Mar 08

Learning from Land: A webinar connecting Indigenous land-based experiences to curriculum with Marlo Beaucage and Nancy O’Donnell

In our March webinar, educators Marlo Beaucage and Nancy O’Donnell shared the math and science opportunities that naturally emerge when students are given opportunity to form a reciprocal relationship with land.

Marlo and Nancy opened the session by framing their work through reciprocity with the land. When learning from Aki (land in Anishinaabemowin), there must be an awareness that educators and students are connecting to generations of knowledge.   

“That respectful relationship is integral to the experiences,” says Marlo. “It grounds us in all of the learning that we do.”   

During the presentation, Marlo and Nancy gave many examples of traditional activities that they’ve engaged students in, including hunting, fishing, the tapping of the birch trees, tamarack decoy making, building traditional structures and investigating the migration pattern of wolverines.  

In Marlo’s first example, she explained how birch bark tapping provided students at Johnny Therriault School in Aroland First Nation with the opportunity to learn about the tree itself and its many uses. When boiled, birch sap is used for cooking, as well as a remedy for ailments.  

“The birch gives itself to the people in order to travel, cook, collect and heal,” says Marlo, Johnny Therriault’s special education teacher and Choose Life Coordinator.   

During their inquiry, students measured the circumference of the tree, determined the quantity of the sap they tapped, discussed and researched forest sustainability, and learned how to be land stewards. Each teaching was introduced in collaboration with an Elder or Knowledge Keeper. 

“When introducing students to Indigenous teachings, it is important to include Elders and Knowledge keepers because they are the ones who truly hold the knowledge. They are the ones who can most authentically share these teachings with students,” Marlo says, adding that these experiences provide opportunity for Indigenous students, like hers, to learn math and science in a cultural context that positively influences the development of student self-identity. 

Nancy, an education coordinator with the Anishinabek Education System, shared a project led by Great Lakes Cultural Camp that saw public school students learn how to tan hides. A four-day undertaking, students learned the six stages of hide tanning: skinning the animal, de-hairing the animal, stretching the hide, creating a brain solution soak, drying the hide, and smoking the hide. Many community members from different generations were consulted and included in this project because it is important to build relationships with – and honour – those who hold traditional teachings.  

“No one in that room was the expert. If you were to walk in, you wouldn’t have been able to tell who was facilitating,” Nancy says. “The success of that lesson is rooted in the communal effort made by everyone in the room – it was ours together as a community. To me, that’s really honouring an Indigenous way of knowing.” 

Nancy also acknowledged the importance of recognizing traditional Indigenous knowledge in educational settings. Referencing the work of Marie Battiste, Nancy says Indigenous people have come to realize their perspective needn’t be recognized or legitimized by Western worldview. Instead, education in North America must be decolonized and Indigenous teachings in conventional classrooms in a respectful way.   

“After 19 years in an education system, it took until my Masters of Education that I actually heard Indigenous Knowledge and Indigenous Ways of Knowing being shared – That’s a long time to wait,” she says. “We recognize that we need to be in schools, we need to be in textbooks, we need to be in curriculum. Through that, we will have a transformation of knowledge. That’s what brings Marlo and myself here today.” 

Marlo Beaucage

Marlo Beaucage is a member of the Red Rock Indian Band. She graduated in 2008 from Lakehead University, Native Teacher Education program with a Bachelor of Arts degree focusing on English and Ojibwe language. After teaching Ojibwe for five years in the provincial school system, Marlo began to teach within Aroland First Nation at Johnny Therriault School, where she taught Grades 1/2, 3/4, and 7/8. She is currently the Special Education Resource Teacher along with the Coordinator of Choose Life. Marlo also had the opportunity to collaborate and provide her classroom experience and story for Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition. Marlo has acquired Principal’s Qualifications and is currently pursuing a Master of Education with a focus in landbased education through Lakehead University in partnership with Biigtigong Nishnaabeg. Her research and thesis will focus on incorporating authentic land-based teachings that support student identity and Ojibwe language revitalization within the classroom and school setting, all while respecting community values and traditions. 

Nancy O’Donnell

Nancy is a member of Red Rock Indian Band and has been working in education for the past 26 years. She has a range of experiences teaching in Primary, Junior/Intermediate and Secondary divisions. Seven of her 26 years of teaching have been in First Nations in Northwestern Ontario; for the other 19 years, she has worked in the provincial school system. Nancy obtained her Honours in Biological Science degree from the University of Guelph, which led to her passion for teaching secondary school Biology. Nancy recently moved into a leadership position as the Indigenous Education Lead and is currently working for the Anishinabek Education System as an Education Coordinator. She recently obtained her Principal’s Qualifications and is completing a Master of Education with a land-based focus, through Lakehead University in partnership with the community of Biigtigong Nishnaabeg. Nancy is committed to supporting education for Anishnaabek youth by recognizing the importance of language, culture and identity as key areas of education. .

Indigenous Ways of Knowing in Math and Science Webinar Series 

In February 2021, The Robertson Program launched the Indigenous Ways of Knowing in Math and Science webinar series to showcase how Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing in their math and science classrooms. The series is presented in partnership with Kikinoo’amaadawin.


The Kikinoo’amaadawin Webinar Series is a collaboration between Dr. Jean-Paul Restoule and Dr. Angela Nardozi that has provided a platform for Indigenous and Settler educators and knowledge keepers to share their knowledge in a variety of topics since 2019. Dr. Jean-Paul Restoule (Dokis First Nation) is an Anishinaabe scholar and educator who is currently the Chair of Indigenous Education at the University of Victoria. He is concerned with bringing Indigenous worldviews to a wide audience and infusing Indigenous perspectives into mainstream practice. Dr. Angela Nardozi is a Settler and guest on Turtle Island who is Italian-Canadian. She is a member of the Ontario College of Teachers and received her Ph.D. in Education from OISE/UT. She has spent over a decade working alongside Indigenous communities and with non-Indigenous educators, including as the Project Manager of the Deepening Knowledge Project from 2011 to 2016. 

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