Emma S. Norman, Ph.D.

Teaching Philosophy

I am a teacher. I am a student. For me, teaching is not a one-way street; rather it is an opportunity to listen, to engage, to learn, and to inspire. 

Teaching, like learning, is an ongoing process. I always tell my students that my goal for them is not to walk away with a list of facts that they can rattle off at the end of the quarter (and all too often forget after the term). My goal is for students to become life-long learners, to engage with material in a way that ignites a passion so deep and a curiosity so strong that students undertake a transformation in the way they see the world. 

Download full statment here.


  • Place Based Learning:  Over the past several years, there has been increased interest in designing curriculum that is rooted it place-based pedagogy (Fien, 1993; Bowers, 2001; Smith, 2002; Theobald and Curtiss, 2000; Theobald, 1997; Tanner, 1998). Despite this intersest, mainstream education policies remain rooted in generalized –or – universialized curriculum that is void of a reference to a specific place or community (Gruenewald, 2008).  More...
  • Roundtable / Seminar:  Research suggests that “round-table” or seminar approach pedagogy is a successful learning technique for Native students (Rhodes 1988) and first generation college students, in general (NISOD 2009). The characteristics of the round-table approach fits well with many Native students whose traditional life ways are based on collectivist, rather than individualistic values (Suttles 1960; 1974). This is in contrast to the lecture-style approach which remains a dominant teaching style in main-stream educational instutitions (Rhodes 1988). Experience at NWIC indicates that it is possible to cover the same materials through meaningful round-table discussions rather than lecture-style teaching, even in entry-level courses. More...
  • Harkness Method: "What I have in mind is [a classroom] where [students] could sit around a table with a teacher who would talk with them and instruct them by a sort of tutorial or conference method, where [each student] would feel encouraged to speak up. This would be a real revolution in methods"

Critical Thinking and Case Studies

Luna / Tsu-xiit the “Whale”: Governance Across (Political and Cultural) Borders

  • This case examines the multiple discourses (identities) created around Luna, a lone juvenile orca (or killer whale, Orcinus orca) in the remote waters off of the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. This case illustrates the complexities associated with managing “resources” that transcend both political borders (in this case, the Canada-U.S. border) and cultural borders (Western - non-Western). The case compares the experiences of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, which recognizes Luna (or, in the perception and language of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht, Tsu-xiit) as its chief incarnate, with those of governmental employees (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, or DFO) who are charged with the task of protecting marine life and habitat. The case illustrates how a single living being can hold multiple meanings to multiple people. In so doing, the story of Luna brings to light two main points: Modern conceptions of nature are constructed socially, and governance of shared resources requires an acceptance of diverse worldviews – particularly in the case Native and Western belief systems.  Link to full case study here.

Boundless Water and Bounded People: The Cultural and Social Implications of Shellfish Closures in Boundary Bay 

This case explores the closure of shellfish harvesting in Boundary Bay, a small body of water in the Salish Sea of the northwestern continental United States and southwestern Canada. At one time, this bay was one of the most productive shellfish harvesting locations on the Pacific coast. Coast Salish communities relied successfully on these waters for centuries as primary sources of food. However, degraded upland environment and bacterial contamination prompted governmental officials to close the area for harvesting in 1962. In Washington, the bay only recently opened for restricted use; it remains closed in British Columbia.

The Boundary Bay case presents several important themes regarding Native science, particularly within a transboundary context. First, the Boundary Bay case underscores the difficulty in maintaining a traditional food source in a contemporary environment. Second, the case reveals how jurisdictional fragmentation complicates the management of flow resources, such as water. Third, this case explores the practical considerations of ‘governing resources’ for First Nations communities who are often required to operate in a system, which requires expertise and training in a vocabulary and discourse foreign, and perhaps, counter-ethical to their belief system. Link to full case study here.

Link to full Enduring Legaces Native Case Collection here


Introduction to Human Geography - MTU

This course introduces students to concepts, problems, and case studies that make up the study of human geography: the spatial differentiation and organization of human activity, environmental sustainability, and the role of space and place in our everyday lives. The objective of this course is to build upon our natural curiosity to the world around us.  Understanding how our immediate surroundings relate to places far away is essential in today’s increasingly globalized world, and an important tool to confront tomorrow’s local, regional and global challenges.  During this course, we try to understand:
     1. Why does the geographical understanding of the human world matter?
     2. How does human geography contribute to our understanding of population, nature, culture, places and landscapes, economic activities,     food production, urbanization, and politics?  Download Syllabus

Previous Courses:

Environmental Governance of Shared Resources (NESC 360) - NWIC

This course investigates models of governance that address environmental issues of shared concern.  Most environmental issues are simultaneously local and global, and thus require a nuanced approach to governance that is both multi-scalar in scope and provides space for multi-jurisdiction collaboration between actors (both governmental and non-governmental; tribal and non-tribal).  This course explores different models of governance that are holistic in scope and integrate ecosystem and human health as well as cultural, economic, and social well-being.  Recommended for students interested in natural resource management and tribal governance. Dowload Syllabus

Political and Cultural Ecology: Case Study (GEOG 340) - NWIC

This course employs a case study approach to engage with issues related to environmental, political and cultural boundaries, social construction of modern conceptions of nature, and environmental management.  Recommended for students interested in natural resource management and tribal governance. Download Syllabus

Dr. Emma S. Norman

Chair, Environmental Science Department
Northwest Indian College
2522 Kwina Road
Bellingham, WA 98226

Visit nwic www.nwic.edu