K’àlemı̀ Dene School – Bushkids Mentorship

The Cause

A teacher and an education assistant of the JK/K class at K'alemi Dene School (KDS) will participate in a Land based learning mentorship offered by Bushkids. Bushkids offers mentorships to teachers, with their students, to help them to feel comfortable implementing on-the-Land learning into their pedagogical approaches delivered in the public school system. The two teachers and their students will participate in the mentorship one full day per week, for 6 weeks at the Bushkids outdoor site.

The vision of KDS is “Building our children’s future today by teaching and learning the Dene way.” The intention of this mentorship is to provide teachers and students the space to have the Land lead learning for the full day. We are taught that languages, peoples, cultures and knowledge comes from Land. With regular and repeated visits to the bush, a strong connection to the Land is supported with the guidance of knowledge holders, Elders and the Dene Laws.

Concepts we cover throughout the mentorship process include: pedagogical documentation, responsive planning, risk assessment, uncovering curriculum in outdoor play, how to support inquiry-based learning and how to extend the learning in the classroom. The mentorship will demonstrate play-based, inquiry-based, child-led and emergent learning approaches where safe risk-taking is supported. Wıı̀lıı̀deh language will be embedded into each day. Bush skills such as chopping wood, taking care of the camp, whittling, preparing food from the Land (such as fish, ducks, grouse, moose, caribou), cooking on a fire and building shelters will be just some of the activities children will be invited to do. Crafts such as fish scale art, beading and the skill of hide tanning are examples of other culturally relevant activities that will be made available.

The vision of Bushkids is for all educators in the NWT to spend time connecting with nature and community as a regular and integrated part of their practice. Bushkids staff will debrief each weekly session with the KDS staff and meet them where they are at – supporting the KDS staff in responsive planning so that each subsequent session builds on the curiosities, questions, successes and inquiries of the children. Curriculum objectives are uncovered at the end of each session and educators will become skilled at noticing them in each child as they use different strategies to observe and listen as co-learners in their play.

Who Will it Benefit?

Connecting with Nature and learning on the Land have benefits that have long been understood by Indigenous peoples in the North. Land is inextricable from the cultures of northern peoples, and understanding the benefits of nature for health and wellbeing comes so naturally to many Indigenous peoples.

Steven Nitah of Łutselk’e explains:“Relationship with Land comes with responsibility. People need Land, and Land needs people, we’re made of the same stuff. Learning on the Land should be mandatory. Giving children the chance to form a spiritual relationship with Land will serve them as a foundation for the rest of their lives. It will sustain them and it will sustain Mother Earth.”

By providing quality education in the areas of language, culture, physical and active living, Dene laws and virtues education, KDS is supporting students to grow and develop into respectful, healthy, diligent, strong Dene who give back to their families, community and the North.

Bushkids advisor Brenda Dragon (Thebacha) explains the benefits of Land based learning for children and their identity: “Identity is important to self-esteem; feeling and being a part of a bigger whole is one of the ways to build identity. Northern children with a strong sense of identity are resilient, adaptable and ultimately, will strive to seek their basic needs of connection and love. These characteristics contribute to the life goals of purpose, happiness, and fulfilment. Children who spend time in Nature are more likely to care and preserve their land and environment for themselves and for future generations.”

Educators at KDS will benefit from the experiential approach to professional development that Bushkids offers while including the students in the outdoor experience at the same time! It is an innovative, authentic and responsive approach to training teachers.

From a Euro-Western systems perspective, there is a growing body of research that aligns with Indigenous knowledge and wisdom about the importance of Land. These studies have demonstrated a multitude of benefits of Land-based learning for children including: improved focus; increased resilience and self-confidence; strengthened creativity, imagination and problem-solving; improved mental health; love for the environment, which is proven to lead to future Land stewardship.

The majority of the budget goes directly to Indigenous educators, knowledge holders and Elders who guide the mentorship and provide thoughtful direction.