My Philosophy: Land is Life
Only when we connect to nature, engage with nature, are we truly alive and vigorous. To really be alive, one must be under the sun, the moon, the shining stars and surrounded by the beautiful greenery and pure waters of the natural worldDAISAKU IKEDA
Nature, and connecting to the land, is one of the most important things in life. It allows us to know, do, and understand things that are just not possible from behind a desk, screen, or closed door.
I was fortunate to be born and raised on the extraordinary, traditional, ancestral, and unceded land of the Lhtako Dene First Peoples—in beautiful Quesnel, British Columbia. I continue to call this land home and am privileged to be raising my family here, enjoying all the opportunities it provides—from swimming, paddling, and skating its lakes to exploring its streams, rivers, and waterfalls; to biking, hiking, walking, and running its valleys and rolling hills to skiing and climbing its majestic mountains. This land blesses us with all four seasons: Springs amidst showers and flowers; Summers amidst sun and fun; Autumns amidst falling leaves and a chilly breeze; and Winters amidst the glow of snow.
My Pedagogy: Fostering Students’ Connection to People, Place & Land
My aspects of self are fulfilled through mutually respectful and reciprocal relationships with family, friends, and community, and through my connection to the land—the mountains, forests, lakes, and rivers. When I fail to take care of myself, everything suffers—my mental and physical health, my relationships, my family, my students, and even my own learning. Meaningful learning is only possible when the whole self is considered and cared for—that is, an individual’s emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental needs must be met and balanced for them to learn, grow, and succeed.
If I, as the teacher, cannot engage in meaningful learning without first tending to these aspects of self, I cannot expect my students to learn without first tending to their whole selves—their need for belonging, identity, and stability; their need to connect and make contributions to community, elders, and family; their need for meaning, purpose, spirituality, and relation to the land; and their need to connect to their own histories, stories, traditional teachings, and language. As such, it is my personal mission to nurture students’ whole selves, drawing upon Indigenous epistemologies to foster understanding and find ways (individually and communally) to connect to people, place, and land. Then, and only then, can students reach their full potential within the walls of my classroom.
My Practice: Experiential, Place-Based Learning
I plan to employ my pedagogy throughout my entire practice—inside and outside the classroom. I want to help my students better understand and appreciate the land on which we are so fortunate to live—the stolen, ancestral, unceded territory of the Lhtako Dene First Peoples:
For those who want to live in deeply sacred and intimate relationship to the Land must understand that it first and foremost requires a respectful and consistent acknowledgement of whose traditional lands we are on, a commitment to journey—a seeking out and coming to an understanding of the stories and knowledge embedded in those lands, a conscious choosing to live in intimate, sacred, and storied relationship with those lands and not the least of which is an acknowledgement of the ways one is implicated in the networks and relations of power that comprise the tangled colonial history of the lands one is upon.
STYRES’ 2019, QTD. IN DOWNEY ET. AL., 2019, PG. 29
What better way to do this than outside—on the land—where students can fully immerse themselves in place. And what better guiding principles to rely on than those outlined in the First Peoples Principles of Learning (FNESC); in the 9 R’s (Respect, Relationships, Responsibilities, Reciprocity, Relevance, Reverence, Reclamation, Reconciliation, and Reflexivity) set out by Kirkness and Barnhardt (1991) and Fraser (2021); and in the 94 Calls to Action put forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015).
I want my students to understand that the land is a gift, given to us by the Ancestors, and that it has belonged to Indigenous peoples since time immemorial. In the words of the Elders: “we are the land, and the land is us.” I want my students to understand and appreciate Indigenous ways of knowing and being, to see how well these ways of knowing and being served Indigenous peoples in the past, and how well they can serve us (indigenous and non-indigenous) in the present and into the future—to help us live more sustainably and harmoniously together:
Rooted in and informed by understandings of the Land and self in-relationship that opens opportunities for decolonizing frameworks and praxis that critically trouble and disrupt colonial myths and stereotypical representations embedded in normalizing hegemonic discourses and relations of power and privilege.
