Land-based learning for reconciliation on Gabriola Island – reimagining education on Indigenous land

In 2016, a parent and a teacher at Gabriola Elementary School (GES), located on one of BC’s Southern Gulf Islands a short ferry ride from the city of Nanaimo, contacted CIRCE researchers involved with the Maple Ridge Environmental School project. A couple of years earlier, the GES community had decided to move towards becoming a place-based school. Now they were interested in the possibility of working with a university partner on transforming that commitment into practice.

Out of this initial contact grew a multi-year project (2018-2023) funded by the Vancouver Foundation, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the SFU Community Engagement Initiative. Building on growing awareness, in both the school and the community, that place-based education must include honouring and engaging with local Indigenous histories and understandings of land, the project brought GES together with researchers from Simon Fraser University, community groups on Gabriola, and Indigenous educators and knowledge keepers from the Snuneymuxw First Nation and adjoining territories. It also kept in close touch with educational leaders in School District 68, to which GES belongs.

The funding for the project was largely used to hire people to work with the school and the community, and to produce curriculum resources in collaboration with the Snuneymuxw First Nation. The goal was to build relationships between teachers and community knowledge keepers (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous), to collecting and developing resources on Coast Salish land and culture, and to organize land-based events and activities—not just for teachers and students at the school, but for the Gabriola community more broadly.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which arrived just as the project was building momentum, severely restricted the organization of activities for a year and a half and shifted some of the focus towards the production of curriculum resources, including a display map of Snuneymuxw traditional territory including Gabriola, and a poster highlighting Coast Salish values and teachings.

More details on project materials and publications will be added to this page in due course.