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Culturally rich Haida Gwaii an ideal field school location

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HAIDA GWAII, British Columbia – Field studies have wrapped up for another year and assignment due dates are pending for another successful Haida Gwaii Field School offering from Northwest Community College.

The field school, which this year included a first-year anthropology course – ANTH 112: First Nations of BC – and a second-year geography course – GEOG 227: Ethnogeography – was offered in Haida Gwaii from July 14 – 23. Taught by Terrace-based University Credit instructors Sheree Ronaasen and Ken Downs, the field school drew 10 students – seven from Terrace, one from Prince George, one from Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast and one local from the Village of Queen Charlotte.

Those students learned about the Haida culture from a series of guest speakers: Capt. Gold, Skidegate knowledge keeper; Sean Brennan, who works for the Secretariat of the Haida Nation in land use planning; Barb Wilson, a cultural resource specialist for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site; and James Williams, a Haida Watchman.

They also toured the Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay and paddled a Haida canoe; they walked Spirit Lake Trail with Linda Tollas from Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site who is knowledgable about plants and culturally modified trees or CMTs; they traveled to famous North Beach and to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site and stayed at Swan Bay Rediscovery Camp for three nights. Moresby Explorers transported students to Gwaii Haanas and they visited the Haida Village of SGang Gwaay Llnagaay and traveled to the Haida Watchmen site of Hotsprings; and saw sea lions, humpback whales, killer whales, puffins and a black bear.

Williams joined the class on its journey to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. He shared his knowledge of Haida culture and was a great interpreter.

“It is one thing to study culture from a text book but it is quite another experience to walk the land and travel the ocean that is the foundation of the culture,” said Ruth Wheadon, NWCC’s Haida Gwaii manager who took the trip to Swan Bay Rediscovery. “This field school allows students to learn from a sense of place.”

One student was overwhelmed with the visit to the Haida Village of SGang Gwaay Llnagaay, saying: “I can honestly say this was the best day of my life.”

“At Northwest Community College, we are blessed with natural surroundings seeped in culture that make for classroom settings that are unforgettable,” said NWCC President Stephanie Forsyth. “It is a privilege to offer unique learning experiences, such as the Haida Gwaii Field School, and the college owes thanks to our many partners that make it possible each year.”

NWCC offers the Haida Gwaii Field School in partnership with the Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay, Swan Bay Rediscovery Program, Moresby Explorers, BC Ferries, Spruce Point Lodge, Premier Creek Lodging, Gracie’s Place, Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site.

Planning is already underway for next year’s Haida Gwaii Field School and judging from the success of this year, students are encouraged to sign up early.