TORONTO, Indigenous Territory-Aki
Toronto has been a site of human activity for 15,000 years. The land is the territory of the Wendat and Petun First Nations, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River. The territory was the subject of the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and Confederacy of the Anishinaabe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. Today, the meeting place of Toronto is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island. Natural Curiosity is grateful to be learning and working in this territory.
Revised by the Elders Circle (Council of Aboriginal Initiatives, First Nations House, University of Toronto) on November 6, 2014.
The Natural Curiosity team also frequently references this Living Land Acknowledgement written by the students at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study, and are deeply grateful to the students, educators, and local Indigenous partners who supported supported the creation of this living document.
Interim Program Director
Aleksa Nitsis is a guest on Turtle Island and is the Program Manager for Natural Curiosity. Aleksa is a recent graduate of the Master of Teaching program at OISE and holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts in International Development from the University of Guelph. As a passionate educator committed to the equity, mental health, and achievement of students, she has supported transformative and inquiry-based professional learning opportunities for the past two years as a Program/Graduate Assistant for Natural Curiosity. Aleksa is thrilled to unlearn and relearn alongside educators across Turtle Island to bring the importance of Indigenous perspectives into the heart of education, in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation.
A place in the natural world that Aleksa feels most connected to:
Gazing at the sunset over Lake Ohrid in Macedonia gives me a feeling unlike no other. As one of the oldest lakes in the Balkans, it provides an ethereal experience for anyone who visits and has the privilege of admiring and connecting with this stunning body of water.
Alyson McMullen (she/her) is of Nêhiyaw (Cree), Irish and French ancestry. She is an educator (RECE, OCT) whose work is centered around decolonizing education through land centered inquiry based practice. Alyson is a graduate of the Waaban Indigenous Teacher Education Program at York University. She has worked as a passionate educator in the public school system, committed to transformative education goals that re-centre the needs, stories and perspectives of the underserved and underrepresented.
A place in the natural world that Alyson feels most connected to:
Through the generous mentorship of Rebecca Beaulne-Stuebing I have been learning to grow, care for, and harvest asemaa in my garden. This experience has given me a deepened sense of living in relationship with the Land, even in the middle of the city. The lessons I have learned about the seasons, the moon cycles and myself through growing this medicine have been abundant. One of my favorite parts of growing asemaa is being able to share both the seeds and the harvest with friends and community. I look forward to many lessons from the Land to come!
Alysse is a Doctoral Candidate at OISE researching environmental & sustainability education and climate justice. As a guest on Turtle Island she's enthusiastic about Indigenous approaches to storying learning. Over the last six years she's had incredible experiences teaching, researching and organizing programming specific to environmental and sustainability education and climate action. She's thrilled to bring her skills and knowledge from past and ongoing work with the Toronto District School Board's EcoSchools team, the OISE Sustainability & Climate Action Network, EcoSchools Canada, EcoSchools in Alberta, EECOM and the ESE-TE National Network. Alysse is a firm advocate for cross-curricular, creative and community-engaged learning as she believes teaching needs to be relevant, accessible and meaningful. She enjoys finding unique approaches to encourage educators to find the multifaceted ways we each connect to and make meaning of sustainability in our personal and professional lives.
A place in the natural world that Alysse feels most connected to:
I feel most connected to myself and the world around me when I am by the water. When I'm at my home in Tkaronto, I love walking with my partner and dog to Woodbine Beach or packing a picnic and spending a summer's day at Gibraltar Point. I also feel refreshed and ready for new challenges after spending time at our family cottage on Lake Huron (Saugeen First Nations), where the sunsets can't be beat.
Program Director (on maternity leave)
Haley Higdon is a guest on Turtle Island and is the Program Director of Natural Curiosity. Haley was the managing editor for the development and creation of Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition: The Importance of Indigenous Perspectives in Children’s Environmental Inquiry. Combining her classroom teaching experience and strong commitment to environmental sustainability, Haley has provided hundreds of professional learning experiences for educators across Canada and beyond, demonstrating an inquiry-based approach to experiential environmental education that can in turn be applied in any learning environment.
A place in the natural world that Haley feels most connected to:
Most recently, Haley feels connected to the backyard of her childhood home. It began as a rectangular plot of grass and over time her mother slowly transformed it into a wild space with indigenous plants to attract pollinators, local birds, and wildlife. The recent death of her mother has brought Haley back to this place to reflect on its transformation over the years. It has reminded her that connections to the natural world are possible in the heart of the city and there are ways to give back to our non-human relatives even in the smallest of backyards.
