On Oct. 18, schools across Canada celebrated Take Me Outside Day, dedicated to making time to head outdoors and learn beyond the confines of a classroom.
Here in Pincher Creek, Canyon School embraced the opportunity by taking Grade 6 students on a field trip to Waterton Lakes National Park. Students learned not only of the ecological importance of the land, but also of its importance to the Niitsitapi, the Blackfoot people.
“It’s all part of LRSD’s place-based learning initiative, getting the kids outside to get a better understanding of the area that they grew up in, and learn to respect this land,” says Derek Shackleford, a Grade 6 teacher at Canyon School.
According to Derek, this out-of-school opportunity allows students to learn more about the land from numerous perspectives and encourages them to respect the lands they call home.
To help facilitate this place-based learning, students and teachers were joined by volunteers Kim Pearson, Parks Canada’s nature legacy scientist, and Jesse Plain Eagle, a Blackfoot knowledge keeper.
The pair spoke to the importance of the land from different perspectives, educating students as they toured several notable locations within the park, including the Hay Barn, Linnet Lake and Red Rock Canyon.
Kim provided students with an understanding of Waterton in the context of being a national park and how it is unique compared to other places. She spoke of how the park is situated on land where the mountains and prairies meet very suddenly, creating a recipe for diverse plants and animals to thrive.
“I was really happy to have the opportunity to join the kids and help them understand the importance of this place,” she says.
“It’s such a unique place in the world, and an important place from an ecological perspective with its unique geography, which helps to create a habitat for a huge diversity of plants and animals.”
In addition to her efforts to teach students about the land’s significance, Kim also made her way around to help students identify plants for their tree and forest unit assignments.
Jesse, on the other hand, was instrumental in providing knowledge of Waterton’s significance to the Blackfoot people. Jesse gave a Blackfoot perspective on some of the plants native to Waterton, as well as describing the traditional uses of the land.
Additionally, Jesse talked about how Waterton pertains to Blackfoot people in regard to their ceremonies, such as the beaver ceremony, which was started in the area.
Growing up, Jesse felt that his culture and history were stifled, as he never got to talk about it or learn about it in school. He saw this as an opportunity to spread the knowledge he wishes he had learned in school, while making sure to not overshare out of respect for his people.
“I think it’s important to share our culture, our history, and provide that awareness, because we all live in Blackfoot territory and a lot of kids still don’t know that because for so long, all that knowledge and information wasn’t shared,” Jesse says.
Now working as an education assistant in Brocket, Jesse is providing knowledge to youth that he never thought he could share.
Between the teachings of Jesse, Kim, teachers and volunteers, students were thrilled to experience this unique learning opportunity.
“It was great to come to Waterton. I really enjoyed taking pictures of nature, but also enjoyed learning about how we can impact the land,” says Rowan Hancock, a sixth-grade student from Canyon.
“It’s cool that our teachers decided to take us out and do this fun field trip in Waterton,” says Solen Pearson-Taylor, who also attends Canyon. “It’s meant a lot to me to learn about Blackfoot culture, because it’s not talked about enough and it’s important for everyone to learn more about it.”
Derek hopes that at the end of the day, the trip provided students with a better understanding of where they live and why they need to respect the land.
“The more awareness kids have of their surroundings, the more respect they have for that place, the more they’re going to want to protect that place and be a bigger part of it in their adulthood,” he says.