A Curriculum Scholar Report on Celia Haig-Brown by Ann Manderville for EDU 6102 Seminar in Curriculum Studies

A Curriculum Scholar Report on Celia Haig-Brown by Ann Manderville for EDU 6102 Seminar in Curriculum Studies

Celia Haig-Brown grew up in Kamloops and Campbell River, British Columbia. Her father, an author, wrote about a river in British Columbia as an animate being in his 1932 novel. Haig-Brown (2010) poses the following questions regarding this novel: “Did the people of the Nimpkish Valley and the north island teach him to think this way? What did he teach me, inadvertently (unconsciously?) or intentionally, as a direct result of First Nation people educating him?” (p. 941). Haig-Brown’s upbringing and relationships have played an important role in her research and contributions to the educational field.

Celia had been working as a high school teacher when she enrolled in a Master’s degree in curriculum and Instruction in Kamloops through the University of British Columbia (UBC). It is during this time that she formed a love for ethnography. Celia also worked with the Native Indian Teacher Education Program at the University of British Columbia. She continued on to pursue her Doctorate in Social Foundations of Educational Policy and obtain various positions including Associate Professor at Simon Fraser University (Haig-Brown, 2008) as well as CEO of Haig-Brown Research and Consulting (for one year). All the while, Celia was driven to pursue and delve deeper into Aboriginal education. Celia is currently a professor in the Department of Education at York University, Ontario, Canada. Haig-Brown leads by example. Because of her vast experience working with the Indigenous community Haig-Brown has made many meaningful relationships with friends and colleagues, which is reflected in her research.

Contributions to the field of curriculum studies and the advancement of Educational Knowledge

Haig-Brown’s research under consideration focuses on Indigenous people through life writing. With a focus on self-reflection and introspection, she analyzes her own actions and behavior under the topic at hand. Her research offers many suggestions to provide the opportunity for a future that no longer excludes or minimizes the importance and relevance of the past, present, and future of the Indigenous people. Topics include (de)colonizing research, impossible language and appropriation. Her interests in Indigenous studies offer possibilities to the field of curriculum, including explicit suggestions for curriculum and educational practices. Celia’s papers relate to all those who live in a colonized country. Celia is a humble and purposeful writer; she makes the voices she aims to be heard the priority of her work. Celia gives thanks to those whose land she is currently on or has done her research on. The following section is dedicated to two themes for the five articles under consideration: Land and Voice.


“the spiritual is inseparable from the physical: for example, the river is a living being with feelings and responses” (Haig-Brown, 2010, p. 941)

Taking Indigenous Thought Seriously: A Rant on Globalization with Some Cautionary Notes

“Do we even know whose traditional lands our universities and houses stand on?” (Haig-Brown, 2008, p.18). Haig-Brown’s rant leaves the reader with an uneasy feeling, one which is not forgotten soon after. Haig-Brown posits that it is time for a new definition of globalization: “Globalization too often employs moves more culturally and economically imperialist than reciprocal and dialectical” (Haig-Brown, 2008, p. 18). Being a non-Aboriginal immersed in the world of Aboriginal research, Haig-Brown questions and at times seems hesitant of certain elements of her research that may be perceived as cultural appropriation. However, Mary Thomas (a respected Secwepemic elder) informed Haig-Brown (2008) that “a learner has a responsibility to tell others about what she has learned” (p. 10). Haig-Brown (2008) clearly states some cautionary notes which accompany her words: she is a white woman, she has many years of experience with Aboriginal people, and it is never too late to begin asking questions. Haig-Brown distinguishes Indigenous thought from the potential superficiality of Indigenous knowledge. When asked about a global Indigenous knowledge, Makere Stewart-Harawira (2005) believes that“…broadly shared beliefs about the meaning of meaning and the nature of interrelationships” (p.12). Stewart-Harawira argues that traditional indigenous ontologies are important for order and new ways in response to globalization. Those unfamiliar with the four dimensions (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) which are part of indigenous knowledge, may not be able to see the opportunities that can be drawn from indigenous thought. “Indigenous thought has the potential to reframe and decenter, in intellectually productive and practical ways, conventional scholarship about most things including Canadian curriculum studies” (Haig-Brown, 2008, p. 13). One can see that looking to the future, there is potential to include indigenous ontologies in curriculum. After all, as Haig-Brown puts it “Is there anything new since Dewey?”(p.18). Although Dewey has put many great ideas forward, his work has flaws, including referring to Indigenous people as savages (Dewey, 1990). Being able to answer the question posed in the opening paragraph opens the lines of communication and provides a respect and awareness of our history that is so often cut out or minimalized.

