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River journey part of circle of knowledge


This past Thursday a number of Master of Education students in the University of Saskatchewan’s (U of S) Indigenous Land-Based Cohort ended their canoe journey from Nipawin, Saskatchewan to the shores of Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN) as part of the program. Waiting for them were first-year students of the same program.
Afterwards dinner was served to them at the OCN Community Gardens.
The program itself offers ways for the students to help explore land-based learning and educate themselves about the various different practices from the communities the students come from said one member of the U of S faculty.
“It’s learning different land-based knowledge, different practices. For example this group has been working with Omar and Crystal Constant; they have been doing different sessions. For the students, they have been sharing traditional and current practices from their communities, things like the importance of language, also talking about colonialism, settler colonialism and how for land-based learning we need to look at that, the history and ongoing colonialization such as extraction and those sorts of things,” said Marcia McKenzie, a Professor in the Department of Education Foundations.
The group consisted of a diverse array of indigenous educators such as teachers and post-secondary teachers as well as a diverse set of indigenous students including Native Americans from the United States from places like Standing Rock and Hawaii as well as people from First Nations all across Canada among other students.
“There is a wide array of skill sets, teachers coming from settler communities all the way from elementary school teachers, to high schools. There’s other indigenous teachers from reserves from First Nations teachers in Canada, there’s teachers from Hawaii; very wide array of skillsets coming together here,” said Mylen Tootoosis, Teaching Assistant for the Department of Education Foundations.
For the students who came to OCN Thursday it has been a long journey in the making.
“The students that are finishing today, this is the end of their program, they’re paddling in. The end of their final course, they have been working on it for two years. Then we have another group of students here who are in their first course. They are here to welcome the group that is coming in,” said McKenzie.
They have learned a great deal of things during the two and a half years they have been a part of the program.
“I think it’s important that we don’t forget our connection to the water, the land, the Earth. We all have an accountability to protect what’s life-given, to what’s sustaining us as human beings, to the creatures and critters that are taking care of us. I think we all have to remember we have a responsibility to stand in unity against major companies that come in and exploit our land and resources,” said Angelia James, a masters student from the Bigstone Cree Nation in Alberta.
“A big one is relationship and accountability, we spend a lot of time studying that in an intellectual sense but when you’re on the land and really having to problem solve and work together to make big things happen,” added Emilia Kandagawa, a fellow masters student from Hawaii.
Kandagawa feels with this program she made many new friends along the journey and now that they are on the last leg of their journey it has become an emotional time for everyone involved, not just because it’s near the end but also all the hard work paying off.
“We had some conversations this morning about how emotional this is and how much of a struggle and sacrifice that we’ve all made to make this possible. It feels like we’ve come such a long way but still have so much work to do to support our communities and take what we’ve learned here and put it forward in a good way,” said Kandagawa.
“In the past two and a half years with this cohort we’ve become more than just classmates, we’ve become family,” said James.
Tootoosis hopes this experience can help and encourage the students put it forward into more of their studies to become educators.
“The most important lesson is how practical the program is onto the land, even disrupt some of their own personal comfort zones to the point where they are engaged in land-based learning in the physical sense, taking it into the grad school realm where they’re also learning the theory and scholarship that’s required to be an educator and an expert in their field,” Tootoosis said.
One thing is clear they made friendships that will stick with them for a long time Kandagawa said.
“We know that any point in time 10 years from now, 20 years from now, a week from now we could call up any one of our classmates and we know we would be welcome into their home and into their families. Those relationships are really precious, they’re lifelong.”

Trevor Wright