Chad Carpenter knew little about his culture growing up in Vancouver. His mother was from Lheidli T’enneh First Nation in Prince George, but he grew up here in foster care.

He says that in his younger years he was “embarrassed” to identify as Aboriginal, largely because of the racism he experienced in the school system. He later battled with addictions, and struggled to get his life on track.

But everything changed in 2012 when he and his wife were a part of pilot certificate program in Aboriginal youth care. “Through my teachings, through school, I’ve been taught to take back what was mine in order to heal myself,” he says. “I’ve basically never looked back.”

Now a 35-year-old father of two, Carpenter is determined to give his children what he did not have.

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He and his wife found out about the Phil Bouvier Family Centre through a friend. The Centre was completed in 2008 with the support of Central City Foundation donors and is named after the Foundation’s former executive director, Phil Bouvier, who spearheaded the Centre’s purchase and redevelopment.

Operated by Vancouver Native Health Society, the Phil Bouvier Family Centre is an integrated family service hub that operates one of only two Aboriginal-focused childcare education programs in Vancouver. The Centre’s range of essential services, including childcare, makes it an important part of Central City Foundation’s commitment to meet the basic needs of families.

As a multicultural childcare centre, all families are welcome, but Aboriginal values, beliefs and practices are incorporated into the programming as much as possible. Currently more than half of centre’s 49 childcare spaces are filled by Aboriginal families.

A safe place

“It’s spreading through word of mouth that this is a safe place for their children to come, and we understand, or we try to understand, or we’re willing to learn,” says Noreen Hautala, childcare manager at the centre. “It’s a learning process when it comes to the Aboriginal component.”

Aboriginal values and practices are brought into the centre’s programming in a variety of ways. A wall is covered with inukshuks from a recent art project. A local elder visits regularly to lead drumming circles. The children also do crafts such as beading and weaving, and learn about fishing, planting and animals, including those of symbolic importance to First Nations, such as the orca.

There are limited resources available when it comes to Aboriginal focused curriculum, Hautala says, although fortunately that is slowly changing.

A big part of the Centre’s success lies in working closely with and listening to the parents.

“It’s about learning about their beliefs and their values and their understandings of their teachings of their families,” Hautala says.

The families also benefit tremendously from the Phil Bouvier Family Centre’s integrated services. As parents and children get to know the staff and open up about their unique challenges and needs, they can be referred to appropriate support services.

Some of the many services available through the Centre include an Aboriginal infant development program, an Aboriginal supported child development program, and access to nurse practitioners, public health nurses and speech and language pathologists.

Stopping the ripple effect

Hautala says that over the four years she’s been at the centre, she’s learned of the many challenges faced by some inner city Aboriginal families, including poverty, discrimination and the struggle to find work.

For Carpenter, it’s all connected to the long history of disenfranchisement and discrimination experienced by Aboriginal people.

Carpenter and his wife are doing everything they can to stop the ripple effect. While she works full-time, he’s completing a college diploma in child and youth care. Although life isn’t always easy, they’re determined to give their children the best opportunities. And that includes exposure to Aboriginal culture.

“My kids are growing up, they don’t know their culture, their nation’s cultures, because I don’t,” Carpenter says. “So obviously the ripple effect has affected them that way.

“But bring them to a place like the Phil Bouvier Family Centre here…there are shared cultural values from nation to nation no matter where you go. So if I have provided my children that opportunity, I’ll go for it for sure. I’ll welcome it.”