August 13, 2015 - 11:30 AM
PENTICTON - A First Nations educational initiative that began more than 40 years ago has grown into a cultural institution aiming to connect and strengthen Aboriginal Peoples with their heritage and culture.
The En’owkin Centre got its start in the 1970s as the Okanagan Indian Cirriculum Project and provided instruction for native students from Kindergarten to Grade 7, Education Director Lauren Terbasket says.
“The project couldn’t be implemented into the mainstream public school system, so a program was set up to educate teachers,” Terbasket says, “Over time other post secondary programs were implemented, and by 1981 the En’owkin Centre was incorporated into a non-profit society and an educational and cultural institution.”
Terbasket says today’s centre provides a number of post secondary programs including such things as arts training, early childhood education, language and cultural teacher training, environmental technician diploma, university entrance and high school diploma programs and a number of language courses that 'ladder' into other programs.
The centre is also home to Theytus Books, the first aboriginal-owned publishing firm in Canada and a leading national publisher for aboriginal literature, as well as the Penticton Indian Band’s alternative justice program.
“It’s a justice program that focuses on prevention, rehabilitation and re-integration of aboriginal people back into their community,” Terbasket says, noting the high per centage of native people incarcerated. The En’owkin justice program attempts to find alternative strategies to incarceration.
The restorative justice program attempts to bring willing parties — victim and accused — together in a bid to find a means of restitution. Terbasket says an integral part of that is to rebuild relationships within the band.
“It’s an intergenerational community on the reserve, you live with the same people every day,” she says. “The point is to try and address issues before they escalate out of control, to change behaviour and re-integrate the offender into the community."
The Indian Residential School Society offices also operate under the En’owkin Centre umbrella. Part of a broader provincial initiative, the society works to address historical social issues arising from the residential school era.
Terbasket says today’s En’owkin Centre continues to rebuild the culture and language of the Okanagan Nation by providing cultural focus that complements mainstream knowledge systems, something she says gives First Nations peoples a more holistic education.
“Every day we are bombarded with mainstream ideas and ideals. It’s the idea there is a different way of ‘being’ in the world, and understanding what’s important and what’s not," she says. "We want to help our people to understand not just the highly individualized, driven culture of society, but the idea of a communal society with communal responsibilities — that people have obligations that can actually build a better quality of life. That’s our work."
A student painting from the year end performance at the En'owkin Centre.
Image Credit: En'owkin Centre
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015