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White Bear First Nation land-based educator is being recognized

A land-based educator who is revitalizing Indigenous teachings to his students at White Bear Education Complex will be recognized with a heritage award. Taya Lavallee/White Bear Education Student

Land-based learning is not a field trip for students but an opportunity to revitalize and incorporate Indigenous culture in school curriculums. This is the foundation that a land-based educator at White Bear Education Complex believes in.

Garrick Schmidt is in his element when he’s out on the land with his students, teaching everything from traditional medicine picking to hunting and gathering food. He says taking his students out of the classroom is beneficial and important for them to build an understanding of who they are and where they come from.

Read more: Land-based education teaches White Bear First Nation kids survival skills

“They are getting reconnected back to the land,” said Schmidt. “To be able to teach what I learned throughout my life to my students and colleagues as well, it’s a real honour to get that recognition. It feels really special.”

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His work of preserving and revitalizing Indigenous culture in the classroom hasn’t gone unnoticed. His recognition falls under the Intangible Cultural Heritage category for this year’s Saskatchewan Heritage Awards, where people are chosen based on the role of living cultural heritage. Schmidt was in disbelief when he first found out that he was one of the recipients — a recognition he was not expecting.

“To receive that recognition from community and from the (Saskatchewan) Heritage, it’s a real honour because we just don’t turn on and off our ways of life, it’s who we are,” he said.

Read more: Land-based learning links curriculum with Indigenous culture

One week, Schmidt is indoors with his students doing their course studies and in the following week, they are out on the land.

“We’re outside as much as we can to integrate the teachings of the land into the classroom,” he said. “It’s kind of getting away from that colonial construct of that mindset that our classroom has to be in the four walls. We’re outside learning traditions, protocols, songs and about ceremonies. All of those have the connections back into the mandated curriculum.”

Schmidt and his staff took their students out on a camping trip to Moose Mountain Provincial Park last month for a few days to use the survival skills they are given in the classroom. During this trip, students learned how to raise a teepee, canoe, hunt, prepare the meat and pick traditional medicines.

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“They are learning to be independent. They are learning how to successfully and humanely harvest an animal. They are learning team-building skills on how to be a community,” he said.

The Saskatchewan Heritage Awards will be held on Nov. 1 at Government House in Regina. A list of the other recipients can be found online.

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