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Teaching students on the land

What is Land‐based learning? 

NorQuest College will launch its new Indigenous Studies Diploma Program in September, 2021, and with that program comes a for‐credit course in Land‐based learning. What is Land‐based learning? Basically, it is what it sounds like – learning, outdoors, on the land! But it is so much more. Learning on the land allows students to recognize the spiritual, environmental, and physical connections between Indigenous peoples and the land. It takes students out of the confines of the traditional classroom and gives them a hands‐on approach to learning about Indigenous cultures. Instead of just reading about Indigenous cultural practices, students participate in them. 

How do students participate? 

To start students off on their Land‐based learning journey, they first participate in ceremonies and offering protocol. NorQuest has been building relationships with Knowledge Keepers and Elders from local First Nations. Through these partnerships, the college teaches students to ground this process in ceremony to ensure accountability to Indigenous knowledge systems. NorQuest is lucky to have the guidance of two Knowledge Keepers: Delores Cardinal from Whitefish/Goodfish First Nation, and George Desjarlais from Frog Lake First Nation, who help the college move forward in this work within the Nehiyaw concept of Wahkohtowin. Wahkohtowin – which translates to “we are all related” – will continue to inform how the land‐based learning activities and ceremonies are developed and ensures learning is focused on relationality and how everything is inter connected. 

What do students do on the Land? 

Once students have learned the importance of accountability and of the good intention of moving forward, NorQuest engages students in activities such as sweats, North Saskatchewan River Valley walk teachings, pipe ceremonies, medicine walks, hide scraping, and other activities and ceremonies—all delivered by Elders and Knowledge Keepers. Students learn through oral teachings and are given the chance to perform, journal, and create. 

How did Land‐based learning begin at NorQuest College? 

This focus on land‐based learning would not be here today if it were not for the success of the Land‐Based Learning Symposium held at NorQuest College in November 2018. The symposium had over 200 participants from all over Canada and presenters from all over the world. The success of this symposium has propelled NorQuest as an up‐and‐coming institution focusing on land‐based learning and Indigenous science, technology, engineering, and math (InSTEM). 

What is next? 

A partnership between NorQuest College and Actua, a charity dedicated to preparing youth (six to 26) for leadership and innovation, will create another opportunity for NorQuest to focus on Land‐based learning and InSTEM programming. Through this annual partnership, students will gain experience and education that build critical employability skills and confidence. Actua is a leader in STEM programming and provides a network of organizations and institutions that share best practices and programming. Some of the exciting upcoming programs under development include for‐credit Land camps and in‐school Land‐based courses to gain high school credits. 

These new ways of introducing Elders and Knowledge Keepers to educate students on the land marks how NorQuest College is incorporating Indigenous knowledge systems into students’ educational journeys. Weaving these systems together with Western knowledge systems is an attempt to close the gap between systems, highlighting the benefits in our interconnectedness. 

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