NWT’s Bushkids wins early childhood education award

Last modified: October 15, 2020 at 12:19pm

Yellowknife on-the-land learning initiative Bushkids has won an outstanding early childhood educators’ award from the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication.

The initiative, created by Wendy Lahey and Chloe Dragon Smith, aims to blend Euro-Western and Indigenous forms of learning to ensure the land guides its programming.

Lahey and Dragon Smith say they consider on-the-land learning a right to which everyone should have access – something they say is not always seen in school systems.


“We have been living on the land and learning from the land in the NWT since time immemorial, and that’s what makes us people of this place,” Dragon Smith said.

The two main principles of Bushkids are learning on the land – involving cultures, languages, knowledge, and peoples – and the concept of “ethical space,” which seeks to create harmony between different worldviews.

“Bushkids is a shining example of how land-based early childhood education should be done in the NWT, across northern Canada, and beyond,” the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication said of the group’s work, which earned an award of excellence.

Dragon Smith believes a key benefit of on-the-land learning is the ability for people to learn at their own pace.

“We really value our relationships over an agenda,” Dragon Smith said of Bushkids’ approach.


“We’ll take the time for land and people always, instead of following a strict schedule. We like to call that decolonizing time, because we’re letting the land and people lead the learning rather than a set schedule.”

Dragon Smith and Lahey have now proposed the creation of a committee uniting the NWT government’s departments of health, education, and environment and natural resources.

They believe such a committee would lead to a more comprehensive approach to land-based learning.