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First Nations Studies course ends on a high note

PRINCE RUPERT With the help of Coast Tsimshian Elders and Order of Canada recipient and ethnobotanist Dr. Nancy Turner, students enrolled in an ethnobotany course put their new knowledge into practice in a moving cultural exhibit earlier this month. The group took part in what is known as pit cooking, a form of subterranean slow cooking used for centuries by First Nations. Using a fresh pit carved in the ground on the Prince Rupert Campus, the group of students followed the Elders' and Dr.Turners directions. Once the cooking rocks were heated the layering of foods and flavouring materials began. Gathered salal and swordferns were put down first, followed by a large coho salmon, root vegetables, celery and sockeye salmon. More swordferns and salal were layered on top of the food. A bucket of water was poured into the pit to provide the cooking steam before a burlap tarp covered by a layer of earth was put over the pit to seal in the cooking steam. The exercise drew several expressions of intrigue and awe from the students and others gathered, many saying they had heard about this traditional form of cooking but had never actually seen it done or helped to do it. Ive heard about (pit cooking) but I had never seen it, said student Debbie McKay. I thought it was just a hole. I did not know about the layering, the time and the procedure. For a course that examined the flora native to B.C.s northwest, taking to the outdoors as part of their studies wasnt unusual but it wasnt lost on students either. The best way to learn is hands-on for me, added McKay. This exercise is perfect because you get a better understanding of (pit cooking) than reading about it from a book. Thats the type of reaction the College is looking for as it emphasizes an applied approach to learning that reflects both the spectacular environment of the Northwest and the cultural knowledge and practice of the First Nations, says NWCC Chief Information Officer Dave OLeary. We live in the most beautiful part of the world and we move our teaching out into that world whenever we can, said OLeary, who attended the pit cooking feast. Instructor Judy Thompson adds the ethnobotany course, the first offering in the new Associate of Arts DegreeFirst Nations Studies Specialization, incorporates a balanced approach to the science. "In developing this course as a lab science, I wanted to ensure that it included both Western science and indigenous knowledge, two different nature-knowledge systems. Involvement of Elders and other cultural experts has been an integral part of the course" said Thompson, who is of Tahltan descent and was born and raised on Tsimshian territory.

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