Students of a jointly offered fourth-year Indigenous studies and third-year geography and environment class are leaving their legacy on campus, thanks to a new land-use agreement with Facilities Management (FM) that will provide students with learning opportunities on environmental stewardship.
The combined course, led by Indigenous studies instructor Clint Jacobs and Earth sciences professor Desmond Moser, immerses students in Indigenous perspectives on reciprocity, restoration and stewardship of the land and water.
The first land-use agreement of its kind at Western, the initiative identified several tracts of land where Jacobs’ and Moser’s class can monitor and conduct small-scale activities focused on re-establishing native vegetation and enhancing habitats.
The course was initially hosted by Jacobs’ community on Walpole Island First Nation (Bkejwanong), located southwest of Wallaceburg. During the pandemic, however, student trips to the Walpole Island First Nation were disrupted, prompting Jacobs and Moser to seek alternatives.
“To keep the course momentum going we decided to switch the lens and start to do some land healing and land responsibility here on Western’s campus,” said Moser. “As a result, students, wherever they end up in life, will take with them a sense of responsibility for stewardship and caring for the land they are on.”
With Western’s 500 acres of land, the Thames River and Medway Creek as a backdrop, students will come to know and respect the campus in a renewed context. The legacy of current students will be felt for generations through their work to reintroduce native flora, Moser said.
The five-year, land-use agreement provides Jacobs and Moser an opportunity to observe changes to the landscape with their current and future classes. Many of the tracts, specifically a stretch near Spencer Ivey Leadership Centre, appeal to the pair because of the proximity to the flood plain, which remains undeveloped, provides a unique ecosystem for diverse species, and remains relatively naturalized.
“I’m glad and grateful that there is a place like this at Western, allowing us to interact with, learn and watch, and grow,” said Jacobs. “As things change here, it is going to change us.”
According to Jacobs, reciprocity and relationships are pillars in their field work, as well as a common thread throughout the land-use agreement.
Under the terms, FM leaders agree to support the removal and composting of vegetation, as well as guide land-modifying activities. Reciprocally, any findings from the course fieldwork will be shared with FM to enhance ongoing stewardship of the campus.
“This is a formal agreement that strengthens the connection between FM and the academic units,” said Elizabeth Krische, associate vice-president, Facilities Management. “We hope to use this as a launch pad for pursuing partnerships with other members of the campus community.”
Several land-use agreements are now in the various stages of development between FM and other academic units on campus. Partnerships are currently underway with researchers in the Faculty of Engineering and department of biology.
“It’s so exciting to see our facilities teams, our campus and infrastructure having such an immediate connection to the student experience,” said Krische.
The Facilities Management team is actively pursuing further land-use opportunities through the new ‘Campus as a Living Lab’ site, which celebrates current partnerships and promotes future collaborations.