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First Person

From Visitor to mother

Melissa Puff, a member of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, is an Early Years Visitor who was also a program participant in Maskwacis, Alberta. She explains how the program focuses on relationships in order to model culturally relevant care for mothers like herself.
“Each family shapes their own experience, to ensure they are supported to care for their children in ways that develop a rich connection to their family, community, and culture.”
— Melissa Puff

“It’s a gentle approach.” That’s how Melissa Puff describes what sets the Early Years program apart from other programs. She saw this approach firsthand during her two years working as a Visitor in Maskwacis. “Usually, you walk into a program and there are all of these parameters; everything is already set up. Not here. We’ve been able to share how we feel, what we think. It’s open, it’s flowing. It goes where it needs to go.” Melissa says that’s a good thing for the families too, because it means they set the pace for how their home visits unfold.
Through regular in-home activities and workshops grounded in cultural knowledge, Visitors support meaningful relationships between children and their caregivers. Nurturing care helps children become resilient and culturally grounded. Consistent and responsive caregiving routines teach children to see themselves through the loving eyes of their caregivers and to feel secure and confident in themselves and their environment.

But there’s something else about Melissa that makes her a strong advocate for families in her community. Not only is Melissa a Visitor, but when she became pregnant with her baby boy, she also signed up as an Early Years participant.

Throughout her maternity leave, Melissa had the support of  a dedicated Early Years Visitor. Being on the receiving end of home visits allowed her to get a different perspective on the program she delivers. “When she goes through the Toolbox with me, I’m connecting to my own experiences with my baby and where he’s at and how he’s growing and learning,” she says. Through the program, she has been able to support her baby’s development while exposing him to Cree language, traditional knowledge, and his broader community.

As her maternity leave drew to a close, Melissa prepared to settle back into her role as an Early Years Visitor. She knows that after her experience of having a child, nothing will feel the same. Not only will she return transformed by the experience of becoming a mother again at a different stage of her life, but she returns equipped with having been supported by the program.

“In the past, we used to raise each other’s children, we fed each other’s children, we provided for the whole community,” she reflects. “I think if we keep teaching that, it will get back to where it began. We as a community would be so much more successful if everyone worked together and returned to our cultural and traditional ways.”