Thunder Bay

'Language is key in all of our teachings': land-based learning must include language component, educator says

Randy Trudeau, a former teacher, is happy to see land-based learning making its way into the curriculum for First Nation students.

Former educator applauds land-based curriculum, but it must be more than simply going on the land

Students in the land-based pilot program at Lakehead University listening to Randy Trudeau, one of the knowledge keepers during their weekend of harvesting wild rice. (Ron Desmoulins/CBC)
We continue our look at a unique pilot program between Lakehead University and Biigtigong Nishnaabeg. Teachers at the elementary school in the First Nation are enrolled in a land-based master's level program. We'll hear from a knowledge keeper, who was part of the wild rice harvesting session, about his experience of being on the land. 7:26

Randy Trudeau, a former teacher, is happy to see land-based learning making its way into the curriculum for First Nation students.

He says when he was teaching, the land was not allowed to be part of the curriculum. "I was forced to teach what the curriculums had on it," Trudeau says. "Throughout the years, I broke, you know, policies, broke the rules, and I took my students out on the land. We went for walks, hikes. I taught the medicines, different parts of the trees, what we used to use them for instead of doing geography," Trudeau said.

"I'd go out in our reserve and I'd teach all our kids what our ancestors did back then, and what did they use all these trees and all the plants that are here [for]. But I was frowned upon doing that."

A couple of students in the land-based pilot program between Lakehead University and Biitigong Nishnaabeg taking the canoe down to the water in preparation for going out on the water to harvest wild rice. (Ron Desmoulins/CBC)

Trudeau said he retired from teaching early because he was not allowed to teach the children about the land.

Today, he very much back living on the land much like when he was younger and learning from his father.

"Now that I've retired as a schoolteacher ... I've been back on the line ever since. Again doing the same thing. I don't bother supermarkets, I get all my food from the land — moose, deer, beaver."

A couple of students heading on Whitefish Lake, about 60 kilometres west of Thunder Bay, Ont., to harvest wild rice as part of a land-based master's level pilot program at Lakehead University. (Ron Desmoulins/CBC)

"You know, everything that we our ancestors harvested, I harvest … I make moccasins, hats, mitts, gloves whatever I need. The fish, I shared the fish with my families … you know, just being in the land I think helps my health."

Trudeau is quite concerned about his health because he's had two heart attacks, and he said getting back to eating the way he did when he was young has changed his health and made him stronger.

"You know, using our old ancient ways, I think is what's going to help me live long, and I want to live long … the only way I'm going to achieve that is if my spirit, my body connects back to the land."

Randy Trudeau carving a knocker, the long sticks used to knock the ripened wild rice grains into the canoe when harvesting the rice. (Ron Desmoulins/CBC)

Trudeau was one of the people helping students in a pilot program between Lakehead University and Biigtigong Nishnaabeg. The teachers in the First Nation are enrolled in a land-based master's level program that took them out of the classroom and out on the land to learn about wild rice harvesting.

Trudeau said having land-based teachings in the classroom can only benefit young people.

"There is just always different parts involved in working with the land and harvesting things, we have a science class in all the stuff that we do. We have mathematics in our class. We have geography, we have history," Trudeau said.

A closer look at the natural designs revealed in the wood, once Randy Trudeau finished carving the knocker. (Ron Desmoulins/CBC)

"We have that on our own, in our own ways, and using language in all of these things I think that's what's benefiting a lot of our youth."

But there is an important component that needs to be ingrained throughout the curriculum, Trudeau said. And that's the language.

"If you don't have language you're missing the most important ingredient in teaching our youth about living off the land and about the land. The language is ours, that's our key," Trudeau said.

One of the students in the land-based pilot program at Lakehead University trying her hand at carving a wild rice knocker. (Ron Desmoulins/CBC)

"We have to have language in it because it's language that's alive you know ... I am happy that a lot of the institutions and organizations are jumping into the wagon of land-based living, land-based learning, land-based healing. But the main key is language."