Learning from the Land

In this section, you will learn about the importance of learning with the land, led by Indigenous Peoples.

Introduction

Although there is much diversity between First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, a deep and abiding connection to the land is common. Dr. Leroy Littlebear says that “The land is a sacred trust from the Creator. The land is the giver of life like a mother. The ecological aspect of Indigenous knowledge is all about the land. The land is a source of identity for Aboriginal People.”1 Elder Bob Joseph explains that “Traditional knowledge, languages, cultural practices and oral traditions built up over the millennia are all connected to the land.”2  “Indigenous languages connect with living in harmony with each other and the land.3 

Connection to Land

The values of reciprocity, respect, balance, and connection to spirituality are central to learning from the land. Indigenous histories and stories are embedded in the land. Hands-on learning opportunities are abundant during land-based learning experiences that supervisors can participate in. There are many traditional land use, sacred sites, and sites of cultural significance across Alberta, so it is important to work closely with local Indigenous Peoples when engaging in land-based learning opportunities. This will help ensure that experiences are respectful, authentic, and meaningful. Learning from the land is becoming more commonplace within education systems because it presents an opportunity for educators and students to learn more about the histories and stories of the land and people while meeting curricular outcomes. 

Traditional/Ancestral  Territory

Traditional/Ancestral territory may or may not overlap with Treaty boundaries. For example, the Blackfoot Nation’s ancestral territory once occupied areas up to what is now Edmonton with the North Saskatchewan river being the major landmark that signified the boundary between nations. This territory is in contrast to the Treaty 7 boundaries which are landmarked by the Red Deer River. Traditional/Ancestral Land use extends beyond the borders of reserves in which First Nations were forced onto. Prior to the Crown Treaty with First Nations, there were Peace Treaties between First Nations. For example, Wetaskiwin which means “the hills where peace was made” was the site in which the Cree and Blackfoot Nation entered into Treaty. This Treaty set forth the mutual agreement that both nations would live in peace, have mutual respect and share the territory. The history of this land runs deeper than the past 500 years. Nations coexisted, survived and utilized the land prior to Crown Treaties and colonial endeavors. Understanding the historical context of Indigenous relations with each other, the land and newcomers to the land is an important part of reconciliation.

Forced Disconnection

The connection to the land has been disrupted through policies of colonization, assimilation, and attempted genocide. Forced disconnection from the land has caused spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental damage to many Indigenous Peoples. Some examples of methods used to disconnect Indigenous Peoples from the land include forced relocation, confinement onto reserves, fraudulent land acquisition schemes, and banning of traditional food and medicine harvesting. Outlawing ceremonies in which celebration and honoring of the natural world was another method of attempting to disconnect Indigenous Peoples from the land. 

Despite methods used to disconnect Indigenous Peoples from the land, many continue to connect to the land and pass land-based learning on to future generations. Creating opportunities for land-based learning includes showing respect for the land that provides, harvesting and hunting protocols,  and honoring sacred sites and places of cultural significance.

Culturally Significant Sites- First Nations

There are many places of cultural and natural significance in what is now Alberta. There is sanctity of the physical spaces that represent the value of culturally significant sites.  Places like OkotoksÁísínai’pi (Writing on Stone)Rib StonesEarth Wall Village, Berry Point, Medicine Lake Wintering Hills, Lac St. Anne, Cyprus HillsBlackfoot CrossingHead-Smashed in Buffalo Jump, and Medicine Wheel sites are examples of culturally significant sites that hold rich knowledge and continue to be considered sacred by many Indigenous People. While educators can seek information about these places through Indigenous developed print or digital format, deeper learning and appreciation will naturally occur when you walk through those spaces with the Indigenous People that are connected historically to those locations while receiving teachings and stories connected to the land. It is critical to ensure respect for the spaces is emphasized so as to continue to preserve and protect these places which showcase the richness embedded into our landscape and culture.

