Living off the land
Note: This article was originally written by Phil Gaudreau in the Queen's Gazette.
Hunting, fishing, harvesting wild rice, and building your own shelter – DEVS 480 is a course unlike any other. These activities aren’t just worth marks, they are also what you need to do to keep your belly full and maintain a roof over your head.
The course, which has the full name “Re-Indigenizing People and Environments”, is taught by professors Robert Lovelace and Richard Day from the Department of Global Development Studies, and is supported by many community volunteers.
This field study begins with seven weeks of online study, readings, and discussion before taking students out on the land. Participants then travel to Eel Lake north of Kingston for the field portion of the course.
For the following eight days, students live off of the land in an Indigenous lifestyle, they participate in Indigenous cultural practices like sweat lodges, and complete an in-depth study of Indigenous theory.
“To secure good air, water, food, and relationships, human beings need a close relationship with the earth. Recognizing that we are dependent on the material earth but also upon the symbiotic processes – the interrelated actions – of earth is a beginning,” says Mr. Lovelace.
In addition to foraging for food and building a shelter, the students also hunted with a bow and arrow, learned about medicinal plants, and participated in workshops on tool making, managing soil, and growing food, harvesting, and preserving food.
Jessica Franko (Artsci’19) enrolled in the course seeking something “tangible” and “unique” in her university experience. The course was full of those moments, but what stood out the most for her was harvesting wild rice.
“It really changes how you think of the labour that goes into your food, and changes your connection to the food,” she says. “We all cooked for each other and quite literally fed each other – we had a day we were not allowed to feed ourselves – and this sparked discussions around food security and our relationship to food.”
Ms. Franko is quick to point out, however, the challenges are not just physical – they are also mental and emotional.
“There was a lot of theorizing in this class and I sometimes found it difficult to engage in the heavy hitting phrases like decolonization or re-indigenization,” she explains. “These are not easy terms to work through without the proper context, readings, and guidance. We had a lot of difficult conversations trying to figure out where, as settlers, we fit into the discourse.”
Max Lindley Peart (Sc’19, Artsci’19) similarly found the mix of theoretical and practical knowledge useful and challenging. After hearing about the course from upper year students, he had been hoping to enroll – and it didn’t disappoint.
“This course didn’t only privilege learning from a very intellectual perspective – it also gave lessons which were very emotional,” he says. “This came to a point for me when, on our last night on the land, we held a campfire and brought out music, stories, and jokes as a community. It really reinforced for me how we became a community – when we got back to Kingston, none of us wanted to say goodbye.”
“Throughout the whole field study, my heart felt full because I was doing this with a community of friends I could be open and honest with,” he adds. “There is no better learning environment, and it’s the kind of environment I will strive to create wherever I go after this.”
DEVS 480 is only offered every second year. The course is open to all students but mainly attracts students from the Faculty of Arts and Science, and a mix of Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners. To learn more about Global Development Studies course offerings, visit the Department’s website.