Experiential education aims to take academic subject matter out of the realm of abstraction and ground it in a tangible and relevant context. A well rounded college education provides students with the opportunity to apply what they are learning through direct experience of their subject matter. WRFI offers exceptional opportunities to immerse students in a variety of curricula. On WRFI courses students experience their education; they are not passive recipients of information. The result is improved cognition, focus, and satisfaction with their college experience.
WRFI promotes rigorous interdisciplinary, holistic learning through a diversity of readings, discussions and experiences. We do not separate and compartmentalize course content as is done on most university campuses. Instead, course content and subject matter are taught concurrently. The result is an authentic representation of the complexity present in issues faced by the ecosystems and human communities we visit.
It’s not all cerebral, either. WRFI courses are a sensory experience, all taught while traveling under our own power – backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, and cycling – in rural and wilderness settings from Montana to the Canadian Rockies and the American Southwest. Depending on the course, students might bike 700 miles across Montana or hike in the footsteps of Yellowstone’s grizzlies. Students sleep in tents, beneath the stars and in the wind; there are no cushy field stations or dormitories—which means developing outdoor and leadership skills is part of the program too.
WRFI has cultivated relationships with our guest speakers over many years and they contribute immensely to the course content and student experience. Through their positions as experts in their fields and community members, our guest speakers impart a broad spectrum of opinions and perspectives to students, enriching the curriculum with narrative and dialogue. Throughout each course, students will visit with guest speakers in the places they work, live, protect, and play.
WRFI explores complex conservation and rural development issues in the American West. For more than twenty-five years we’ve visited with Indigenous families, organizations, and government leaders to hear and value their perspectives on these issues. To maintain these relationships, we:
• Practice respect
• Practice humility and acknowledge the limits of our understanding
• Highlight the diversity among Indigenous perspectives
• Value Indigenous Knowledge and its Holders
• Reciprocate with gifts, honorariums, and service
• Focus on present-day issues, with appropriate historical context
• Support Indigenous-owned businesses
• Ask about and abide by cultural norms with regards to taking photos, sharing stories and locations, visiting or avoiding certain places, etc.
WRFI students and instructors DO NOT “play Indian,” overly romanticize the experience, parachute-in with our own agenda, nor do we frame Native Americans and their issues as happening only in the past. WRFI instructors who are not Indigenous will not directly teach Traditional Knowledge—that is for Indigenous Knowledge Holders to do at their own discretion.
With guidance from WRFI’s Native American Studies Advisor, we work with Indigenous community leaders to update reading materials and focus on issues important to the communities we visit. We also work to maintain connections with guest speakers throughout the year and develop memorandums of understanding with American Indian Nations. WRFI currently holds a Partnership Agreement with the Fort Belknap Indian Community, which our students visit on the Montana Afoot and Afloat Course.
The Wild Rockies Field Institute acknowledges that our headquarters is located on the aboriginal land of the Séliš (Salish) and QÍispe (Kalispel or Pend d’Oreille). Our courses visit traditional territories of many Indigenous peoples including the Ktunaxa (Kootenai); Secwepemc (Shuswap First Nations); Siksika, Kaianiwa (Blood), Piikani (Northern Peigan), and Amskapi Piikani (Southern Piegan or Blackfeet Nation), which together form the Blackfoot Confederacy; Nakota (Assiniboine) and Aaniiih (Gros Ventre), which together form the Fort Belknap Indian Community; Tsétsėhéstȧhese and Sótaeòo, which together form the Northern Cheyenne Nation; Apsáalooke (Crow Nation); Anishinaabe and Métis (Little Shell Chippewa); Tukudeka (Mountain Sheepeaters of the Shoshone-Bannock); Hopi; Diné (Navajo); A:shiwi (Zuni); Havasu ‘Baaja (Havasupi); Hualapai; Ute; Ndée (Apache); Southern Paiute; and others that we may be ignorant of.