Inuit

Inuit presence in the province of Alberta is significant.  Many Inuit were sent here for tuberculosis treatment at the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital. Today there are many  Inuit that live in Alberta. Inherent cultural values remain at the heart of Inuit despite some not living on their traditional territories. Inuit knowledge is grounded in maligait (four laws) which include “working for the common good, respecting all living things, maintaining harmony and balance, and continually planning and preparing for the future”.4  “Historically, the survival of Inuit depended solely on the land and waters and the wildlife that they provide. The relationship between the Inuit and the land was one, like a newborn baby to her mother.”5  “As a people, we have undergone immense changes in a generation. Despite the many changes our society has encountered, we retain strong ties to the land and our traditions. The Inuit continue to have a strong, unique culture that guides our everyday life — our close ties to the land, a dedication to the community and a strong sense of self-reliance.”6  There are four Inuit regions in Canada, collectively known as Inuit “Nunangat which means land, water, and ice. Inuit consider the land, water, and ice, of our homeland to be integral to our culture and our way of life.7 

Métis

Some Métis People in Alberta continue to have a deep connection to the land while others have been severely disconnected due to a variety of assimilation policies. Most recently in Alberta, the Métis Nation, through continued negotiating and advocating for inherent rights, recently have been granted hunting and harvesting rights which means a renewed relationship with the land. Métis Settlements include many yet many live throughout the province. Fraudulent scrip practices and forced relocation disconnected many Métis from traditional land-based connections. Yet those connections have not been completely severed and many continue to pass on land-based knowledge. The Métis National Council says that “Over many generations, Métis have discovered innovative ways to live in their particular environment despite diminished access to land and waters.”8  “For Indigenous Peoples’ continued existence – throughout the world – land is a prerequisite. It is essential because Indigenous Peoples are inextricably related to land: it sustains our spirits and bodies; it determines how our societies develop and operate based on available environmental and natural resources; and our socialization and governance flow from this intimate relationship. Because of that intimate relationship, the land is rendered inalienable: it is a natural right, a right essential for the continued vitality of the physical, spiritual, socio-economic and political life and survival of the Indigenous Peoples for generations to come.”9 

A map, created by the Métis Nation of Alberta’s Otipemisiwak magazine, features current places to connect with Métis history and culture. Currently, Métis Crossing, near Smoky Lake, is a cultural gathering center in which experiential learning opportunities are made available. Lac St. Anne is considered a gathering place for many Métis, First Nations and Inuit. Fort Dunvegan, Mahikan Trails, Painted Warriors, Tail Creek, Talking Rock Tours, Rocky Mountain House Historical Site, Kikino Silver Birch, Fort Chipewyan, and Jasper Tours  are all places to connect with Métis History and culture. Métis locals and settlements across Alberta can also be connected with to learn more about local culture, happenings, and history.

Survive and Thrive

Indigenous People survived and thrived on this land long before Canada became a nation. The concept of terra nullius was set forth as a way to justify land acquisition even though Indigenous Peoples were using the lands in traditional ways. Newcomers did not consider  Indigenous People’s oral laws, views of nature, or their society equal to European written laws. Today, many Canadians are not aware that Indigenous People helped shape this nation. For example, many Nations helped newcomers survive and thrive on this land by offering knowledge about hunting and trapping route systems, plants, and animals. David Thomspson was only able to map the land because he was accepted by the family of his wife Charlotte Small, who was Indigenous. It was his Indigenous in-laws and allies that showed him the ways of surviving and traveling on this land and opened it up for further exploration by Europeans. 

Note: Consult with local Elders and Knowledge Keepers to learn more about sacred/significant sites and land-based learning in your local area.

Reflection

  • What opportunities are available to staff and students within your jurisdiction to engage in learning from the land led by local Indigenous Peoples?

  • How can learning on the land be woven into current practices within your jurisdiction?

  • What are you doing in your district to support land-based learning for staff and students?

