Kristeen McTavish

Influences are diverse by nature.
It is difficult to pinpoint all the things that have contributed to my ecological literacy, to my ability to understand the natural systems of the earth, the principles and organization of ecosystems, and the meaning of these interactions for human life on planet earth. It is difficult because these influences range from people, to events, to specific experiences, and childhood moments. Some things influence you over a long period of time, like the places that you spend time in, while others take place in discrete moments, like a conversation or a feeling. Some things wield their influence immediately, while others may not sink in until much much later. Since these influences are so diverse in scale, in nature, and in the way they manifest themselves, it takes a lot of reflection to identify them. But that is the brilliant thing about a wiki - you don't have to do it all at once. You can add a little, take some time to think, and come back to it and add a little more. That is what I would like to do with this page.

Why bother.
Why do I think this is a valid exercise? Because I think as sustainability educators it is important for us to truly examine and understand how our own thinking was influenced. What are we trying to do as educators? We are trying to influence the way others look at the world, and think about the world by providing experiences and opportunities that do so. The tricky part is that not everyone experiences things the same way, or takes away the same thing from a single experience. There is no magic formula, no one way to touch everyone, no one experience that will create that pivotal moment where minds are expanded and thinking takes on a new trajectory, for everyone. So what is an educator to do then? How do you know what types of experiences to provide? What type of lessons to plan? What type of discussions to lead to be the most effective? To answer simply... you don't. You don't know. However, you can educate yourself, by exploring different types of experiences, how they are constructed, how they influence people, and what the key elements of the experiences were that made them so important for the person that they impacted. And what better place to start, than with those experiences that you are best situated to understand, those that had a profound impact on your own thinking. If you can get at the heart of these, and begin to understand why and how they influenced you, you will probably find that that understanding is the best tool that you have in constructing these experiences for other people.

Aha moments.
And as we have already established that just because something influenced your way understanding the world, does not mean that a similar experience will do so for anyone else, you may find it useful to learn about other peoples experiences. So read on! Here I have posted a few things that brought on what I like to call some aha moments for me. Those moments when you think (or sometimes are moved so much that you might actually exclaim) Aha! The moments where all the pieces come together, where things finally make sense, or where you realize what something really means.

Travel in the Arctic

Traveling to northern, remote areas of the world brought on some of my first real aha moments. It is difficult to describe the awe and wonder that
come with standing on an iceberg, staring out and miles and miles of tundra, or seeing a polar bear in its natural habitat. During my travels, these wondrous experiences combined with several other factors to make them particularly meaningful. Firstly, I have been really lucky to travel and work with a fantastic group of passionate and brilliant educators. Sharing these experiences with a group of like minded people made them all that much more powerful. And the discussions we had while sitting out on the rocks, or by the water, served to solidify the realizations that came with them. Secondly, the pace of life was very different for me when I was traveling in the north. In these small communities, there are no fences around the schoolyards, businesses close at lunch, and everyone goes home to spend a midday break with family and friends. Travel takes on a different meaning, most people getting around on foot, and weather is a much bigger factor in daily operations. This pace of life leaves much more time for reflection, connection, and appreciation.

Check out this gallery to see some more of these magical northern moments.

The Indigenous Environmental Studies Program at Trent University

Coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidentally...) it was while on a northern trip that I happened upon one of the other things that has greatly influenced my way of thinking and understanding the natural world. I was sitting in a tiny airport in Arviat, Nunavut, awaiting the plane that would take me back to my office job in Ottawa. I found myself browsing the internet on my phone, looking for... I wasn't sure what to be honest. But looking for something more. And this is what I found.

"The Indigenous Environmental Studies Program (IES) is an innovative undergraduate program at Trent University. IES is a collaboration between the Department of Indigenous Studies (INDG) and the Environmental and Resource Science/Studies Program (ERS), and is designed to give students the necessary skills and knowledge to work in the growing field of Indigenous environmental issues. The Program uses Indigenous knowledge systems, science and information from the social and environmental sciences to explore local, regional, national and international environmental issues impacting Indigenous People.

As of the 2009-2010 calendar year the IES program has offered a B.A. or a B.Sc. as well as the Diploma in Indigenous Environmental Studies. Trent is the first university in North America and worldwide to grant university level degrees in Indigenous Environmental Studies. It is an innovative and multidisciplinary program in the broadest sense. It brings together both Indigenous environmental knowledge and western science to provide students with the skills and critical thinking abilities to address the complex environmental problems facing peoples, cultures and communities around the world today.

The approach upon which the program and courses are based is one which recognizes both the strengths and limitations of only one way of knowing in attempting to understand and address issues. Through theory and practical based learning, often involving real-world case study reviews and research, students gain an appreciation for the value of different ways of knowing and develop the skills to apply different forms of knowledge and problem solving skills to understand and address current-day issues. The development of these skills supports the development of creative and broad thinking individuals, well prepared to address a wide range of environmental and health issues." (

This is an incredible, and emerging field of study. The program at Trent University is growing steadily, and expanding minds from across the country. For me, it taught me a completely different way of conceptualizing knowledge, how knowledge is gained, how knowledges interact, and the importance of worldview in framing all types of issues, social, environmental, political. Working within this program, I have the privilege of interacting with incredible people and projects, and engaging in a new and more engaging conversation with each new day.


My interest in taking photographs started with my work in science and tech camps with youth. We were always snapping shots of participants, for use in promotion and for the kids to have as souvenirs of their time at camp. I really enjoyed trying to capture moments with the camera. Moments of joy. Moments of interest. Moments of curiosity. Moments of wonder. Moments of discovery. And never were these shots more interesting than when they captured the awe and joy of a young person discovering something about the natural world around them.

As I began to travel more, and visit new places, with new and interesting ecosystems, my love for the camera grew. For me, observing the world through the lens of a camera affords me a moment of complete peace and focus in which I can truly observe, study and appreciate the beauty and intricacies of my environment. Through the camera I begin to notice things that I might look past otherwise. It is my zen.

Today I took my camera on a walk, and paid extra attention to the changes in my neighborhood, the changes brought along by the progression of fall.