Salish Sea college course marries scholarship, exploration

Last week, a group of Whatcom Community College students roamed around Maritime Heritage Park for a series of micro-lessons about the downtown space from speakers with backgrounds in history, botany and anthropology.

From the top of the staircase behind Bellingham Cider Co., Whatcom history professor Ian Stacy and his students looked out across the waterfront. Stacy dove into its history and the people who worked on it, many of whose stories have been lost. 

In the foliage along Whatcom Creek, Whatcom ethnobotany professor Abe Lloyd highlighted a red cedar, a grand fir, a Douglas fir and red alder. He talked about how the Lummi and the Nooksack used the precious trees to build canoes, make clothes, brew teas and fuel fires. Loggers came and cut down large swathes of Douglas fir for their once-lucrative industrial endeavors, he said.

At the heart of the Introduction to the Salish Sea course at Whatcom is the ethic of place-based learning. Each week, the interdisciplinary course gives students background content to study and takes them on a field trip to various spots from the North Cascades to the San Juan Islands. 

Whatcom's program is an extension of Western Washington University's Salish Sea Institute, which since 2015 has taught Western students about the history of the land, encouraging them to think critically about their place in it. 

“Part of it is around supporting students to have experiential learning experiences and this connection to question of the ethics of place, the ethics of our relationships and where we live,” said Natalie Baloy, associate director of Transboundary Initiatives for the Salish Sea Institute.

Monday, May 9, 2022