May 14, 2013 - 2:18am

Danielle Alphonse is Vancouver Island University’s new B.C. Regional Innovation Chair in Aboriginal Early Childhood Development (AECD).

B.C. Regional Innovation Chairs are designed to support research, development and innovation at special purpose, teaching universities such as VIU, and are funded by the Leading Edge Endowment Fund (LEEF).

Alphonse, whose Cowichan name is Qwul’stun’a’wat, is of Mohawk, Cowichan, Welsh and Irish heritage. For two years she acted as research associate for Linda McDonell who has recently retired as the AECD chair. The fact that Alphonse was chosen for the position demonstrates the positive outcome of McDonell’s work as one of her goals as chair was to mentor promising Aboriginal scholars.

Joan Gignac, Executive Director of the Aboriginal Head Start Association of BC, has been part of the AECD advisory committee since funding was first secured for the role in 2003. She remembers when Alphonse first started working with McDonell.

“At first there was a sense that she was very young and new. But as the committee got to know Danielle we began to think ‘wow, she is wise beyond her years’. We started to realize she could be Linda’s successor,” says Gignac. “The role has many responsibilities but those can be taught. Danielle is an innovative researcher who has the ability to listen and hear what the communities are saying and understand their needs from a very personal perspective. That’s something you can’t teach and is very important.”

Alphonse has an early childhood education diploma from VIU and a bachelor in child and youth care from UVic with a concentration in early childhood education (ECED) in Aboriginal communities.

She’s excited, and nervous, about putting her skills and experience to work in her new position.

“It’s a great opportunity as Linda, who is one of my mentors, has made tremendous strides in the Aboriginal early childhood development field and established a great foundation on which we can build,” said Alphonse. “I’ve always wanted to support her work as I really see working with communities promoting early childhood development as my life’s path. Now I’m looking forward to working alongside our Aboriginal communities to support them by building community partnerships, mentoring Aboriginal students who are at VIU and also working with partners in different professions to develop capacity in Aboriginal early childhood education.”

McDonell is thrilled for Alphonse, and believes she brings lots of practical experience as well as a deep dedication to the position.

“Danielle has always stood out – she’s very bright, highly motivated and committed to this field,” says McDonell. “She has a strong understanding from her work and academic career that early childhood education must include working with and supporting families and communities as well as working with children. She’s also from a local First Nations community, so that will make a huge difference in terms of her understanding of what’s important to families in those communities and how she can work with them.”

McDonell, who was recently recognized with an award from the Canadian Childcare Federation for her contribution to the early childhood development field, plans to continue working, just not as much.

“I loved my work so it’s not just something I can leave behind,” she says. “I see it more of a gradual move into retirement. I’ll step away from the pressure a bit, spend more time with my family, but still stay involved.”

One of the first ways she will continue her involvement is continuing to work with Alphonse, this time supporting her as she finishes the last part of the research she’s doing for her master’s degree.

Visit VIU's [AECD website]( for more information.

Tags: In the Community

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