Indigenous Land-based Learning Programs

Syilx Indigenous Land-Based Learning Project

Indigenous Aboriginal outdoor learning project is to engage students from K-12 in memorable, meaningful and transformative outdoor learning experiences that encompass Syilx (Okanagan) Indigenous Aboriginal perspectives, values and practices.  The project involves pairing school teachers with Indigenous Okanagan educators, elders, and culture and language specialists to co-develop and co-deliver curriculum in local outdoor settings, and in a way that honours Indigenous Aboriginal values and ways of learning.

It will also connect students to the local environment in the presence of an Okanagan elder or knowledge keeper.


Aquatic based: Salmon harvest and fishing methods, salmon feast, resource use of salmon, salmon drying, amphibian monitoring, water quality testing.

Terrestrial based: traditional burn, invasive weed pull, Sp’ic’n/Tuktn harvest, Sp’ic’n/Tuktn processing, berry harvest, animal tracking, winter shelter prep, bird banding

Land or Water: Syilx Indigenous story telling/drumming, Syilx culture, Four Foods story, special events eg Earthday, BC Rivers Day.

Four Foods


Learning from the Land in the North: The Dechinta Centre, Yellowknife

Dechinta hidesAll photo credits: Dechinta Centre

Dechinta salmonDechinta teepeeDechinta solar panelDechinta ice fishing

Dechinta Centre Video

“The Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning is a northern-led initiative delivering land-based, University of Alberta-credited educational experiences led by northern leaders, experts, elders and professors to engage northern and southern youth in a transformative curricula based on the cutting-edge needs of Canada’s North.”

Dechinta offers seven courses  accredited by U of A and McGill. Catching fish in drift nets, scaling, filleteing and smoking, are all supervised by an elder professor. Discussions include how larger animals are like elders,  guiding younger generations, and about environmental contamination. There is no circumpolar university, so normally northern students must attend to a major university in the south. Dechinta offers them a more culturally relevant alternative.

Barriers to post-secondary education in the north include socioeconomic ones, with single parent families being much more evident  (34% vs 17% in the south). The “Kids U” program allows parents to attend classes while their children attend daycare.

Other land-based activities offered are dog mushing, collecting traditional medicines, hunting and fishing.

Semesters are completed partly at home, and partly at the site. The home part of the semester is through phone, email and video conference while working on community based projects, such as dealing with fracking and water use, or art shows.

“It’s hard to get an [educational] opportunity like this in Southern Canada because of the way the population has grown, and the way lands are used there,” said Cat McGurk, a 20-year-old student in Dechinta’s spring 2014 semester.

“When people are interacting with the land – living off of it, dependent on it – that’s where a lot of the connection that we talk about comes from. I think it makes relationships that occur on those lands deeper and more meaningful.”

Dr. Freeland Ballantyne said an aim of the model is to “build a new generation of leaders and researchers that can walk confidently in both worlds and be change-makers.” Video

Dechinta Bush University


Anishinaabe-Bear Clan Alternative Teacher Practicum Placement

Teacher candidates participate in land-based activities of Anishinaabe traditional knowledge on Lovesick Lake in Burleigh Falls, Ontario.

Motivated by the Ontario First Nation, Metis and Inuit Education Policy Framework to address a gap in knowledge of First Nations local people and indigenous history.

Long term goal is to create a welcoming, culturally respectful inclusive learning environment in their classrooms.

Learning components  include outdoor education, environmental education, Anishinaabe Culture and teaching practices.

Activities include medicine walks, fishing, tracking, harvesting, open fire cooking, canoeing, shelter building, solo survival, daily reflection, ceremonies, elder talks, traditional land-based practices, storytelling, sharing circles, field trips and drumming and dancing.

canoelovesicklake images




Land-based Learning Camp, Living Sky School Division, North Battlefield, Saskatchewan

Grade 9 students attended a four day bicultural camp focusing on culture, traditions, language and land-based resources. Through teaching traditional skills, knowledge, language and values of First Nations and Metis culture, students learn to “Walk in Two Worlds”. Indigenous benefits are the opportunity for self-definition, to have their way of life respected and the emphasis on spirituality and aboriginal styles of learning through experience.


“I don’t have words to describe it. I’m getting goosebumps just talking about it,” says Leoville Vice-Principal Beau Vandale. He says the effect on the students was amazing. Vandale cites the example of one student.“He came to us on the Monday (after the camp) and he said, ‘I had to take my family out there because – I just – I needed to be back out there. I needed to feel that again.’

Activities included working together to problem solve in authentic situations (such as figuring out how to set up a canvas tent in the rain) ,tipi building, making tea and salad from plants foraged in the forest, building traditional shelters, carving bows, making fire, observing through the camera lens, beading, fishing, hunting, storytelling, playing games and making music .


