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Students treasure the Haida Gwaii Field School experience

HAIDA GWAII Northwest Community College (NWCC) likes to head outdoors at every opportunity. After all, its unique geographic surroundings make for a near boundless wilderness classroom for some of its programs and courses. And perhaps no other NWCC program takes advantage of this more than the Haida Gwaii Field School, which ran this summer through late July and into August. An intensive and awe-inspiring learning experience on the remote island archipelago of Haida Gwaii, it is one of five field schools offered by NWCC during the 2011 spring and summer semesters. Haida Gwaii Field School students not only earn three university credits in both First Nation Studies and Anthropology for a total of six university credits, they benefit from experiential hands-on learning, they explore a completely unique marine and terrestrial ecosystemall while being guided by the Haida people and being immersed in their culturally-rich environments and way of life. Unique to the field school this year was Haida instructor Barbara Wilson, whose Haida name is Kii'iljuus. Wilson is a respected matriarch, and scholar, who guided and inspired students in their learning on Haida Gwaii. Wilson joined NWCC Anthropology instructor Sheree Ronaasen, from Terrace, who has led the Haida Gwaii Field School since its beginning in 2009. "Since we've started offering this field school, I can't tell you how many times I've heard it was a life changing experience," said Ronaasen. "The students' immersion in Haida culture and the hands-on instruction brings a deeper understanding than anything they could've learned from a textbook. It's truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience." Students experienced and acquired knowledge from a variety of different landscapes and cultural settings over the two-week field school. For example, while kayaking on Mosquito Lake at Mount Moresby Adventure Camp, they learned about endangered plants and traditional Haida plant usages. They travelled by boat with Moresby Explorers to visit the old Haida villages of Hlkinul Llnagaay (Cumshewa) and K'uuna Llnagaay (Skedans). Seeing the few remaining poles that still stand there, the students were greatly impressed by the Haida life-ways, and village locations on the ocean shorelines of Cumshewa Inlet and Hecate Strait. Said student Doris Gorrell: "The difference between sitting in the class and being told about Haida Gwaii and the Haida way of life, and actually experiencing the unique environment and learning from a Haida Elder, is like night and day," she said, adding. "Seeing the old village sites of Cumshewa and Skedans was an emotional experience. Altogether, I have a whole new way of seeing my world after seeing the Haida's." Ronaasen says the field school was enhanced by the help of Candace Weir from Old Masset, due to her knowledge of the Haida language, and for the Long House tour by outstanding Haida artist and carver Christian White. Finally, students witnessed the launch of an important book titled That Which Makes Us Haida, which honours the Haida Elders and students working to preserve the endangered Haida language. The class was invited to the special ceremonies, dance, song and dinner associated with the book launch hosted at the Haida Heritage centre.

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