Each term, one participant from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Dustyn Montgomery is HECUA’s student blogger for the Environmental Sustainability: Ecology, Policy, and Social Transformation program this fall. Dustyn is a student from The University of St. Thomas majoring in Justice and Peace Studies. Read on for his next post!
For me, college has consisted of hour-long lectures, group projects, tests, quizzes, and a plethora of theories and concepts. This has allowed me to learn many things, and apply them in an educational practice, yet amid all of this learning I have always been left thinking, how does all of this look outside of a classroom? How does any of this apply to real life? Does it even apply to real life? In HECUA, that question is answered through experiential learning.
During my semester in the Environmental Sustainability program with HECUA I have learned in ways I have never had access to before. Through experiential learning, I have found the connection between all the lectures, theories, and concepts, in real life examples. The Environmental Sustainability program is structured to have a lecture and concept heavy day in class on Tuesday, and then take that knowledge and apply it to real life examples on Wednesdays. This semester I have had the opportunity to see firsthand where our trash goes and how it is disposed of, learn from members of the city of Minneapolis on how they work on environmental justice in our city, spent time on a permaculture farm learning about regenerative agriculture, and I was welcomed and immersed into the land of the Fond Du Lac nation, learning about indigenous wisdom and practices from Jim Northrup III. All of these opportunities of experiential learning have allowed me to connect the dots between all I’ve learned in the classroom and how it applies to real work, and communities, in the Twin Cities. Yet, of all the field visits I have had the opportunity to visit, the Fond Du Lac nation stuck with me the most.
In the middle of October, my classmates and I had the opportunity to travel north to the Fond Du Lac nation to live alongside, and learn from a member of their community. Leading up to this experience I had many mixed feelings, knowing that this would be a transformational experience for myself, as well as my classmates, but also knowing that my identity of a white male is one that has caused immense amount of trauma to all indigenous communities here on Turtle Island. My biggest take away from this experience is something I have had run across my mind many times, in that, people who often appear to have least, always have the most to offer. When we arrived to the property of Jim Northrup III we were welcomed with excitement, love, and an immense amount of wisdom. We spent our time hearing stories, dreaming into ways we can help the land on Jim’s property flourish, and learning how to set up a tepee. But, there was one specific experience that stuck with me the most during my time on the Fond Du Lac Nation, and that was having the opportunity to see Line 3 and 4, which are tar sand oil pipelines that run directly through the reservation. During my time as a Justice and Peace major at the University of St. Thomas the word “pipeline” has been a buzzword brought up many times in lecture and conversation. I always would try and envision exactly what this meant and looked like, that there were companies who install oil pipeline in indigenous land. But, it was not until this experience with HECU that I was truly able to tie together all of this information.
As a class, we traveled to the location where the pipelines were, and it was instantly apparent the damage that had been done. For as far as the eye could see there was a bare spot cut like a knife directly through the forest where the pipelines were. We followed down along the short prairie grass until we got a mile down to where we could physically see the Line 3 pipeline protruding out of the ground and laying in the water. As a class we all walked out onto the pipeline and stood there in silence. There were not many words that could be said at that moment, but the experience we shared, being there to visually see the pipelines we all learned and heard about countless times, was now in front of us.
I believe a classroom education can only bring an individual so far. No matter how many hours, papers, presentations, and lectures given or received the information can only reach so deep. To fully understand and gain the perspective of an issue you must see it firsthand. HECUA created this opportunity for me. I was able to have the opportunity to travel to land that is sacred, land that has an immense amount of love and energy, but also a land that had been terrorized and scarred by people with a shared identity. Having the opportunity with HECUA to tie together classroom gained knowledge with firsthand experience has reiterated the importance of perspective in education.