STYRES’ 2019, QTD. IN DOWNEY ET. AL., 2019, PG. 24-25
I have been honing this approach with my own children for the past twelve years, and have had opportunities to use such an approach in a rural Northern BC classroom where myself, my co-teacher, the Indigenous Support Teacher, and two amazing Indigenous Elders worked together to ensure that our classroom (indoor and outdoor) was a place of equitable learning, one where Indigenous learners, alongside their non-Indigenous peers, felt safe and confident in their ways of knowing and being. Students participated in Dakelh language lessons delivered by an Indigenous Elder from the community. Various Elders gifted us their time, voice, and knowledge, coming to our classroom to share traditions and pass along cherished stories and legends centered on the importance of people, place, and land; on connections to ancestors, family, community, languages, and the traditional territories that sustained them.
Students had the opportunity to see and touch important Indigenous artifacts, to taste and smell traditional foods, and hear traditional music and voices. Students participated in Smudging Ceremonies, made talking sticks, and took part in story circles where they shared personal experiences. “Friday Forest, Fort, and Forage Days” and “Winter and Summer Solstice Days” were implemented to give students time to immerse themselves in nature, on the land, and explore how their in-class Indigenous learning and the First People Principles could be applied outside the classroom. As a class, and in small groups, students worked together to create shelters, make fire, and build traditional tools and weapons; identified plants, berries, and animal prints; fished with fishing rods they carved; and made and cooked bannock over fire with berries they picked and boiled into a sweet jam.
My co-teacher and I provided time and made these opportunities a priority in our curriculum. We recognized that being on the land was critical to student learning (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) and reached out to our District’s Aboriginal Education Department who connected us to amazing Elders in our community. Aside our students, we collectively co-constructed, engaged, and participated in experiential, place-based learning. Both teachers and students gained so much, which is why I plan to continue using this approach in my future practice as a fully certified, classroom teacher! I look forward to many more years of meaningful outdoor, experiential, place-based learning; to fostering students’ connection to people, place, and land; and to sharing my passion for learning, for life, and for land!
Together in Education,
Ms. H ♥️
For a visual and narrated presentation of my philosophy, pedagogy, and practice, simply click this link to download. Once downloaded, click “Slideshow” – “Play Slideshow” to watch and listen to my commentary.
Hope you enjoy!
Downey, Adrian M, Bell R., Copage K., Whittey P. (2019). Place-Based Readings Toward Disrupting Colonized Literacies: A Metissage. In Education, 25(2), 39-58.
First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC). (2008/2014). First Peoples Principles of Learning [poster]. Retrieved from http://www.fnesc.ca/first-peoples-principles-of-learning/
Fraser, Tina (2021). Nine R’s. University of Northern British Columbia.
Kirkness, V. and Barnhardt, R. (1991). First Nations and Higher Education: The Four R’s—Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, Responsibility. The Journal of American Indian Education, 30(3), 1-15.
Mayes, Alison. (2019, January 30). Look to the medicine wheel for mental health, Elders advise in First Nationsstudy. Retrieved from https://news.umanitoba.ca/look-to-the-medicine-wheel-for-mental-health-elders-advise-in-first-nations-study/
Styres, S. (2019). Literacies of Land: Decolonizing Narratives, Storying, and Literature. In L.T. Smith, E. Tuck, & K. W. Yang (Eds.), Indigenizing and Decolonizing Studies in Education: Mapping the Long View (pg. 24-37). New York, NY: Routledge.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada., United Nations., National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. (2015). Truth and Reconciliation: Calls to Action.
The Nine R’s
Nine interwoven perspectives, or R’s, connected to the First Peoples Principles of Learning (FPPL) and the Professional Standards of BC Educators. Their purpose is to represent the significance of learning, looking, listening, and language. These perspectives derive from the scholarly works of Kirkness and Barnhardt (1991) which included the first four “R’s”, as well as the additional five “R’s” added by Fraser (2021):
- Respect – open to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), shared space, voice and vision, old and new knowledge, and more importantly, cultural safety amongst peers/colleagues, and visitors. We recognize that there are differences within cultures.
