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  • Thomas Tri

Learning from the Land

Land Based Learning

Think back to when you were young, spending time outside; biking, playing sports with friends, jumping in rain puddles, chasing after butterflies, jumping rope — the list goes on. In every outdoor experience, it is likely you will learn something new. Whether it be witnessing the swiftness of squirrels, the movement of clouds, or seeing a colony of ants marching back to their hill, every observation and outdoor experience can teach us something.

The North American Association for Environmental Education explains that observations like the ones listed above enable people to learn about basic scientific concepts and knowledge. Learning from the outdoors is not a groundbreaking discovery in contemporary society; Indigenous Peoples have been doing this for a millennium.

According to The Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness, “Indigenous Land-Based Learning is an Indigenized and environmentally-focused approach to education by first recognizing the deep, physical, mental, and spiritual connection to the land that is a part of Indigenous cultures.” This includes knowing a region's traditional and cultural teachings, which comprises learning about the surrounding environment and transferring that knowledge from one generation to the next.

FESA’s Indigenous Workplace Learning Circles (IWLC) aims to incorporate Land-Based Learning into programming to build literacy. FESA has been working with rural Indigenous communities across Alberta, such as Eden Valley and Morley. The IWLC builds community capacity through developing literacy and essential skills necessary for the workplace. Through consulting with community members, Elders, and Indigenous organizations, the program’s content, delivery, and design meet the cultural needs of the participants.

Shawna Linklater

We sat down with FESA’s lovely, Indigenous facilitator and trainer, Shawna Linklater to tell us more about the program. Shawna works closely with the IWLC. She is instrumental in the delivery and implementation of Land-Based Learning in our programs in Eden Valley and Morley. She has been facilitating since 2018 and working with FESA for about 7 years this coming September. Being a Cree woman herself, she has found learning about other Indigenous cultures fascinating and found it rewarding to be working with Indigenous communities:

Can you tell us about how you start off the program?

The morning usually starts off with smudging in a circle. Usually, everything that we do is in a circle. Smudging is a daily reflection of how the day might go. We try to start off with positive vibes and cleanse ourselves through smudging.

How has culture or Land-Based Learning been incorporated into programming?

The content made for this program has reflected the population it serves. Because the majority of the folks we work with come from the Stoney Nation, the content we make is geared towards that population.

How has Land-Based Learning helped complement the development of literacy and essential skills?

Including Land-Based Learning is an important piece of our program.
For instance, we watched a film named, “The Little Trapper.” This movie follows a Cree boy who goes around the forest learning how to trap and hunt. We learn that hunting and trapping significantly teach us about numeracy: learning to count how many traps were laid, and how many animals are in the wild. Participants are also encouraged to write down things they are watching.
Other examples of how culture has been incorporated are through beading. Similar to hunting and trapping, beading requires numeracy: you have to know how many beads go into each section. It also helps with literacy because people can bead words onto whatever they’re working on.
Literacy can also be through the form of being able to communicate with others. Participants are encouraged to socialize, interact, and partake in group activities, which helps to build their communication skills.
The Medicine Wheel, another cultural component, teaches us a lot about nature and helps complement the learning process. Just like the wheel, our participants are sitting in a circle. This helps level everyone. The Medicine Wheel teaches us about a lot of things: it represents the four races, four seasons, and four age groups. The wheel also represents how we are all connected to one another.
We also have an activity called the Moon Exercises, inspired by the Stoney Nakoda Nation. The moon represents the participants’ birth month. In this activity, participants are asked to draw their birth moon months and write down the different things they would see in nature to the corresponding month.

Participants not only learn essential skills and develop their literacy, but are also able to connect with their cultural roots. As well, This program stresses the importance of things that we can learn from nature.

All in all, we can learn a lot from nature, and we can benefit greatly from Land-Based Learning. Indigenous Knowledges works in harmony with current western science. As David Suzuki puts it, “Traditional Knowledge is complementary to western science, not a replacement of it.” FESA’s IWLC draws from both fields to ensure the best literacy programming for our participants.


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