Thursday, August 13, 2015

Six Faces of Traditional Ecological Knowledge

The Six Faces of Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Challenges and Opportunities for Canadian Co-Management Arrangements

The First Nations of Canada have been active over the past three decades in negotiating natural resources co-management arrangements that would give them greater involvement in decision-making processes that are closer to their values and worldviews. These values and worldviews are part of the traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) that First Nations possess about the land; to reach agreements to the satisfaction of First Nations, appropriate ways to involve TEK in decision-making processes must be designed. Through a review of the literature on TEK, I identified six “faces” of TEK, i.e., factual observations, management systems, past and current land uses, ethics and values, culture and identity, and cosmology, as well as the particular challenges and opportunities that each face poses to the co-management of natural resources.
  • The Faces of Traditional Ecological Knowledge
    • First face: factual observations, classifications, and system dynamics: This type of empirical knowledge consists of a set of generalized observations conducted over a long period of time and reinforced by accounts of other TEK holders (Usher 2000). It is therefore personal knowledge, but it is enriched and validated through social life. It has been pointed out that it is linked to survival, i.e., it is an “appropriate” ecological knowledge (Berkes 1988), but that it can also emerge out of sheer curiosity (Johnson 1992b).
    • Second face: management systems: As mentioned earlier and discussed extensively in the literature, TEK largely serves the purpose of subsistence. Therefore, a major theme of research on TEK is that of resource management systems and how they are adapted to local environments.
    • Third face: factual knowledge regarding past and current uses of the environment:  This third face of TEK highlights the time dimension of traditional knowledge while locating it precisely in space. It is knowledge of the past and current uses of the environment that is transmitted through oral history (Neis et al. 1999, Usher 2000, Peters 2003). It refers to the knowledge of historical patterns of land use and settlement, occupancy, and harvest levels (Duerden and Kuhn 1998, Wenzel 1999, Usher 2000). It also concerns the location of medicinal plants and cultural and historical sites (Mailhot 1993, Lewis and Sheppard 2005). Part of this dimension of TEK is life stories that are transmitted over generations through narratives that give a sense of family and community (Johnson 1992b, Cruikshank 1998, Callaway 2004).
    • Fourth face: ethics and values: This face is the expression of values concerning correct attitudes, often identified as values of respect, to adopt toward nonhuman animals, the environment in general, and between humans -  For instance, the Haida people of British Columbia have long opposed recreational bear hunting, which is considered disrespectful toward the animal (Council of the Haida Nation 2004). Since 1995, when the Council of the Haida Nation issued a formal request to ban recreational bear hunting on Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), the Haida have tried to encourage local outfitters to stop offering hunting opportunities to tourists and to provide bear-watching opportunities as an alternative ( This initiative has had limited effect because bear hunting still continues on Haida Gwaii, with the exception of Gwaii Haanas, which is a National Park located in the southern part of the archipelago (Burles et al. 2004, Process Management Team 2006).
    • Fifth face: traditional ecological knowledge as a vector for cultural identity: This face of TEK understands the stories, values, and social relations that reside in places as contributing to the survival, reproduction, and evolution of aboriginal cultures and identities. It stresses the restorative benefits of cultural landscapes as places for spiritual renewal (Lewis and Sheppard 2005).
    • Sixth face: cosmology: This dimension has been said to be akin to religion (e.g., Howard and Widdowson 1996, 1997). Others (e.g., Berkes and Henley 1997, Stevenson 1997) have counterargued that TEK is more of a philosophy than an ideology -  The concept of the cultural landscape is by no means new (Johnston et al. 2000…“To understand the northern landscape requires an understanding of the related cosmologies” (Buggey 2004:19). These are places that embody traditional narratives and spiritual meaning, as well as economic use (Buggey 2004). They are providers of both physical and spiritual reference and sustenance, as Lewis and Sheppard (2005) have noted. Consequently, propositions have been made (e.g., Karjala and Dewhurst 2003, Lewis and Sheppard 2005) to integrate aboriginal concerns at an earlier stage in land-use planning by projecting into the future what the land would look like under different management scenarios and by attempting to find scenarios that would match to a greater extent the idea of what the landscape should look like according to those who live there...

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