  • What funds, policies, and procedures are in place to support learning from the land through an Indigenous context?

Related Resources

NOTE

Note: Consult with local Elders and Knowledge Keepers to learn more about sacred/significant sites in your local area.

This interactive map allows users to view locations such as residential schools, as well as overlays such as trade routes and traditional territories.

Students from the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary get out of the classroom and experience firsthand learning on the land.

Mary Wells speaks about Cree lessons that were inspired by nature.

Elder Wilton Goodstriker talks about traditional Kainai teachings for living in harmony with the environment and explains the current roles Elders take in consulting with outside developers.

Dora Unka relates her understanding of First Nations historical practice of living in harmony with the land.

Cree Elder Clifford Cardinal talks about the traditional Cree way of interacting with nature with intentionality and forethought.

Billy Joe Laboucan, Cree linguist and storyteller, talks about the traditional concept of reciprocity in relationship to the land.

Come walk in the footsteps of a trapper’s life at Métis Crossing.

View a video created by Adiran Huysman,  a master’s student from University of Calgary, who worked in collaboration with Rupertsland Institute to develop this resource.  Adrian shares his reflection on Jasper National Park and how his perspective changed after he explored and researched the history of Métis families and  their experiences of colonization.

Transformation in reconciliation can occur when we seek to understand the historic and present-day relationships between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people and their connection to land. Adrian shares his own reflections as he explored the land where many Métis families were displaced.

Cree Elder Berta Skye shares teachings on the importance of cedar.

Cree Elder Bertha Skya gives teachings on harvesting protocols and the important roles of medicines.

Cree Elder Bertha Skye shares teachings on medicines such as cedar, rose hip and pine.

This article explores a Winnipeg-based land-based learning initiative within public schools.

This article is about the implementation of a locally-developed course in Anzac, Alberta which focused on land-based learning.

Basic elements of Land-based Education with a focus on the Woodlands Cree are introduced along with four curriculum orientations that are connected to environment-related education.

Watch the videos. Begin the dialogue. Teach the curriculum. Water. The Sacred Relationship.

Footnotes

1Littlebear, Leroy. Naturalizing Indigenous Knowledge. Canadian Council on Learning: 2009. Retrieved from http://neatoeco.com/iwise3/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/NaturalizingIndigenousKnowledge_LeroyLittlebear.pdf.
2Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. “First Nation Relationship to the Land.” https://www.ictinc.ca/blog/first-nation-relationship-to-the-land
3Makokis, Leona J., Marilyn V. Shirt, Sherri L. Chisan, Anne Y. Mageau, and Dianna M. Steinhauer. mâmawi-nehiyaw iyinikahiwewin. (Blue Quills First Nations College, 2010.) Retrieved from http://www.bluequills.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/BQ_SSHRC_2010_final_report.pdf.
4National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health. 2009. Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit: The role of Indigenous knowledge in supporting wellness in Inuit communities in Nunavut. https://www.ccnsa-nccah.ca/docs/health/FS-InuitQaujimajatuqangitWellnessNunavut-Tagalik-EN.pdf
5Aglukark, Brian. “Inuit and the Land as One.” http://www.nunavut. com/nunavut99/english/inuit_land.html
6Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. 2006. The Inuit Way: A Guide to Inuit Culture. http://apihtawikosisan.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/InuitWay_e.pdf. pp. 16, 43
7Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. “About Canadian Inuit.” https://www.itk.ca/about-canadian-inuit/#nunangat
8 The Métis National Environment Committee. “Métis Traditional Environmental Knowledge.” https://www.metisnation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Metis-Traditional-Knowledge.pdf
9Chartier, C. (1993). Métis lands and resources. Sharing the Harvest: The Road to Self-Reliance, Report of the National Round Table on Aboriginal Economic Development and Resources (pp. 70-89). Ottawa: Canada Communication Group Publishing. Retreived from https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/bitstream/handle/1974/7732/Sharing_the_Harvest.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y