Episode 7 - Land-based Learning

May 30, 2019 | 15:30 | 22.3MB | Download audio file

This episode will explore the importance of land in learning. We’ll head to a science camp near Carcross to speak with instructors and students piloting a new course which takes place completely on the land. And, we’ll hear about the importance of land as a teaching tool.


Welcome to Walking our Path Together, a series of audio stories exploring Yukon College’s reconciliation journey.

Over the course of the series, we’ll hear from people who are connected with the College, and from people throughout the Yukon – Elders, educators, community leaders, and youth.

This is Episode 7: Land

In this story we will visit a science camp just outside of Carcross to hear from students and instructors who are piloting a new course which takes place completely on the land.

Then, we’ll speak to First Nation Initiatives Director Davida Wood about how the College is thinking about the idea of land-based learning

And finally we’ll talk with Council of Yukon First Nation Grand Chief Peter Johnson about the importance of land in education.

Just a note before we begin. Most of this story takes place at a learning camp, so you will be able to hear the hum of the wind, the crackle of the campfire, and other background noises.

Coleen James: My name is Wolf’s Mother. Coleen James is my English name. We are at a science camp and using two-eyed seeing to teach some basic science on the land, I might add.

Two-eyed seeing is taking Western science concepts and values in conjunction with traditional values or the way the First Nations perceive life and how everything works, and taking the stories and the language and coupling it with the scientific terminology...

It’s for sure the Yukon College and Carcross/Tagish First Nation working towards reconciliation and building a better relationship together in the field of education, because education is very important to all peoples, and so we’ve come together and crafted and built with all of our Elders and language technicians and science teachers, and we even have a dog in camp. So, it’s great. We’re learning science in all kinds of capacity and context.

It’s important because in the trades, the students need their Grade 10 030 Science, it’s basic science.

Teachers and educators are finding that there’s a low success rate for First Nation students in the classroom setting, so they wanted to give it a try out on the land, in an on-the-land setting. So we’re out here for 10 days, and taking it one day at a time and practically applying our seasonal round: spring, summer, winter, fall. We’re talking a lot about the significance of four in the yearly round of seasons, in the migrations of the birds and how everything works. And then taking that Western knowledge and breaking it down and trying to understand it more.

It’s really important for these students to have success in this course because it’ll carry them into carpentry, being an electrician, or a plumber, in some of those trades. And it’s essential to having those tickets under their belt. So that’s the main goal here is to have more people get their Grade 10 science, so that they can apply it to their trades and move on that way.

It’s fun learning science in a way that I could never get it in school. And so it’s nice after all this time away from school and not having my Grade 12 or my grade 10 Science, for that matter, to sort of move through life and experience a number of things and to know things, but to now come back to science camp and have the Science 030 content really sink in, if you will, and then try to flip it into a traditional knowledge practical application and sort of bring them both home, has been really exciting and interesting for me.

So I’m learning just as much, if not more, than the students, in my opinion.

Samantha Smith: My name is Samantha Smith, I’m from the Kookhittaan Clan in Carcross/Tagish First Nation, Tlingit territory.

I am taking this class... I already have the credit for it, but I basically want the class just for getting into other science-based courses, whether it be Archeology, or Earth Sciences. But now that we’ve done this, and I’ve seen everything that they found up in the ice patch, which is on my traditional territory, it kind of makes me want to go for Archeology or Geology or... I just find it all really interesting.

I really like this course. If it was in the College, I probably wouldn’t have taken it, but it’s land-based. This is something that we can traditionally take in some of the knowledge that our Old Peoples did before and then integrate it into what we do today.

Steve Biggin-Pound: My name is Steve Biggin-Pound and I’m an instructor at Yukon College. We’ve been teaching a science course that gives credit for grade ten science and also gives entrance requirements for the apprenticeship program. So we’ve been teaching this grade ten level science, we call it Science 030, for a number of years. So it’s just a matter of adapting it to be more camp-based and using more examples from on the land and students’ daily lives.

So basically we just took a look at the topics that we need to cover in order for the course to be accredited, and then figured out some ways that we could do that in a camp setting.

Well, I really like to try to think of situations that students will encounter in their daily lives, or, in this case, particularly when they’re out on the land. And try to apply the scientific concepts behind those so that we can use those examples to clarify the concepts and to show that students are using these ideas already when they’re out on the land or in their daily life.

