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Place-based learning in Huu-ay-aht Territory

Overview: On the west coast of Vancouver Island, Nuu-chah-nulth peoples, including Huu-ay-aht First Nation (HFN), have occupied their homelands along the mountains and seas for thousands of years. This extended land and water tenure is reflected, among other ways, through a multitude of narratives, songs, ceremonies, family lines and place names. In relatively recent times (since the mid-nineteenth century), Huu-ay-aht people have shared this enduring landscape with waves of newcomers. The Village of Bamfield, an instrumental part of the history of the Province of British Columbia, has served as a key trans-pacific cable terminus, fishing village, start/end point for the West Coast Trail, research marine station, and eco-tourist destination. Since 2011, the Maa-nulth Treaty has guided relations in Huu-ay-aht Territory.

In the context of this rich history and present, this intensive two-week course offers undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to engage in the emerging realm of place-based learning. The course is structured around foundational questions, such as:

  • What are the key premises underlying place-based learning?;
  • What is the role of history and land in Indigenous place-based learning?;
  • How can place-based learning in community-based settings inform our understanding of what it means to “Indigenize”?;
  • In what ways can Indigenous educational traditions inform contemporary practices in diverse fields such as education, health, social work, community development, environmental management, etc.?

Through incorporating various forms of experiential learning such as site visits, Elder talks and a field research project, the course aims to foster a critically reflective understanding of place-based knowledge and respectful relations as foundational premises to advancing the important work of decolonization and reconciliation.

Research Skills:  Qualitative research approaches are well suited to understanding people’s relationship to their environments. Individuals enrolled in this course will undertake a scholarly exploration of resident’s and visitor’s perception of some existing public spaces in Huu-ay-aht Territory. The outcomes of this research may contribute to the future development of a community-initiated place-based public art project.

Boat Use: Students who wish to drive boats at BMSC must hold a PCOC and valid first aid certificate and will participate in an introductory boat check-out on the first day of orientation.

Prerequisite: The course is open to undergraduate and graduate students in fields such as education, health, anthropology, geography, philosophy, sociology, Indigenous studies, environmental studies, etc.

Physical requirements:  Short field trips to nearby locations via boats and buses are a part of the course, as are activities that require moderate physical exertion and may be undertaken on uneven terrain and/or in potentially wet/muddy /slippery conditions.  NOTE: Course registrants have the option to participate in a one overnight backpack trip on Huu-ay-aht lands proximate to Pacific Rim National Park (more details to come).

Required Text: A course pack of required readings will be available electronically to students in early spring 2018, including writings/works by Umeek (E. Richard Atleo), Leanne Simpson, Jeannette Armstrong, Taiaiake Alfred, Julie Cruikshank, and others.

Our aims in this course include enhancing theoretical understanding of concepts such as ‘place’, ‘space’, ‘landscape’, ‘history’, ‘community’, etc. and to foster familiarity with research practices amenable to the study of these concepts in local Indigenous contexts. Such a learning journey encompasses conventional classroom activities (e.g. readings, films, conversations) and alternate learning modalities (e.g. guided walks, Indigenous talks, site visits, a field research project, etc.).

Through the practices of place-based engagement, this course seeks to counter what at times has been interpreted as a kind of place-less-ness found at times in scholarly discourse and research methodologies. Such engagement at the community level offers health researchers, teachers, geographers, historians, environmentalists, etc. a chance to grapple, “with the ‘richness’ of place, where the ecological and the cultural, the human and non-human, the local and the global, and the real and the imaginary all become bound together in particular formations in particular places.’’1 

1Agnew, J. A. (2005). Space: Place. In P. J. Cloke & R. J. Johnston (Eds.), Spaces of geographical thought.