Niwasa began its journey as an organization with the Aboriginal Head Start Program.The Aboriginal Head Start Initiative (AHS) made its debut in Canada as a promise outlined in the Liberal Party’s Red Book “Creating Opportunity” launched in September 19, 1993.
In 1997, Hamilton was chosen as one of the locations for the AHS program. A steering committee comprised of Indigenous parents, community members and Indigenous organizations began to develop a plan to operationalize the project. In 1998, Niwasa Head Start opened its doors to families with two classrooms that embedded the Mohawk and Ojibwe language and cultures. In 1999, Niwasa Head Start Preschool became incorporated.
In 2003, Niwasa began a partnership with the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board to deliver the NYAWEH program. Native Youth Advancement with Education Hamilton was funded for 3 years by the Hamilton Community Foundation. The NYAWEH program would be located in secondary schools and provide social, cultural and academic support to students to improve credit accumulation, graduation rates and access to post secondary education. The project was so successful that it expanded to 4 public schools and 1 Catholic secondary school in Hamilton.
In 2006, Hamilton was chosen as a Best Start Demonstration site. This provided an opportunity for Niwasa to expand services to include a full day Indigenous licensed child care program. At the same time, Niwasa opened a child and family centre in two locations, one in a local recreation centre in central Hamilton and the second in the McQuesten neighbourhood. Niwasa began to provide culture and language outreach services across Hamilton. In addition to the outreach, we provided adult Mohawk and Ojibwe language classes and Intergenerational Indigenous Cooking Kitchen.
In 2015, the NYAWEH Elementary project was funded through the ABACUS granting stream with the Hamilton Community Foundation. The NYAWEH Elementary project engages students in grades 6-8 with a wholistic programming within an inclusive Indigenous educational framework that supports transition to secondary school and explores pathways to post secondary education. In 2016, we also began our Indigenous life skill project that focuses on homelessness prevention.
Through the leadership of the Niwasa Board of Directors’, the organization has seen tremendous growth. In 2016, Niwasa began a rebranding and marketing strategy to better represent the programs and services offered by the organization. Part of the process included engaging children, youth and families that access the program in the renaming of the organization. Legal name change was submitted in 2016 to Niwasa Kendaaswin Teg. In 2017, through an investment by the City of Hamilton Poverty Reduction, we began to expand our service to the Hamilton mountain. In 2018, we expanded our services to almost double the organizations capacity to deliver service due to the demand. Expansion included licensed infant, toddler child care, cultural safety and awareness outreach program and development of an Indigenous language app. In 2019, we began to operate the Food Bank at the Biindigen hub and offer a youth drop-in program.