The Innovative Ideas for Environmentalism initiative: Working together to explore environmental topics (By Gabriel Yahya Haage)

As one of my internships, I had the opportunity to develop and run an initiative entitled “Innovative Ideas for Environmentalism.” This was done under the ECOLE Project ( organization, in Montreal. The “Innovative Ideas for Environmentalism” initiative had as its mandate to bring together students from widely different academic disciplines and, through moderated discussion, choose and explore an aspect of environmentalism. The idea was to let the participants decide, as a group, what the topic and the final output of the endeavour should be.

Although I feared some individuals would monopolize the discussion, this turned out to not be the case. Whether coming from philosophy or international development, participants were cordial and open to new ideas. Early on in the discussion sessions, it was agreed that indigenous struggles would be a good topic. Eventually, it was decided that a single area would be used as a case study. Due in part to my background in the region, the Bayano region in Panama was chosen as the site.

The Bayano region, home to the indigenous Guna, Embera, along with the nonindigenous Campesinos, has seen great conflicts, particularly land tenure issues. The Bayano Dam, which was completed in 1976, flooded the surrounding areas, causing environmental impacts as well as the relocation of several communities.

For the “Innovative Ideas for Environmentalism” initiative, it was agreed that each participant would select one component connected to the region. Each participant would produce a paper on the topic, which would be presented at a conference organized by participants. The conference took place on April 26, 2019. It was open to the public and included a film screening of “Investigacion filmica del Bayano” (“Film investigation of Bayano”) ( The topics that were presented included the role of tourism for indigenous communities, the use of frames by both indigenous and nonindigenous locals, the conflicts between different stakeholders, both national and international, and the role of community structures.

As the Bayano region is key to my own graduate research, these outputs have helped me gain a better understanding of the region. More than that, however, this initiative has demonstrated to me the willingness of young students to work together and develop a project outside of the requirements of their educational programs. I feel we have a tendency to think that students only put in the effort that is necessary to obtain their diploma. It was, therefore, encouraging to see their willingness, even eagerness, to explore an academic topic for its own sake. I hope initiatives like this one become more commonplace in McGill University and elsewhere.

*Gabriel completed a BSc in Biology and a Diploma in Environment at McGill. His Honours research dealt with species distribution in benthic ecosystems in the Canadian Arctic. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences. To see his profile, please Click Here

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