- Relationships – the ability to build capacity, share information that is beneficial to the needs of all learners.
- Responsibilities – students are responsible for their own learning and teaching. It is your responsibility to take what you have learned and to role-model, mentor, and to provide positive leadership to all learners.
- Reciprocity – the exchanging and dissemination of knowledge(s) as a gift. In my classes, “There is no right or wrong, only different”. Teaching and learning are reciprocal.
- Relevance – For protocols to be successful when entering the schools, visitors must have some understanding of the historical events that took place in that location, loss of identity, loss of language, disconnection from place and space, traditional and cultural practices, cultural laws, and structures. As researchers or visitors, we should be culturally aware of the “do and do not” and not assume that all communities have the same protocols or that the protocols are used for the same events or practices.
- Reverence – Indigenous people will share stories that personify lessons to be taught and learned. Their creation stories are usually connected to the animal world; mother earth, and everything that encompasses nature, the environment, eco-systems that allow Indigenous people to survive rather than destroy all things that is animate and imbued with spirit. As cultural beings, we require water to stay afloat, feel the energy and synergy provided by the creator. It is well noted by the Elders that, “we are the land, and the land is us.”
- Reclamation – As Indigenous people strive to reclaim their ways of knowing and being, there is a strong movement to reclaiming the essence of cultural practices, language revitalization, traditions, stories, songs, incantations, customs and protocols, treaties/land claims, preservation, and sustainability. Reclamation begins with the individual in search of their identity and including family, community, and nation. To reclaim traditional ways of knowing and being, it takes the collective.
- Reconciliation – According to the Truth and Reconciliation (2015), reconciliation is a process of healing of relationships that require public truth sharing, apology, and commemoration that acknowledge and redress past harms (p. 4). It also requires constructive action on addressing the ongoing legacies of colonialism that have had destructive impact on Indigenous peoples’ education, cultures and languages, health, child welfare, the administration of justice, and economic opportunities and prosperity (p.4). What will it take to acknowledge the past injustices in contemporary times? We all share responsibilities therefore, reconciling accountability, trust, collectivity, leadership, and respectful relationships are all necessary.
- Reflexivity – We all have different beliefs and practices, but what is important to note is how we view our journey, the influences that helps people to become enlightened, and most importantly, what we do with the knowledge. Reflexivity allows us the ability and awareness of how our beliefs, values, experiences, and practices become positive.
Lived Experience of the First Peoples Principles of Learning and the 9 R’s in My Experiential Practicum
Throughout my practicum, and in my lessons, I encouraged students to be patient and kind to themselves and others as they learned new concepts. My lessons and units were delivered via open, non-judgmental group discussions, posited on positive teacher/student and student/student relationships and connections.
Ideas and concepts were taught and learned experientially, through a mixture of explicit instruction, modelling, scaffolded support, practice, and student-doing. Student understanding was dependent upon their participation in, and attentiveness to, class and group discussions and to the assigned tasks (done in class, with support as needed). Universal Design for Learning (UDL) was utilized to account for student diversity and helped me meet a broad range of student needs (physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and intellectually).
This approach to learning was based on respect, responsibility, reciprocity, relevance, and reflexivity. This approach helped me foster amazing relationships with my students, my coaching teacher, and other staff members in the school. I was able to gain my students’ trust, confidence, and respect, and that of my coaching teacher and other staff members. Students shared with me aspects of their self, their family, their community, their pets, and their relationships to the world around them.
I was able join students on two fun-filled field trips to the local ski hill, toward the end of my practicum, where I enjoyed nature and connecting to land with my students and many of their families (siblings, parents, and even some grandparents (elders) on the traditional unceded territory of the Dakelh people.