Land-based Learning

Land is the ultimate Knowledge Keeper – The holder of all knowledge

Once, not so long ago, Land was a revered teacher. We, the first peoples, understood that our very survival depended on our relationship with Land and that she would care for those who learned her lessons well. Over five hundred years of colonization, the connection between Land and her pupils, the peoples of Turtle Island (North America), was tested and strained but it cannot be severed. It has been forged over thousands of years and it is an unbreakable, sacred bond. We know we are not separate from her, that we are part of her and she is part of us. We can, and will continue to learn from her if only we remember her lessons: to listen instead of hear, see instead of look, and understand instead of know. She is Land and she provides for us if we care for her and return to her teachings and learn our lessons well.

“Almost everything in nature [gives] lessons on how the human should most profitably live.”      

(Deloria, 2001, p. 59).

What is land-based learning?

Teachers who position themselves as land-based educators seek to unlearn the dominant culture, while promoting opportunities for non-Indigenous learners to come into relationship with Indigenous ways of knowing (Gruenewald, 2003). Indigenous ways of knowing include coming into relationship with the natural world in purposeful, engaged ways. Relationships with land require time spent learning with and on the land. Land based learning assumes the land is inherently storied and vibrant with human and more-than-human perspectives that can help frame children’s everyday encounters in natural spaces (Nxumalo & Rubin, 2019). Land based learning reflects a respect for Indigenous perspectives of knowing and learning, specific to the land one is learning on. It is important to remember that Land-based learning reflects the land, language and culture of peoples who have inhabited the land since time immemorial. Coastal peoples’ relationships and knowledge of the land is different than those who inhabit mountainous regions. This means Indigenous land-based learning is a complex and relational pedagogy (McCoy, Tuck, & McKenzie, 2016). Land based learning is highly contextual and not intended to be replicated across landscapes. There is no singular lesson plan that reflects the place-specific learning that emerges when we learn with, and from, and on the land.

What does it mean to be a land-based educator?

Land-based learning is a relational pedagogy (McCoy, Tuck, & McKenzie, 2016). There is no singular way to become a Land-based educator, however time spent in relationship with the land, the people, and the language of the land is a sensible way to start. Learning both Scientific western names of plants alongside local Indigenous names of plants and animals helps learners come into relationship with stories of the land, and how plants supported local peoples. Indigenous perspectives also remind us to build relationships with the land from a perspective of reciprocity. Teachers who shift their practice away from one off activities or lessons outdoors, and move towards a sustainable practice that brings learners into relationship with the land on a daily basis is an authentic way to become a Land-based educator.  Why Land with an uppercase L? It is a deliberate choice to make the distinction between land (common name) and Land (proper name) – between the settler-colonial belief that humans are separate from the land and the Indigenous understanding that we are from the Land and engaged in “reciprocal relatedness” (Nxumalo & Cedillo, 2017) with her. Land education is Indigenous peoples’ decolonizing response to deeply entrenched settler colonial values and beliefs in education (Calderon, 2014); Corntassel & Hardbarger, 2019; McCoy et al., 2016; Simpson, 2014; Wildcat, McDonald, Irlbacher-Fox, & Coulthard, 2014). It is a reclamation of Indigenous languages, cultures, and ecological knowledge that is Nation and place-specific. Indigenous peoples developed inter-generational, place-specific knowledge over time that disrupts our colonial perspectives of land as resource.

“… {We} shouldn’t be just striving for land-based pedagogies. The land must once again become the pedagogy.” 

(Simpson, 2014, p. 14, emphasis in original)

Please also visit the Indigenous Education category in our website to access some resources created and curated by Indigenous educators.


With thanks to Megan Zeni, content author.


  • Calderon, D. (2014). Speaking back to manifest destinies: A land education-based approach to critical curriculum inquiry. Environmental Education Research, 20(1), 34-36. 
  • Corntassel, J., & Hardbarger, T. (2019). Educate to perpetuate: Land-based pedagogies and community resurgence. International Review of Education, 65(1), 87-116.
  • Deloria, P. S. (2001). Indian natural resource issues in an orderly system. Natural Resources Journal, 41(3), 549-559.
  • Gruenewald, D. A. (2003) Foundations of place: A multidisciplinary framework for place-conscious education. American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), 619-654. 
  • McCoy, K., Tuck, E., & McKenzie, M. (2016). Land education: Rethinking pedagogies of place from indigenous, postcolonial, and decolonizing perspectives. Routledge.
  • Nxumalo, F., & Cedillo, S. (2017). Decolonizing place in early childhood studies: Thinking with indigenous onto-epistemologies and black feminist geographies. Global Studies of Childhood, 7(2), 99-112
  • Nxumalo, F. & Rubin, J.C. (2019). Encountering Waste Landscapes: More-Than-Human Place Literacies in Early Childhood Education. In Kuby C. R., Spector K. and Thiel J. J.(Eds.), Posthumanism and literacy education: Knowing/Becoming/Doing literacies (1st ed.). Routledge. 
  • Simpson, L. B. (2014). Land as pedagogy: Nishnaabeg intelligence and rebellious transformation. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society3(3), 1-25.
  • Wildcat, M., McDonald, M., Irlbacher-Fox, S., & Coulthard, G. (2014). Learning from the land: Indigenous land based pedagogy and decolonization. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society3(3), i-xv.

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.