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A Compassionate Sense of Place
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Where it Began

In origin stories one always wonders where to begin. There is rarely a definitive beginning. Something pre-existed the Big Bang, Creator pre-existed creation, to mention two popular origin stories. I choose to start this one as an undergraduate studying biology.

I was looking for a degree program that would be outdoors and fun, with some sense of meaning. The roots of the outdoor interest lay, I suppose, in Boy Scout camping trips and a Grade 12 Ecology elective. I soon learned that wildlife management was really about handling people and their impacts. I then worked in environmental education and learned that environmental issues, as only part of a constellation of social justice concerns, were not sufficient to address on their own. Further conscientization came through contact with faith-based peace groups and Latin American liberation theology and Cree and Métis activists in northern Saskatchewan.

During and after university I spent many years in various locations - development and justice work, intentional communities, wilderness guiding, outdoor education, ski patrolling, hanging out with trappers and ranchers. When I came back to university, it was with a burning question to find out what people were taking home from their outdoor recreation experiences and if they were learning anything about caring for the environment. The research for that master's degree powerfully impacted my thinking, and my practice as an outdoor educator and got good reception in the outdoor education community. In far too simple a summary, the answer to the poorly-stated above question would be "no" or"very little". The reasons why were more interesting:

* I learned about how individuals "construct" their knowledge.
* I learned that these experiences were added to years of past experience.
* I learned that they had internalized dominant cultural constructions of "nature" and "civilization/human" as discrete and separate categories.
* I watched how these constructions were manifested in the social practices of the "wilderness" trip.


The result for the teens on this amazing 12-day wilderness trip was that "nature" was "out there" in the mountains and rivers away from their homes. At home, it was too familiar (and not matching the Wilderness model) so there was no nature at home. Ergo, nothing to take care of, because "the environment" is usually about "nature." Both the dominant social norms of their society and their lives, and the subcultural norms of the little group that travelled together for 12 days, acted to organize their learned constructions in this way.

This said several things to me, that relate now.
1) We need better social critiques of such taken-for-granted norms
2) We could use better connections between places
3) Given the elitist aspects of outdoor experiences, how do we connect this to many of the other injustices. How can we connect local and global?
4) What would an appropriate pedagogy be for all of the above?

There are answers to these four questions. The answers all have problems (so will all answers to such questions, since questions like this involving real people are moving targets). I think there is something missing still.

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