution of sorts, learn about their language,” he said.
Princella Dosu, the preschool’s teacher, said the main goal is to help children learn their traditional language. Two other staff at the facility will teach the language for part of each day.
Dosu said the daycare will take children up to 12 months old, which she said will help working mothers. In turn, the community government hopes that will act as a form of economic driver.
Andre said recruiting staff in the community of about 550 people is challenging, and parents have sometimes been unable to come to work because of childcare issues.
“It’s always been a struggle for a lot of young parents,” he said. “I’m hoping, with the opening of this new school, that they have an opportunity to send their kids to the school and now go after employment opportunities.
“I know some of my staff are struggling every other day and it’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to us to have those problems.”
Mitchell Naedzo, who works for the Délı̨nę Got’ı̨nę Government, has two daughters aged seven months and three years. He said the opening of this facility means he and his girlfriend could return to school, which was not previously possible.
“This preschool here will be a big help in attending school and also for babysitting our kids,” he said. “It’s a really good opportunity for the kids but also the parents, so they have more time.”
Naedzo takes pride in speaking his language, Sahtúot’ı̨ne Gokedé, and is happy to see it included.
“This is really good for the kids, to actually bring up our language again and revitalize our traditions,” he said.
“Hopefully, when they go to the bigger school here, they will speak their language and understand how to communicate once in a while to each other.”
Tudzé ʔerįhtł’ékǫ, water heart
The building is shaped like a fish and has the texture of scales on its exterior.
Kayhan Nadji, principal architect at Nadji Architects, said that design had been incorporated based on residents’ feedback, acknowledging the extent to which Délı̨nę relies on fish as a food source.
The community held a contest to name the building, which is now called Tudzé ʔerįhtł’ékǫ, meaning water heart school, a name suggested by an Elder.
“What an appropriate name,” said Andre, “because we fought really hard – our Elders and our people – to protect the lake and the environment.
“It’s about the water heart of Great Bear Lake, and that has a very, very significant story behind it. The water that we have here has a heart of its own and it’s protected by giant spirit fish.”
A biomass pellet boiler has been installed to help lessen the facility’s environmental impact.
Rodney Johnson, president of Northern Industrial Construction, said a third of the project’s 14,480 labour hours were completed by people from Délı̨nę and about 55 percent by residents of the broader NWT.
Johnson’s crew took on four apprentices for the project, two from Délı̨nę and two from Yellowknife.
Though the project received federal and territorial funding, Andre said a significant sum came from the Délı̨nę Got’ı̨nę Government.
For the youth
The community is now trying to create a year-round country food processing facility to address food security and teach youth life skills. A new youth council has also been formed.
Andre said ensuring youth are not left behind is a priority.
“Sometimes we tend to forget them, as politicians, because a lot of times we’re so busy with day-to-day struggles and issues that we have, and I’m so glad that we’re doing things for the kids now,” he said.
“The focus for the next generation is going to have to be on the young people and what we are doing for them. What have we done for them? And where are we going with all the things we’re going to do for the young people?
“As we move forward in life here, we have to make sure the future generation is going to have and is going to prosper from what we do today.”