Decolonizing Diaspora: Whose Traditional Land Are We On?

“Whose traditional land are we on?” (Haig-Brown, 2009, p. 4) By asking this question, Haig-Brown begins to break down the process of decolonizing diaspora. “Diaspora may be used to speak of any people who have (been) moved from a homeland, often cannot return to that homeland, and are living in a new and different space, sometimes within a group of people with similar histories, always with an attachment to that other place of origin” (Clifford 1997; Werbner 2000). This paper offers contribution to the theory of diaspora as well as implications for all those living in a colonized country. (Haig-Brown, 2009). Haig-Brown utilized pedagogical events that occurred during a variety of her own classes and experiences to discuss and explore diaspora.

One of these pedagogical events was the experience of a student enrolled in Haig-Brown’s preservice teacher education course. This student (coming from Jamaica) was dealing with racism for the first time. She was also struggling to understand the notion of the traditional lands of Aboriginal people. This student was going through third displacement. “The longing for (a) home becomes triply complicated for people in situations comparable to hers” (Haig-Brown, 2009, p. 9). However because this student learned and understood the displacement of Indigenous people, she was better able to understand and come to terms with her own situation.

Another event occurred within a graduate program class. Haig-Brown (2009) asks students to research and share family trajectories. One student focused on his own decolonizing narrative, and consequently was able to listen and learn to others. “Not until being asked to consider my relationship to the land and the original people who live on it was I able to listen and therefore learn differently” (Ng-A-Fook, 2003). The importance of understanding and learning whose land one is on is crucial to decolonizing diaspora. From the examples above one can see that understanding where one is from can help a person feel whole, and be equipped to help others.

Indigenous Thought, Appropriation, and Non-Aboriginal People

Haig-Brown (2010) explores and analyzes through introspection the topic of appropriation and its relationship to deep learning. Haig-Brown quotes Wikipedia “Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group…may have wildly different meanings or lack of the subtleties of their original cultural context. Because of this, cultural appropriation is sometimes viewed negatively, and has been called “cultural theft” (Haig-Brown, p. 929). Haig-Brown answered when and how can learning a secondary discourse be considered theft by introducing three types of cultural appropriation through the work of Peter Shand: a) commercial exploitation: “…from the use of Aboriginal art or images in advertising or team names…”(Haig-Brown, 2010, p. 930). b) modernist affinity: “the use of Indigenous images in the hands of non-Aboriginal artists…” (Haig-Brown, 2010, p. 930), c) post-modern quotation: “the severing of the language from its specific meaning has the potential to and does effect real harm for indigenous people, their ancestors, and descendants” (Haig-Brown, 2010, p.931). Haig-Brown  describes how “when one spends time paying particular attention to what people are saying to each other and to you, learning deepens” (p.937). Haig-Brown provides examples in her own experience and work where she questions whether she had been culturally appropriating. One such example is the concept of land. Haig-Brown was raised to have an appreciation and understanding of the interrelationships which occur on the land. She credits Professor Emeritus Marlene Brant Castellano of the Mohawk Nation and Trent University who pointed out (during a keynote address) that she was slipping back and forth between a conservationist and an Indigenous understanding of the land.  Haig-Brown constantly questions herself and her actions to deconstruct them in terms of potential appropriation. Although at times it seems as though Haig-Brown’s attempts may be difficult to achieve  ”Without a conversation with living First Nations people about what they think and feel about their writing, their culture, and their lives, the likelihood that we will have produced bad interpretations arises, as we make ourselves the experts, and them into the mute subjects of monologic expertise”(Margery Fee, p. 944), there are many positive outlooks on this subject such as those written by Cherokee artist Jimmie Durham (in Smith 2004): “It is necessary that, With great urgency, we all speak well and listen well. We, you and I, must remember everything. We must especially remember those things we never knew” (p.947).


Harjo and Bird said “…to speak whatever the cost is to become empowered rather than victimized by destruction” (as cited in Haig-Brown, 2003, p. 429).

