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  • Anthony Musto & Julien Morizio

Land-Based Education: A Vehicle for Reconciliation



Some educators might find the subject of Truth and Reconciliation intimidating to approach or discuss in the classroom. Fortunately, when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) presented the 94 calls to action in 2015 in their final report, they provided guidelines particular to the field of education. These included the following in calls to action 62 and 63:

  • “Provide the necessary funding to post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.”

  • “Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.”

Teachers who find themselves concerned of having missed out on these teachings during their university studies need not worry. One addition they can make to their approach in order to help deliver on these calls to action is to find ways of incorporating land-based education.

When we think of hours of instruction, there is a common tendency to regard them as only renderable in the classroom. As former Associate Professor at McGill University’s Faculty of Education Jon Bradley expressed (2010):

“We’ve taken out the vocational education – the shop, the commerce, and the woodwork. [...] We’ve taken out all the “non-academic” subjects. And I don’t know who decided that these weren’t academic.”


The further we are removed from the physical classroom, the further the activity is from the contents of a textbook, the less academic it appears. This belief can cause a reluctance for educational professionals to adopt practices like land-based education. However, they would be missing out on this valuable pedagogical tool, and students would be missing out on enriching learning experiences. As many may understand it as “just doing outdoor activities” (UNESCO, 2021), Dr. Alex Wilson accentuates its importance, understanding it as a practice that fosters individuals who will care for the Earth and become knowledgeable in cultural preservation, language and philosophy (2021).


Using the land as a teacher introduces students to a wide array of learning opportunities that cannot be gained from the traditional classroom. Wabie and London (2021) help illustrate this idea through their work consisting of building wigwams with students, amongst other land-based activities. The wigwam not only helped maintain traditional values within communities, but has itself been used as a teacher to further educate on the multitude of traditional activities held within and around the structure.


By relegating learning experiences within classroom walls, we may be unintentionally reinforcing how the land has nothing to teach us. As a result, we can only expect to maintain the commonly held stance that “human beings are seen to be (and believe they are) at the top and superior to all other life on the planet” (Mashford-Pringle & Stewart, 2019). Creating more opportunities to learn on and from the land would instead reinforce the notion that our growth, and overall survival, is not only dependent on the land, but how we choose to interact with it. Such a learning objective can be less effectively met within four classroom walls.


Furthermore, learning opportunities that would have students engage with the land has the potential of reducing within students what we commonly accrue as we grow further from natural environments — an inner dominance framework over all that is non-human. In its place, students would be better positioned to develop a feeling of empathy and respect for all that is found in this world, including non-living beings, plants, and animals. These opposing mental frameworks are illustrated in the following diagram from Mashford-Pringle and Stewart (2019).



"Hierarchy created by humans"



If students can better respect and connect with the land, imagine how much better they would be able to empathize with their fellow classmates. This newfound respect would therefore not only improve their relationship with the world, but improve their ability to find meaning with what they are learning in school, therefore inevitably improving their overall performance across subjects. Returning to the idea of reconciliation, since land-based education would better position students to find equality between themselves and all aspects of life, this new tendency would lend itself well to re-establishing the spirit of the original treaties in Turtle Island, many which were meant to signify the equal standing between Indigenous Peoples and the settlers from Europe.


 

Sources:


Flynn, A. (2010). With Jon Bradley, Associate professor, Faculty of Education. https://reporter.mcgill.ca/with-jon-bradley-associate-professor-faculty-of-education/


Government of Canada. (2023). Education for reconciliation. https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1524504501233/1557513602139


Mashford-Pringle, A., & Stewart, L.S. (2019). Akiikaa (it is the land): exploring land-based experiences with university students in Ontario. Sage Journals.



Wabie, L., J., London, T., Pegahmagabow, J. (2021). Land-based learning journey. Journal of Indigenous Social Development, 10(1), 50-80. https://ucalgary.ca/journals/jisd


UNESCO.. (2021, June 21). Land as teacher: Understanding indigenous land-based education. Canadian Commission for UNESCO. https://en.ccunesco.ca/idealab/indigenous-land-based-education


Photo Credit: Sterling College, https://www.flickr.com/photos/7973252@N08/24989557114



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