Natural Curiosity Coach
Natasha Bascevan is Anishinaabe- Metis-Wemtigoshiikwe with family in Maniwaki and Sudbury. She completed her Master’s of Education at OISE in Leadership, Policy and Change in 2022. As the co-editor of the Turtle Island Journal of Indigenous Health and years of experience in Indigenous education having taught early learning to post-secondary, Natasha is the owner/director of Mino Mashkiki Consulting Inc. where her mission is to make safer spaces for future ancestors to step into. She continues to support schools and community organizations to apply survivance, resistance and resurgence as it pertains to learning design, physical landscapes, policies & leadership within colonial systems.
Natural Curiosity Coach
Maria Vamvalis is the daughter of Greek immigrants and grew up in Ontario. She is a well-respected educator, having taught in the public school system for over a decade. In addition, she is a facilitator and curriculum consultant who works at the intersections of the climate emergency, equity, racial justice, decolonization, complex problem solving and progressive, transformative change both locally and globally. She has worked with diverse educational and social change organizations including IFEX (The International Freedom of Expression Network), the Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Peace and Sustainable Development (UNESCO), I-Think, and school boards across the country with the Critical Thinking Consortium.
Maria is currently a PhD candidate at OISE at the University of Toronto where she is researching approaches to teaching and learning that support youth agency and well-being in the context of the climate crisis. Having been inspired by important teachers in her life, Maria deeply believes that placing both present and future generations of all our relations at the centre of our actions will lead to the collaborative, progressive, transformative change we need.
Natural Curiosity Coach
Velvet Lacasse now lives in Nogojiwanong/Peterborough, which is the traditional and treaty territory of the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg. She is building new relationships with land. As a non-Indigenous educator, Velvet is committed to centering Indigenous voices, perspectives, knowledge and stories of pride and resistance through environmental justice. In 2022, Velvet completed the Masters of Education in Curriculum and Pedagogy at OISE, with an emphasis on Indigenous Education and Decolonization.
Velvet has been teaching and learning with young children and their families for over 30 years! She is actively involved in the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) as a workshop facilitator and curriculum writer. She has developed resources for Re-Thinking White Privilege, 2SLGBTQ+ Awareness in Primary Classroom, Women's Equality Project, and Everyone is Able. Velvet loves to write, and she was honoured to receive the 2020 Edward Burtynsky Award for Excellence in Environmental education. She is grateful to be learning with and from the Natural Curiosity community.
Reesa is a passionate fundraiser with a strong background in individual giving, leadership prospecting, donor stewardship and community engagement. She also has a vocational background of philanthropy with a MA in Arts Management and Leadership from Queen’s University. She started her fundraising career at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, where she was the sole development personnel who created and implemented every aspect of the organization’s fundraising strategy. As the new SDO, Reesa looks forward to inspiring donors to make a significant impact, bolster our community of engaged supporters and highlight the meaningful and plentiful cases for support that OISE and JICS Lab School have to offer.
A place in the natural world that Reesa feels most connected to:
A place in the natural world that Reesa feels most connected to is Callander Bay beach on Lake Nipissing (Nbisiing), Gichi-nibiinsing-zaaga'igan, where her parents reside on the land of the Anishinaabe peoples. She has never seen a more serene, colorful, and expansive sunrise and sunset than the ones that take place here day in and day out. Their natural beauty is astonishing. Listening to the waves crash against the shore – brings out a deep calmness and mindfulness in Reesa that cannot be replicated. She takes every chance she gets to reconnect and give back to this land.
Senior Development Officer (SDO), Leadership Annual Giving and Planned Giving
Sophie is a current student in OISE’s Masters of Education in Curriculum and Pedagogy. She has experience working in science and health sciences education in higher education and research institutes in Toronto. She is a guest on Turtle Island and is eager to learn about practices for professional and student education rooted in environmental inquiry and Indigenous perspectives.
A place in the natural world that Sophie feels most connected to:
The river valley in my hometown will always be a special place for me. A respite from the city and a space for gathering, the greenery and seasonal shifts in this valley were a consistent place of enjoyment, relaxation, and reflection for much of my childhood and early adult years.