SFU graduates to engage in new field school on Sts’ailes territory

The field school will occur for four weeks in summer 2024

This is a photo of Sts’ailes Territory along the Chehalis River in BC.
PHOTO: Dru! / Flickr

By: Eden Chipperfield, News Writer

Graduate students from the faculty of environment will have the opportunity to live in the Sts’ailes community for four weeks as part of an upcoming field school experience. During the field school, graduates will have the chance to learn from the Sts’ailes People regarding knowledge about land stewardship, fisheries and forest management, eco-tourism, and more. 

The Sts’ailes band lives on the Harrison River in the Fraser Valley. Their traditional land “includes the entirety of Harrison Lake, Harrison River, Chehalis Lake, Chehalis River, the lower Lillooet River, the northeastern portion of Stave Lake, and the Fraser River between Hooknose and Queens Island.”

“We’ll be canoeing; we’ll be boating; we’ll be travelling around the territory. We’ll be doing a lot of the actual talking in the context of a ceremonial longhouse,” said Dr. Morgan Ritchie, manager of Heritage and Environment in the archaeology department, and adjunct professor at SFU, during an interview with The Peak.“That’s a nice way of grounding people in the territory and culture, some of the key kind of concepts are going to be Indigenous governance, health, and how health is connected to the land.”

A significant part of the field school is understanding education and teaching from an Indigenous perspective, particularly listening to the Sts’ailes community and those who took care of and governed the land far before the first settlers arrived. Students will hear perspectives from the Sts’ailes Nation and SFU professors who, throughout the time of the course, will be giving presentations within a ceremonial longhouse. 

The idea for the field school was initiated when Ritchie’s former supervisor, Dr. Dana Lepofsky, a distinguished professor of archaeology, brought their class to the Sts’ailes territory and began the initial dialogue between the Elders of the community and the Dean of Environment. From that conversation, a workshop was created to learn from Indigenous ways of learning. “There was this idea that it would be really valuable then to bring students out to kind of learn from the land,” said Ritchie. 

“Everything that people know about the land is [ . . . ] passed on from the ancestors who are now part of the land,” said Richie. “Anything you can know about the world around you, [your] beliefs and learnings, it should all come from the land and you should be attentive to that land.” Learning from the wisdom of the land, Indigenous Peoples understand the terrain, the changing ecology, and how to manage salmon sustainably, according to Ritchie. He explains that through the weeks in the summer, students will experience these teachings, visit ancient underground pit houses, and learn about the ecosystems that the Sts’ailes have shaped. 

The students participating in the experience will be staying in a recreation site managed by the Sts’ailes community. They will live close to the Sts’ailes River, and the distance from the study areas is a two-minute drive, explained Ritchie. 

On how the field school partnership contributes to Truth and Reconciliation, Ritchie said, “It has to be an ongoing kind of relationship. Still, I think reconciliation begins with greater awareness and understanding and appreciation mutually.” Ritchie felt it was important to have “young people, graduate students especially, that are going to go on to become biologists or land use planners or government employees or professors or teachers or anybody in society that has a bit of a voice,” to engage in this experience and create that deeper respect and awareness. “The fact that they’re interested in learning more and to put themselves in the position of the student to listen to community members share about what they know — I think that’s, in some ways, a humbling position to take.”

The evaluation of each student’s time will include weekly reflections, active participation, and a final project or paper that the student will select with the instructors and the Sts’ailes Nation.

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