As an example, we’re doing levers today. So we’re working on physics and we’re doing levers. And I use an example of lifting up the corner of a cabin, or in this case, our wall tent. So that was a situation that I really encountered myself, and that I know from talking to other students, a type of situation that they’ve also encountered. We can’t just lift up the corner of a cabin with our bare hands, but using a lever we can get the mechanical advantage to do that. And many of our students, and particularly the elders here, have lots of experience with using levers. But they might not have realized the physics principles behind what they were doing. So, we just try to use those examples that they’re familiar with and show them that this is science.

I think the first thing is just being outside and being on the land. I think particularly for some learners that’s the best environment for them. Some people do well in classrooms, but I think we could all agree that nobody really loves classrooms. It’s a great thing to get it outside on the land, in a setting that students can feel more comfortable in, and that they can more easily focus on the topics that we’re covering.

So, I think it’s a great learning environment. The students have responded really well to being outside. We get much better focus, much better attention, and with it being more hands-on activities, they’re far more engaged.

I think it’s a great thing that Carcross/Tagish First Nation and Yukon College are partnering on this and trying to find new ways to deliver the same old material that is going to reach the students better.

Davida Wood: My name’s Davida Wood. I am the Director of First Nations Initiatives here at Yukon College. My family is from the Teslin area. I’m a member of the Teslin Tlingit Council. I’m a member of the Daklaweidi and the Kookhittaan Clans from there.

So, what we’re looking at it right now, what we’re exploring is this idea of land-based learning basically being learning that follows a cultural concept, a traditional concept, a historical concept, potentially protocol-based that really is about First Nation’s traditional learning.

Potentially, things like tanning a moose hide or reading the water or ancestral technology or things along those lines, versus another type of learning that we do here that is very experiential, which can also include some of those concepts but is also a much broader conversation.

Experiential learning can be programs like theatre or Outdoor Ed or skiing that we’ve done or renewable resources or those kinds of things. So, we want to make sure that we’re not using them interchangeably in many ways and really very different from doing activities outside, which doesn’t fall into either of those categories and sometimes does get defined as land-based learning.

You might be doing an outdoor activity, and you may have a conversation, but if you are hiking up a mountain and talking about algebra, you’re not doing land-based learning, you’re hiking up a mountain and talking about algebra.

So, we’re in the process of trying to figure this out. None of us have a definition just yet. But hopefully that’s something that we will have and can continue to work towards, and as with many of these things, I’m sure we’ll see it evolve over time as well.

Peter Johnston: My name is Peter Johnston, I’m a member of the Teslin Tlingit Council. My Tlingit name is [Tlingit language]. I’m 45 years old. I have four children. Grand Chief of the Council Yukon First Nations.

Our connection is there, and our survival is based on that connection. We’ve evolved over the course of tens of thousands of years based on that respect for that land.

Obviously, we’re not in the same minus 60 realities that our people faced back in the day, but so much depended on that connection to the land and understanding and respecting the environment that you not only had to survive in, but you sustained yourself from.

So all those components were based on that relationship, and if you didn’t have that respect, your chances of survival were very limited.

We talk about universities, we talk about culture camps. We talk about just having the ability for our people to get back on the land, to be the ears and eyes, the ear to the ground, if you will. Because that’s what our people always were.

They could tell when weather was going to change. There are ways to read the snow to know that it’s going to get warm ... everything that we used to depend on, we don’t necessarily do today. You know, we look at the Weather Network, or we go to our phone to see what the forecast is, but traditionally our people would be able to read that and gauge what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it.

How we follow the animals and what they’re doing, and watching how they’re reacting to certain things really gave us that intellectual knowledge that we don’t necessarily have today because we’re not there on the land.

So, I really want to have an education system that is the full gamut, right? That you have all options available and if a part of it’s just about getting back on the land and trapping, you should be supported in that realm because of the fact that it does involve so many facets of that, let alone having the ability for us to teach the next generation the importance of that. Getting them on the land to showcase the beauty of it and the importance of it. That’ll come because once you get people involved and they can feel it and smell it and taste it, the importance comes naturally.

Go back to the politics of me growing up as a young person – it wasn’t really until I had kids that I thought, “Well, what am I doing today to encourage them to not only get a better education, but what am I doing to help create this environment so they could get a better education and that they’re respected for what they know?” Right?

I don’t believe everything is learned in a textbook. There is definitely some significance to different learning styles, and I think the education system has failed miserably on the fact that not everybody learns the same way. So, we need to have an education system that’s based on everything that’s applicable to learning and empowering people, and building capacity.

We are humbled and grateful to the knowledgeable Yukoners who took their time to be a part of this project, and to help tell this story.

This audio story was produced by Leighann Chalykoff for Yukon College.

Original music is by Jona Barr.

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