Out of the classroom, into a story

Community learning

- November 27, 2012

Students in the class, out in the community. (Provided photo)
Students in the class, out in the community. (Provided photo)

In August, students in the Indigenous Perspectives on Resource and Environmental Management class took part in an invaluable learning experience: travelling to Mi’kmaq communities across the province to learn from elders, knowledge-holders and others.

Earlier this month, the students shared the results of that learning in the form of digital stories: weaving together personal narrative, images and music to reflect on what they heard.

A life-changing experience

The course, taught by Heather Castleden and hosted in the School for Resource and Environmental Studies, has the week-long field school at its core. It’s a journey that many of the students call “a life-changing experience,” and it’s one that goes both ways, as student Ziyun Wang points out.

“I think communication with equal positions is crucial to solve most problems,” says Wang. “That's also why we need to build a trustworthy and cooperative relationship with the Indigenous Peoples expressing our respect and willingness to learn.”

Many of the Indigenous elders and knowledge-holders who opened their communities to the students visited campus to attend the presentation. All had glowing praise for the students and the course itself.

“Why is this course not mandatory for Dal students?” one community member asked, enthusiastically.

A different kind of learning   

According to Dr. Castleden, field schools are an invaluable learning tool, and helpful because experiential education “resonates with many Indigenous ways of knowing and learning.”  

The expedition teaches students to think twice about mainstream knowledge. Students learn to question everything. “Question what you think you know, what you have been taught through books, and in the case of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations in Canada, question what has been absent from the curriculum,” says Dr. Castleden.

The payback, in terms of knowledge gained, is immense.

“Field courses, like Indigenous Perspectives, provide a learning experience that you will never replicate in the classroom,” says student Nadine Baumer. “I can honestly say learned more about Canadian geography from the Indigenous Studies field school than I learned in my entire undergrad degree!"

Stories woven together

The digital stories combine powerful images with personal narratives of each student’s experience, with the goal of sharing the experience with the Dalhousie community and the leaders that helped them develop a new way of thinking about resources.

The stories applied the lessons learned to a range of subjects that hit home for the students. Some stories drew parallels between the historical oppression of Canada’s Indigenous culture and the oppression of other groups around the world. Others talked about the importance of balance and access to resources.

“I’m really proud of our group and the whole experience,” says Ziyun. “So it is great to share our stories with the Dal community.”   

Upon returning to Dal, the students have the option of writing a research paper on a subject related to the course, or completing 20 hours of volunteer work with an Indigenous community or group and offering a written report.  

The course is open to all Dalhousie students in at least third year with the instructor’s permission. For more information, see the Undergraduate Calendar, or contact Prof. Heather Castleden at heather.castleden@dal.ca.


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