As young people and the young-at-heart go back to school this fall, it is good to revisit how Indigenous land-based learning is a way to take action on climate change. The impact of COVID-19 on society has also shed light on the importance of outdoor education.

According to a report inspired by the work of the Misipawistik Pimatisiméskanaw land-based learning program in Misipawistik Cree Nation, Manitoba, “Indigenous land-based learning typically uses an Indigenized and environmentally-focused approach to education by first recognizing the deep, physical, mental, and spiritual connection to the land that is a part of Indigenous cultures.” Indigenous land-based education teaches environmental stewardship. Simply put, Indigenous environmental stewardship reflects all the ways that Indigenous peoples honour Mother Earth, including practices of conservation and sustainability, as well as showing a responsibility for one another, as human beings.

Indigenous scholars at the University of Guelph in Southwestern Ontario have been working together with several community agencies, including the Global Youth Network, the Grand River Métis Council, and the White Owl Native Ancestry Association, to establish the Wisahkotewinowak teaching garden at the university’s arboretum. The garden is a space for youth to learn from Indigenous Elders about seasonal medicinal and edible plants. Wisahkotewinowak, is an Ojibway word that means “the growth of new shoots after a fire.” Youth are also involved in a project that involves the Niisaachwan Anishinaabe Nation and that combines learning about manomin (wild rice), an important food source for Anishinaabe people, with learning about changes to the land brought on by human settlement along the Winnipeg River. The Manomin/Wild Rice Project offers opportunities for land-based learning and intergenerational cooperation that also characterizes Indigenous food sovereignty projects.

In another example, children and youth ranging from kindergarten to grade 8 at the Biitigong Nishnaabeg Elementary School, just outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario, are benefitting from learning about traditional knowledge and skills, like manomin harvesting, from Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers. The pilot project is run in partnership with Lakehead University, and has led members of all ages of the Biitigong community to learn about the benefits of land-based learning. Land-based practices characterizing Anishinaabe pedagogies, including those among communities governed by the Grand Council of Treaty #3 territories, offer insight into cultural practices, and practices that maintain a strong sense of identity among diverse Anishinaabe peoples.

The benefits of Indigenous-led education, including land-based learning, are also formally recognized, at the international scale, by the UNESCO. According to section B19 of the UNESCO Policy on Engaging with Indigenous Peoples, “effectively including indigenous peoples’ knowledge, holistic worldviews and cultures in the development of education policies, programmes, projects and practices and promoting their perspectives, would provide meaningful learning opportunities that are equally available, accessible, acceptable and appropriate for all indigenous peoples.”

There is an opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and for their respective governments, to consider linking both educational policies and diverse practices that support Indigenous land-based education with climate change action.


By Leela Viswanathan

When discussing action against climate change, we frequently hear the words “mitigation” and “adaptation” floating around.  While often used interchangeably, the terms indeed have distinct meanings and roles, in the process of preparing for a changing climate.  The main difference between mitigation and adaptation revolves around purpose, and timing of implementation.

In theory, mitigation is the stronger approach.  Climate change mitigation seeks to avoid the problems of climate change before they occur.  It is accomplished by offsetting the causes that then create the effects.  Mitigation strategies focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions produced.  These strategies can also include the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.  Essentially, mitigation’s objective is to reduce and prevent the causes of climate change.

However, climate change is by nature a global issue.  Actions taken in one part of the world inevitably impact all other parts of the world.  Thus, while mitigation is the goal, the undeniable forces nature require imminent attention.  This is where adaptation comes in.

Climate change adaptation seeks to prepare communities for existing and projected climate change, equipping them with the infrastructure and resources to stay safe.  When possible, adaptation also seeks to preserve as much as it can, whether it be built infrastructure, lifestyles, or economies.  Notably, adaptation goes beyond just coping.  As was noted by climate scientists in the PEI Climate Change Adaptation Recommendations Report, adaptation requires developing a “planned, informed, forward-looking, and thorough approach”.

While we must never abandon a vision for climate change mitigation, the process of climate change adaptation is a process of great significance in many communities across the world today.  This is particularly important in the communities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including First Nations communities.  In First Nations communities, adaptation practices focus on the preservation of space and place, engaging the work of many stakeholders.  Strong, unique adaptation plans for First Nations communities and their climate needs are essential in the movement to preserve traditional lands, lifestyles, and economies.


(Author Credit: Charlotte Corelli)