Brightwater Science and Environmental Centre- Saskatoon Public Schools


Integration of curriculum and ecological knowledge honouring Indigenous content, values and ceremonies. Programming is based on seasons, and focuses on classroom inquiries.

tipi 8.JPG

The focus of the program is “giving back to the land”, with activities based on environmental education, responsible stewardship, and environmental work projects.


Financial support provided by Potash Corp.


Whitefeather Forest Initiative Indigenous Knowledge Curriculum Project

A partnership between Confederation College, the Pikangikum First Nation of Ontario and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, with support from the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ontario Parks to use Generative Curriculum and community-based learning in the Forest Ecosystem Management program.

Guiding principles include respecting cultural inputs, ensuring ecological perspectives, bi-cultural curriculum with emphasis on contributions from elders, with a focus on early childhood and development.

Topics included teaching the Anishinaabe way, traditional uses of trees (eg snowshoes, fibre attributes of wood), forest stewardship, timber harvesting, forest renewal, survival skills.

Activities: developing burn plans, cultural land-scape tours, forest road layouts with water crossings, land-use planning, cross-cultural tours.


Learning on the Land: Language and Culture Based Education, Yellowknife

Goal: to ensure students and staff in the Yellowknife Education District are engaged in and value Aboriginal language and culture based education, to develop awareness, self-esteem and a sense of identity, to create an environment for success and learning.

On the Land Learning programs:

  1. District Culture camps
    1. ACE- Aboriginal Cultural Experience: grade camps on Dene Kede themes, following Dene seasonal calendar. Uses elders and local resource people. Unit and lesson plans.
    2. Camps: Fall Fish camp (grade 7), nature camp (grade 1), leadership camp (grade 8), kindergarten drum dance, Caribou camp (grade 6), Take a kid trapping program (grade 9-12), winter camp (grade 9), family feast (grade 2), trapping camp (grade 4), traditional games camp (grade 3), earth medicine camp (grade 5). And more!
  2. MHS ALC Program and School camps
  3. School initiated Cultural Activities

Yellowknifecanoeing yellowknife

Land-based Indigenous Cohort Masters Program: U of A

A graduate program in First Nations Education at the University of Alberta and the University of Saskatchewan, developed by Dr. Stan Wilson and Dr. Peggy Wilson, both of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

Using an Indigenist paradigm of relational accountability, where everyone and everything is related and natural justice is meted out in response to disrespecting any of the people, plants, animals, fishes, rocks, air, constellations, water and soil.

Students learn from the land and analyze their experiences from the Indigenist perspective, with a balance of oral tradition and written text.

Activities: categorized into four quadrants (physical, spiritual, cognitive and emotional). Examples are paddling, gathering medicinal herbs, tree knowledge and use, intellectual property rights teachings, language and culture, food knowledge, etc.


‘Āina-Based Learning Kamehameha Schools, Hawaii

“Learn on the land and practice mālama i ka ʻāina on Kamehameha Schools’ agricultural and conservation lands. ʻĀina Ulu is a program which brings together over twenty different community organizations which manage these lands and provide culture-based and place-based learning opportunities.

Activities include: agricultural production, food sovereignty, farm-to-table programs, fishpond stewardship, resource management, Hawaiian language instruction, forest plan identification, propagation and restoration, removing invasive plants, fishing practices, carving, weaving and canoeing.


Integrative Science Camps, Nunavut

Peary Caribou

InIdividuals from Qikiqani Inuit Association, Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, the Nunavut Arctic College, and elders from the Department of Education set out to engage Nunavut youth in outdoor, traditional and scientific learning activities. “Two-Eyed Seeing” involves bringing Science together with Indigenous knowledge systems. 

Programs are delivered by Inuit elders and western Science experts, such as conservation officers, biologists, climate change specialists, fisheries and sealing division reps, and parks staff.

Examples of programming include community cleanups, Arctic expeditions on ice, classroom visits on climate change, Nunavut wildlife, sealing, and environmental research techniques, and Wildlife education. Youth who have been referred by the RCMP or the Nunavut Court are brought onto the land to learn traditional Inuit ways. Father/son programs allow Inuit men to share experience and knowledge while building relationships. Women’s programs give people a chance to reconnect, build supports, and reflect on life changes away from the stress of everyday life.


Ilisaqsivik: Clyde River, Nunavut


A community-based non profit organization dedicated to promoting community wellness through space, resources and programming that allows community members to find healing and develop their strengths. Programs include cultural retreats that promote inter generational healing. Inuit foods are harvested specifically for nutritional reasons, and to transmit hunting skills to younger generations. 

Several multi-day land based learning programs are offered to all community members so that elders, families and children can form strong bonds. There are workshops, land-based skill teachings and times for relaxation and connecting with the land and one another. The dogs are used so that individuals and families may learn mushing techniques and traditional hunting skills.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s