GPHY 309/893: Field School in Geography

GPHY 309/893: Field School in Geography


This 3.0 credit Integrative Field School in Geography offers an immersive introduction to Indigenous (primarily Mi’kmaq) peoples’ perspectives on environmental and health issues, focusing on the interconnectivity between the health of the land, water, and air and how they are intimately tied to Indigenous health and wellbeing. In developing an understanding of these perspectives, Indigenous peoples’ voices must be central to the learning journey and recognizing that their knowledge (expressed through language) is intimately tied to the land, the best approach to such learning is to engage in community-based education. As such, this course is largely a traveling Field School to various parts of Mi’kma’ki (Nova Scotia) with the remainder of our time spent in independent learning, lectures, and tutorials. Throughout our travels, we will engage with Indigenous knowledge-holders (Elders, elected and hereditary leaders, resource users, health care providers, and so on) concerning a wide range of content issues about the environment and health. Key Canadian legal cases affecting land use, resource access, environmental management, planning, and protection as well as Indigenous worldviews on health and the interplay human health has with environmental stability may also be explored during this course.


To explore local and regional issues – and connecting to global issues where relevant – concerning Indigenous peoples and their relationship with the natural world, placing emphasis on historical and current issues in the field location.


  1. Indigenous worldviews on health, the land, and the meaning of ‘place’ in the world;
  2. History of Indigenous health in Canada (pre-contact, early contact, late contact, and contemporary health);
  3. Indigenous-settler relations in Canada (e.g., Indian Act, 1876; Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996; United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007, 2010, 2016; Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2015);
  4. Indigenous health systems;
  5. Indigenous governance structures;
  6. Environmental/Social Justice and Health Equity.


  1. Demonstrate nuanced understanding of the ongoing colonial relationship of Indigenous peoples and Settlers in Canada;
  2. Actively and experientially engage with Indigenous peoples’ ontologies, epistemologies, and methodologies in place;
  3. Understand some of the key legal decisions as well as historical and modern Treaties involving Indigenous peoples in Canada in terms of links between Indigenous rights to resources and Indigenous health and well-being;
  4. Develop critical, analytic, and reflexive knowledge about Indigenous perspectives on the environment and health;
  5. Hone teamwork skills, including the ability to work under pressure, in cross cultural contexts, and difficult conditions;
  6. Apply reflexive, oral-visual, and technical skills to knowledge translation to reach beyond an academic audience. 


This is largely an applied and experiential Field School; I will facilitate your active engagement in all discussion and learning activities. In-class content will include readings, discussions, films, and/or guest speakers. In-community content will be wide ranging, from – for example – Medicine Walks, tours of facilities (natural resource management and health centres), informal and formal meetings, ceremonies (e.g., smudge, sharing circles, sweat lodge, singing, drumming, dance), traditional teachings, presentations, and discussion. Because we may be invited to participate in Indigenous ceremonies, it is important to know that you may respectfully decline if you are uncomfortable with doing so and this will not have an impact on your participation in the course; your safety and comfort are my primary concern and so you simply need to communicate any concerns you have to me for them to be respected and addressed. During the Field School, please be advised that you will often be sharing accommodations with others (Room sharing is a field school necessity, students must be comfortable with sharing across the gender continuum; however I will try to accommodate individual requests), we will be sharing meals at all times, often provided by community and are not subject to the same expectations one might have for a varied menu, and at times we may be without electricity, running water, or any form of electric, oil, or gas heat. You are expected to bring your own sleeping bag but there will be no room to pack a pillow!


When invited knowledge-holders interact with us, they will determine the format for how their time with us will be most effectively used. This means that your flexibility, respect for Indigenous ways of doing things, and embracing a stance of learning and humility are critical. In short, please anticipate physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges; you are to determine your level of comfort. While this is a challenging course, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, it is not, group therapy or a space for individual or group counselling. If you have existing health condition that could affect your abilities to participate, you must bring these to the attention at the time of our one-on-one interview so that we can determine whether the field school can accommodate your needs.