Learning from the land is one of the fundamental principles behind an Indigenous culture that existed in the Okanagan for thousands of years before European settlers began to arrive in the valley.
And that knowledge and understanding of Indigenous elders are being given new life with the land-based love program started by Central Okanagan Public Schools.
The learning program takes place at Okanagan Mission Secondary, with a current enrolment of 120 Grade 11 students from across the district.
At the heart of the program is to give an opportunity for Indigenous students to celebrate and learn about their cultural history, and for non-Indigenous students to learn more about the history of the Okanagan Valley.
It is comprised of four-day sessions held seven times over the course of a school year.
Speaking about the program at the ‘Inside 23’ information segment of the Central Okanagan Board of Education meeting last Wednesday (Oct. 26), land-based learning teacher Kevin Kaiser, joined in the presentation by fellow program teacher Kyla Shields, said it has struck a chord with students and is helping to revive and preserve cultural knowledge passed down by Sylix elders from generation to generation.
In a video as part of the presentation, Indigenous students in particular talked about the value of learning more about their culture and where they came from.
Program advocate Rubina Waterhouse said the program enables Indigenous participants to “have an opportunity to have a sense of belonging,” adding parents have been thankful for the program and how it has benefited their kids.
The land-based love initiative is part of the school district’s Indigenous education curriculum, with an objective to provide the tools to build healthy communities with sustainable futures, to better teach empathy, instill responsibility for caring for our environment and provide examples of honourable human reciprocation, history and survival skills you can’t find in textbooks.
Moyra Baxter, outgoing board of education chair, said the land-use love program is “the talk of the town” because of the impact it is having on students and parents.
“You are doing exceptional work,” Baxter said of the program.
“We are all very proud of how far (our Indigenous education) program has come and we know there is a ways to go yet but this (land-based love program) is helping us on that way.”