On-the-Land learning won’t be accessible to everyone until it becomes a foundational part of the NWT public school system. We have seen support from parents and a willingness from the government to experiment with ways of integrating this kind of learning, but many barriers still exist. Supporting our future generations is a community responsibility if we want it to be accessible to everyone.
The path forward involves creating continuity between extracurricular experiences, by ensuring outdoor learning is integrated into everyday life, work, school, and community. The Land is found not only outside our borders and away from our communities, but rather it is within them and it is within us. What we need now is to put more resources into on the Land learning. We need to build community capacity to sustain Land-based learning. Here are the changes we believe need to take place for us to achieve these goals:
One essential need is a tri-departmental committee that would comprise of ECE, HSS and ENR that would integrate government and community representation for On the Land Programming. The committee would ensure collaboration and relational accountability to the vision by aligning budgets, yearly goals and eliminating barriers to Land-based learning. The roles of the champion departments must be balanced and equally committed. The importance of the interdepartmental approach is to help weave family and community into school-based learning systems within the NWT.
Along with this committee, we see the need for mandatory training to be offered to all GNWT employees, educators, teachers and early childhood educators in the territory, including teaching the foundations and history of Canada and the NWT, the concept of ethical space, and on-the-Land competency. These groups are too often being asked to take their own time and initiative to train themselves in these important concepts. They need support.
Supporting Knowledge Holders
Next, supporting knowledge holders in the NWT is integral to guiding on-the-Land learning through a sharing of worldviews, and ways of knowing and doing. Support has to include appropriate compensation by providing salaries or honoraria for knowledge holders and requires regular work with educators at each school for consistency. This option would be put into effect with the goal of elevating Indigenous systems, in order to create a balanced ethical space within our institutions and within the GNWT.
Last, there is a need for outdoor spaces in every community as a comfortable gathering place through seasons. The spaces would be located at or near every public school in the NWT so that teachers could use these spaces to lead land-based programming. Though located in close proximity to schools, it must be communicated and fully understood that these outdoor spaces are open for use to families and the community. The spaces are meant to serve as a baseline for crosscultural exchange and understanding, for everyone.
For further learning and to learn more about our vision, read “Creating Ethical Spaces: Opportunities to Connect with Land for Life and Learning in the NWT” written by Bushkids co-founder Chloe Dragon Smith. Share this document far and wide as a rationale and a starting point for policy change.