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Guelph-Humber Early Childhood Studies students raise awareness for Indigenous children

Paper hearts cover a wall at University of Guelph-Humber

For Early Childhood Studies (ECS) students Ellie Valentini and Ranya Naim Have a Heart Day is an opportunity to remind the Guelph-Humber community that children in First Nations communities need access to better living conditions.

Students and employees in the ECS program organized a presence in the atrium on February 14th to engage the community and raise awareness about First Nations children and the adversity they face.

Have a Heart Day is an annual event that is organized by the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada. The day is based on the ethos of reconciliation and the role individuals should play in demanding institutional change from government.

“Indigenous children are undergoing inequality- they are not receiving proper care, food or water and so we are trying to spread awareness regarding that,” Valentini explained.

Student writes message on paper heart

“It’s important to make sure that people are aware because I feel like it was talked about so long ago, people still aren’t aware that it continues to go on. We need to let people know because it is an ongoing issue that needs to be discussed,” Naim said.

Included in the atrium display were a few reminders about the challenges facing First Nations children including:

  • First Nations children are more than twice as likely to live in poverty
  • An increased chance of poor overall health faces First Nations Children
  • Indigenous communities in Ontario do not have access to clean water
  • Indigenous children living on reserves receive approximately 30 per cent less education funding than children living under provincial jurisdiction

(Have a Heart Day, First Nations Caring Society, as cited in, n.d. RCAP, 1996)

Hearts also filled an atrium wall with messages of kindness and love from the Guelph-Humber community.

Pulling a stack of special hearts from underneath her table, Naim noted that the batch she has kept separate were written by the children ECS students work with as part of their program and will be going directly to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Students stand in front of wall covered in paper hearts

Nikki Martyn, Program Head for the ECS program, emphasized the need to remind everyone the conditions First Nations children are living in are unacceptable and she said we must define where Indigenous Children’s rights fit in the world we want to create.

“One of the important things that is often unspoken or unseen in our world in Canada but certainly in Ontario- in Northern Ontario is we have children living on reserves who don’t have water. That is astounding,” Dr. Martyn said. “We have children living in Ontario in third world conditions. That’s not ok.”

Paper heart with message reading: Spread lots of love to Indigenous Children. They are valuable to their cultures and the world.Paper heart with message reading: Have a heart to be kind.Paper heart with message reading: you will rock that thing you are worried about