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Understanding Indigenous Culture in North Dakota Series: Land Based Learning

Indigenous Peoples have a long and collective ancestral relationship to their lands and natural resources. This relationship is grounded in their beliefs, practices, systems of knowledge, and social norms, which in turn are dependent on their physical, cultural, and spiritual well-being and the resilience of the ecosystems in which they live.

Indigenous ways of knowing and being, center around many foundations, and one of the strongest one is knowledge of the land. Covid –19 brought us all back to many integral and organic roots that indigenous people have lived forever as the first peoples on the land. Within education, as Covid changed how we teach and where we teach, many of our innovative educators took their students outside. And this is where the longstanding indigenous practices of understanding the land became most valuable. Indigenous Land –based education is not just about taking kids outside, it provides tiered concepts to include the value of language and geography of stories, cosmologies and world views, land protections and rights, relationality, accountability and a connection to reconciliation.

Land based education centers around respect, reciprocity, reverence, humility and responsibility as vital to the land, a very different view from what many have been taught which is the land is a resource and objects to serve human consumption and greed, much to the detriment of our living world. The land should be treated like a relative, that you interact with regularly. And Indigenous based education is regional, connected to the locale.

Prior to the addition of much of the infrastructure you see every direction you go, indigenous people knew every single portion of land, unique locations, and ceremonial sites. They knew the areas that had higher risk of travel whether by foot or horse, water ways for food and sustenance sourcing and cleaning, locations of various access to food whether in the form of animals or plants, and land originated mental and physical health benefits whether a sacred site or a certain herb.

Indigenous sociocultural identities are intricately interwoven with the plant, fungus, and animal species found on Indigenous Peoples’ lands. Naturally, Indigenous peoples know the life cycles of animals and plants. Traditional foods are those that Indigenous Peoples consume locally and are embedded in systems of being, cultural knowledge, and beliefs. These foods are acquired through farming, herding, or the harvesting of plants, animals, and fungi. Within Indigenous communities, hunting wisdom, behavioral interdictions, and food taboos often emphasize environmental balances, and mutual exchanges between humans, prey species, and other nonhuman beings.

Red Basket, Dr. Kathy Froelich, an MHA elder and CREA Indigenous Culture Coordinator suggests this classroom activity to educators: “We are more alike than we are different.”

Goal: Students will understand the Indigenous world view of the land and the sacredness of all things.

Step 1 – View the video -

Step 2 – Using the internet students will find one American Indian sacred site in North or South Dakota, once found they will complete a one-page research paper. Their paper will respond to the following questions– Where is the sacred site located? What makes this site sacred? How do tribal peoples honor the sacred site each year? Where did they find their information?

Step 3 – Students will present their findings to the class.

· Land as teacher: understanding Indigenous land-based education (

· Learning Through the Land: How Indigenous Knowledge Can Shape Schools | American Indian Studies | College of Liberal Arts (

· Global importance of Indigenous Peoples, their lands, and knowledge systems for saving the world’s primates from extinction | Science Advances

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