Land-Based Education: Taking knowledge back to its roots

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This summer, 22 students in the Indigenous Land-Based Cohort spent their summer courses outside at the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Man., taking education to a whole new level.

Graduate student Tennille Bear practices land-based activities.

The Indigenous Land-Based Cohort, establish by Peggy and Stan Wilson of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, is part of a master’s Indigenous Land-Based Education program within the department of educational foundations at the College of Education. The first cohort graduated in 2012 and 40 students have since completed the program.

Alex Wilson of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, is an associate professor in the department of educational foundations and the academic director of the Aboriginal Education Research Centre. She shares that the program originated out of a need articulated by Indigenous communities.

“Community members wanted a graduate program that was framed from within an Indigenous paradigm and taught by Indigenous faculty with a focus on the importance of land and culture in educational contexts,” Wilson said, in an email to the Sheaf.

The cohort took two courses this summer. EFDT 849: Indigenous Knowledge: Land-based education was taught by Anishinaabe scholar Leanne Simpson, and EFDT 845: Cross-cultural research methodology: Research in a land-based context, was taught by Wilson herself.

Over a span of two weeks in a land-based setting, students were required to do graduate level readings, assignments and projects, in addition to land-based activities. Indigenous knowledge keepers, elders and community members also contributed to the course as organizers and were involved throughout.

Gabrielle Doreen, a teacher at ka’wenna’onwe Mohawk Immersion School in Ontario, decided to take the master’s program because it aligns with her beliefs and ways of knowing as an Indigenous person.

“Indigenous concepts of reciprocity, respect, relationship and responsibility were woven into this course through our reactions and interpretations of the assignments and the readings while being on and of the land. Being of the land grounded us to our true selves, opening the portal to our awareness as far as we would allow it to go,” Doreen said, in an email to the Sheaf.

The intensive two week session began with a pipe ceremony conducted by local elders. During the courses, students took part in activities such as paddling canoes to study petrographs, [or rock paintings], in the local area and helping in the Opaskwayak Cree Nation community garden. The session ended with a feast hosted by the students, at which they showcased traditional foods from their own territories to thank the community.

Tennille Bear of Big River First Nation, a teacher for the Saskatoon Public School Division who works at Forest Grove School, holds a master of education in Indigenous land-based education. She shares her experience with the courses, stating that they push students out of their comfort zones and that the land becomes the teacher.

“This program is about taking action and being accountable in the knowledge and practice as educators. Land-based education is about learning to think more critically in terms of capitalism, economic development, environmental and, more importantly, an integrative anti-racist education,” Bear said, in an email to the Sheaf.

Erica Thompson, a teacher in northern Canadian communities and a graduate of the land-based program, imparts how she incorporates the program into her life.

“Through integrated land-based education and culturally relevant teaching, I have learned to Indigenize my practice in a way that is more meaningful and more successful for the students in my classes … These courses formed foundational cornerstones of the master’s program and we used these teachings throughout the entirety of the program, and I continue to use them on a daily basis in my own practice,” Thompson said, in an email to the Sheaf.

Doreen adds that the program is for everyone and not only for Indigenous people.

“Don’t let the name of the course deter you, it’s not just for Indigenous peoples. We are all treaty people and we all have responsibility and relationship with the land. It’s up to us to follow through with reciprocity and respect.”

Students who are interested in the program can contact the department of educational foundation, visit their website or follow them on Facebook or Twitter @IndigLandBased.

Jaline Broqueza

Photo: Emily Kandagawa / Supplied