A recent week-long field study course at St. Mary’s University invited students into an experiential and transformational space to learn more about themselves and their own relationships to Land through Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing. Taught by StMU Director of Indigenous Initiatives, Michelle Scott, this block week course gave students the necessary skills to articulate their relationship to place and to understand the responsibilities and implications that come with this relationship.

Students took part in meaning-making activities which centered their own stories in relation to Land within the context of the Land of the Siksikaitsitapi (Blackfoot Confederacy), the Eyarhe Nakoda, Tsuut’ina, and Métis peoples of Treaty 7.   The field course included day trips to the Siksika Nation: Old Sun College and the Blackfoot Historical Museum, Fort Calgary and the Fish Creek Interpretive Center.  Additionally, an Elder supported the course to share stories, provide guidance, and integrate learning throughout the course.

The course was offered in person and had an online component in D2L and included several activities, both off and on campus. The class visited the Blackfoot Crossing where Treaty 7 was signed and spent time learning on campus in our new teaching tipi.

As part of the Indigenous Studies Field Course, Michelle Scott and students went to the confluence of the Bow and Elbow – also known as Mohkinstsis, which is the Blackfoot name for Calgary. The word translates to “elbow,” in reference to the Bow River.

Time spent on campus outside of the teaching tipi involved getting to work in our beautiful medicine garden, tending to local plants and making sweetgrass braids for smudging ceremonies.

Throughout this course, students were encouraged to identify the significance of this Land and explain Indigenous and western perspectives of Land. Maria Fox, a student from the course, reflected on her learnings and memories from her studies through the following statements:

“It was 9:30 am, and I could still see the moon. Sitting cross-legged like a child, I felt wonder at the sight of it,” says Maria. Later in the afternoon, she learned the word for her favourite constellation: BIG DIPPER, or IG KI TSI KAAM. This experience was a moment of simple connection for Maria. “Learning even a word or two of another language makes me feel a closeness to others that I once did not know.”

Maria describes her week in INST 301 as nature driven, filled with insightful conversations and reflections. “I was struck by the fleeting nature of our day and our lives,” she adds. Two quotes spoke to this mystery for her: “Circularity represent wholeness and connectedness that brings all of creation together in a circles of interdependent relationships grounded in land and under the Great Mystery” -Styres, 2014.

Experiencing the space of the great gathering of peoples who signed Treaty 7 under duress, this quote reminded her of that interconnection of all peoples, for better or worse. “The resilience of those who continue to practice their ways to this day, even courageously sharing them with us whom, in many ways, represent those who have committed grievous wrongs against their communities, is astounding,” Maria explains. “Even more so, that residential schools are now used to teach the material that was once rejected shows a marked resilience. I was grateful to be given the chance of a glimpse into this space.”

Maria quotes the words of Chief Crowfoot as they ring true to the purpose of these visits, for her to bend and to learn:

“I am sorry that I am going to die.

I know I will go to a good place.

Try and come to where I will go.

From nowhere we come, into nowhere we go.

Be good to each other.”

-Chief Crowfoot (1890)

“The sweet smell of sage accompanies my thoughts as I take in these words, calling me to hold contradictions within my heart, within my mind. I sit today with the reality of what I cannot unlearn, of the beautiful and the terrible that I must take with me as I look ahead,” says Maria.

Students learned how to articulate their relationship to place and take on the responsibilities and implications of their relationship throughout the course. This 3-credit course is only offered as a summer block week, and students must take INST 201 to enroll or apply for special permission of the instructor to take the course.