Pending Board and government approval, Forestry faculty readies Indigenous Land Stewardship program

Students will be able to register in a new program, the Bachelor of Indigenous Land Stewardship (ILS), likely beginning in September 2022.

Approved by the Vancouver Senate at its September meeting, the program — administered by the Faculty of Forestry — aims to educate students “with practical skills, grounded in Indigenous and Western knowledge systems,” and promote students “who can steward ecosystems holistically in complex times,” according to the proposal.

The ILS program is set to address two major challenges: lacking land and natural resource management exposed by the climate crisis and environmental degradation, and the increasing demand for experienced individuals to manage the lands self-governed by Indigenous communities, in accordance with communities’ culture and values. As per the proposal, the ILS program is to be located in Westbank, BC.

Professor John Innes, dean of the Department of Forestry at UBC and co-chair for the program’s steering committee, said the program is “fully supported by a wide range of First Nations.”

“The First Nations land management community feels that they have ownership of it, which is a very important aspect. What I've done is basically ensure that it meets the university standards that are so that it can be [implemented] at UBC,” Innes said.

Westbank First Nation, who collaborated with the university on this program, was not available for comment.

“There is a strong demand coming from Indigenous communities and given that the program itself was designed primarily by Indigenous individuals, we think that we're going to do something that is quite different to the normal process,” Innes said.

At least half of the program faculty will be Indigenous, he said, adding that there will be involvement of Indigenous faculty or knowledge keepers in 22 out of the 25 courses.

As for next steps, the program has to be passed by the Board of Governors after which it will be brought to the to-be-appointed Minister of Advanced Education.

“What we have to do is persuade the government to allocate us what are known as seats — which is basically an increase in budget to the university — to enable us to recruit the faculty members ... the people who form the centre of expertise and Indigenous land management.”