Students show improved attendance, confidence, skills with land-based learning teachers say
- Andréa Ledding | October 01, 2020
Land-based education is especially healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, says educator Kevin Lewis of Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation.
“For the times we’re in right now, it’s a really good option to keep people safe - physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually,” he said.
“We can move around and break up those chemicals that cause depression, anxiety. We need to let the land heal us right now.”
Lewis started a culture camp eighteen years ago that evolved into a year-round land-based program.
“Pipes, smudges, prayers and languages are the first and foremost things we use and afterwards everything falls into place,” he said.
In 2018 they launched a Cree-immersion program.
“This incorporates language, identity, story and history. We’re starting to formulate assessments from the instructor and student side,” Lewis said. Masters and PhD students are interested in researching and developing it; their Centre of Excellence includes a research arm which features guest instructors.
Classes, whether in urban or rural settings, can take a stroll and look for medicine or teas or animal life, he said.
“It’s so healthy for everybody you just feel good spending it outside.”
“Fall is a good time, the genesis of our program was to launch around a hunt. We love the moose.”
Moose hide is used for drums and rattles. In September they have a bow-making workshop.
Without the distraction of cell phones (they don’t have much cell service in the area,) it’s easier for students to be immersed in the experience of being on the land and around the water, he said.
Kids from kindergarten to grade 10 respond well to the program, which helps develop cognitive, motor, and social skills, as older students help teach younger ones.
“The students respond well,” he said, “they mentored really well and coached each other amazingly.”
“It was a community that we saw through the two years and we’re hoping to go into a third year with the immersion school.”
Lewis describes land-based learning as a treaty right but also a responsibility.
“We just need more programming like that all over the place,” he said.
Garrick Schmidt who teaches at Ochapowace agrees. A recent graduate of Regina SUNTEP, he wanted to bring his personal passion and knowledge for being out on the land to Kakisiwew School.
“Students weren’t getting out onto the land or just out once every two or three weeks, and instead we were outside almost every day,” said Schmidt. “With that I’m able to do cross-curriculum connections. Being able to teach what I do, it’s vital to build and bring back those skills not all the students know. A few families still hunt regularly, maybe they trap, but to see how happy these families are to see these practices being brought back to the school!”
He has also noticed positive changes in behaviours, enthusiasm, and attendance.
“Getting those students outside that can’t sit in a desk all day long, I was able to see the strengths of students right away,” he said. “We got out and had a trap line, set snares for rabbits, made stews and soups and cooked meat over the fire.”
Last year he taught 12 grade-eight students and will work with them again this year, teaching grades six to nine in the outdoors, land-based program. He enjoys the growth that occurs with skill-building and confidence.
“It’s a good healing piece because the land teaches so much. I’m integrating the Saskatchewan curriculum but the land is the curriculum, the stars, the animals, the seasons,” he said. “The kids love to be in school... any stress that they had at home, being out on the land they had time to talk about things and have little sessions out on the land.”
Student Mishauna Prettyshield agrees.
“I always enjoyed being out on the land. Doing hands-on learning was much better for me,” she said. “Doing these types of things with my classmates was so much fun because every day we would learn something new.”
Classmate Eva Bear agreed.
“Learning how to live off the land was showing me how my ancestors lived,” said Bear. “It was better to learn about it in real life and not just a text book. Learning about survival in real life was awesome.”