Land Acknowledgement

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.

Our Team

Haley Higdon

Haley Higdon

Program Director

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.

Rosa Na

Rosa Na

Program Manager

Rosa Na is a guest on Turtle Island and is the Program Manager for Natural Curiosity at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School, OISE-UofT. Rosa has supported transformation of practice through the dissemination of Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition across Canada for the last 3 years. She is grateful for the opportunity to work with diverse educators to bring the importance of Indigenous perspectives into the heart of Canadian educational settings, in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation.

A place in the natural world that Rosa feels most connected to:

The winding, uphill alleyway that leads to my childhood home in Cheongju, Korea. We always took this way home because it was the brightest moonlit path in our village. I would skip and hop with my dad holding one hand, my mom holding the other. I remember the smell of the crisp wind blowing from the surrounding mountains—she was always there. The warm feeling of home started at this alleyway, and nothing parallels the feeling of going home, feeling perfectly safe in the night.

Sylvia Gao.jpg

Sylvia Gao

Program Coordinator

Sylvia Gao is a guest on Turtle Island and is the Program Coordinator for Natural Curiosity, Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School, OISE-UofT. She is an alumna of OISE and completed her MEd. in Educational Leadership & Policy program. With her passion in Early Childhood education and expertise in project management, she co-founded a Reggio-inspired kindergarten and actively participated in non-profit projects around the world. Sylvia is excited to bring international perspectives to the NC team and dedicate herself to the fundraising work. 

A place in the natural world that Sylvia feels most connected to:

I worked and lived in many countries in the past 12 years. There is always one commonality among all the places – near the sea. I remember living in the Tasmania Island near the seashore; my window was right toward the sea. Every day I woke up, I could see from my bed how the sun shone on the sea and the waves danced and sparkled. Whenever I felt stressed or depressed, I went to the seashore. It was so private that only the whisper of the surf and breeze interrupts the blissful stillness. Sometimes I got accompany of seagulls, seeming to comfort me with mewing. I found inner-peace and felt re-charged from the sea.

Maria Vamvalis

Maria Vamvalis

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.

Velvet Lacasse

Velvet Lacasse

Natural Curiosity Coach

Velvet Lacasse lives and teaches on the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the Wendat. Velvet has been teaching and learning with young people for almost 30 years!  She is actively involved in the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) as a workshop facilitator and curriculum writer.  Velvet has developed educator resources and lesson plans for Re-Thinking White Privilege, 2SLGBTQ+ Awareness in Primary Classrooms, 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.


As a non-Indigenous ally, Velvet is committed to actively disrupting colonial pedagogies and supporting Indigenous sovereignty. As one of the founding teachers at The Grove Community School, Velvet is learning about the critical importance of teaching through relationships and centering Indigenous voices, perspectives, knowledge, and stories of resistance through land-based education.

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Brenda Simon

Program Design Consultant

Brenda is a guest on Turtle Island and is the Interim Program Director for Natural Curiosity. Brenda has extensive experience in child advocacy, social justice and environmental planning. For the past 10 years, Brenda has been supporting educators to incorporate play, nature and the outdoors into life and learning in schools. Brenda has a deep appreciation for Indigenous perspectives on education.

A place in the natural world that Brenda feels most connected to:

For over 30 years, Brenda has been returning to a beloved place her family and friends call Overneath, a beautiful forest perched over O’Brien Lake in Lanark County and ‘neath the star-lit sky. Overneath is located in the traditional territories of the Alqonquin people.

A group of children walking in nature next to a hill and trees.

Natural Curiosity

Program Advisors

A scene in downtown Toronto with the CN Tower and buildings. Reads: Natural Curiosity Work Study Students

Natural Curiosity

Work Study