Creating Spaces: testimonio, impossible knowledge, and academe

Haig-Brown (2003) is constantly looking for new research strategies, and describes her experience with the testimonio. “Central to the testimonial is the fact that the life story presented is not simply a personal matter; rather, it is the story of an individual who is also part of a community” (Haig-Brown, 2003, p. 420). Haig-Brown looked to the testimonio as a way to understand and learn about “impossible language” which she defines as “knowledge that is beyond our grasp because of the limits of our language and our lived experience” (p.415). In studying and research Aboriginal people it is of utmost importance to retain integrity and be respectful during data collection. Haig-Brown acknowledges the potential problems of testimonio including how important concepts can be lost in translation or more specifically from “transcription from speech to text, translation from one language to another, and editing at any stage of the process inevitably affect substance and intent as well as (and most important) the context of the reading” (Haig-Brown, 2003, p. 421). Haig-Brown chose a longtime Aboriginal friend who is a career teacher to explore the use of the testimonio as a research method, while writing a life-story of a teacher. Initially Haig-Brown was to be the inoculator, working together with her friend to create her testimonio, but in time her friend proposed that she write her testimonio on her own. “To take her account seriously is to take one step towards addressing injustices that are related to which words are taken seriously within academe” (Haig-Brown, 2003, p. 428).

Seeking Honest Justice in a Land of Strangers: Nahnebahwequa’s Struggle for Land

Haig-Brown (2001) presents historical facts which depict the story of Nahnebahwequa’s struggle to regain her land. The story involves her travelling to England in 1860 to plead her case to the Queen and hope for a fair decision to be made. Through the story of this courageous and dedicated woman, Haig-Brown addresses social justice, and pedagogical implications for Canadian citizens. Haig-Brown suggests using the story of Nahnebahwequa in schools to teach our students. Having a hero like Nahnebahwequa for students to learn about and look up to would allow room for deep learning to occur. Having Nahnebahwequa within the curriculum would create a space for Indigenous people voices, and create a dialogue for young people learning.

Conclusion and Reflection

Going into this assignment, I knew I wanted to write my curriculum scholar report on an author who focused on Indigenous studies. Haig-Brown’s work initially caught my eye with the titles of her articles. Once I started reading her articles, I was drawn in by her honesty and her ability to have the reader feel as though she were talking directly to him/her. Haig-Brown’s ability to catch the reader off guard by asking questions which feel as though directed only to the reader has the potential to incite deep learning and provoke further inquiry. One such question that caused me to pause and think was the following: “what if we were delighted instead of threatened by what we don’t, and possibly can’t, know?” (Haig-Brown, 2003, p.416).

There is much that we can learn from Haig Brown including the following:

  • Haig-Brown offers educational moments within her articles that offer the opportunity for a fuller understanding of the concept at hand. For example, she informs the readers about the Delgamuukw court case in the Creating Spaces: testimonio, impossible knowledge, and academe article which provides context to the reader (Haig-Brown, 2003).
  • She shares her knowledge and provides advice to future researchers in the Indigenous field: “For anyone planning to work in the area, it is important to familiarize oneself with the names that the people involved prefer to call themselves” (Haig-Brown, 2010, p. 927). Haig-Brown (2008) sends an additional cautionary note which can be generalized to all researchers and people in general “it is to assume nothing” (p. 16).
  • Haig-Brown always thanks the people for whose land she is using: “As I have been taught by First Nation people in what is now called British Columbia, I want to begin by acknowledging the Mississauga people of the Anishnaabe Nation on whose lands in what is now called Toronto I do my current work” (2010, p. 926).

Through this process, I have gained valuable insight into Indigenous studies as well as an awareness of the concept of land. I now feel a responsibility to be knowledgeable and cognizant of the land that I come from and reside in. Celia Haig-Brown has inspired me, as an educator, to share what I have learned with students. I believe that teaching students about cultural appropriation at a young age will instill a sense of empathy which will carry through their development. Haig-Brown’s work questions the current state of curriculum and challenges readers to be skeptical. She demonstrates that Indigenous thought should be taken seriously and advocates its potential for curriculum. I believe her work has allowed many to adopt perspectives beyond their own, which enables adaptation and expansion of their own views on curriculum.


Dewey, J. (1990).  The school and society. Chicago:  University Press.

Haig-Brown. (2001). Seeking Honest Justice in a Land of Strangers: Nahnebahwequa’s Struggle for Land. Journal of Canadian Studies, 36 (4), pp. 143-170.

Haig-Brown. (2003). Creating Spaces: testimonio, impossible knowledge, and academe. Qualitative Studies in Education, 16 (3), pp. 415-433.

Haig-Brown. (2008). Taking Indigenous Thought Seriously: A Rant on Globalization with Some Cautionary Notes. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 6 (2), pp. 8-24.

Haig-Brown. (2009). Decolonizing Diaspora: Whose Traditional Land Are We On? Cultural and Pedagogical Inquiry, 1 (1), pp. 4-21.

Haig-Brown. (2010). Indigenous Thought, Appropriation, and Non-Aboriginal People. Canadian Journal of Education, 33 (4), pp. 925-950.