Traditional Ecological Knowledge - Suggested Literature

The term Traditional Ecological Knowledge, or TEK, is used to describe the knowledge held by indigenous cultures about their immediate environment and the cultural practices that build on that knowledge. Traditional ecological knowledge includes an intimate and detailed knowledge of plants, animals, and natural phenomena, the development and use of appropriate technologies for hunting, fishing, trapping, agriculture, and forestry, and a holistic knowledge, or "world view" which parallels the scientific discipline of ecology (Berkes 1993).

Grizzly bear standing in water and looking toward the camera in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Credit: Steve Hillebrand.Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Alaska Native Ways of Knowing
Drawing on experiences across Fourth World contexts, with an emphasis on the Alaska context, this article seeks to extend our understandings of the learning processes within and at the intersection of diverse world views and knowledge systems.We outline the rationale for a comprehensive program of educational initiatives closely articulated with the emergence of a new generation of Indigenous scholars who seek to move the role of Indigenous knowledge and learning from the margins to the center of educational research, thereby confronting some of the most intractable and salient educational issues of our times. Read more (PDF).

Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Ecosystem Science, and Environmental Management
As the pace of ecological change increases, so too does the need for baseline information with which to direct conservation and restoration activities. Often, however, data are scarce. The premise of this Invited Feature is that there are complementary sources of knowledge about local ecosystems held by people whose lives are interwoven in complex ways with particular lands and waters. Local knowledge is richest when it has accumulated over generations, embedding observations and corresponding cultural adaptations within a context of long-term ecological change. Read More.

Traditional Knowledge of Indigenous and Local Communities: International Debate And Policy Initiatives
This paper reviews international law and policy regarding the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities that are defining the role of traditional and indigenous knowledge in the management and conservation of biodiversity. Read more.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Wisdom of Aboriginal Peoples in British Columbia
This paper discusses the characteristics and application of Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Wisdom (TEKW) of aboriginal peoples in British Columbia, Canada. Examples are provided from various groups, most notably, the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Interior Salish and Kwakwaka'wakw and Nuu-Chah-Nulth peoples of the Northwest Coast, covering a range of features. Read more.

The Sacred and The Scientific:Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Siberian River Conservation
The Katun Valley contains large numbers of important cultural sites, dating from the Neolithic and representing some of the earliest human settlement in Russia. Modern-day Altaians still observe traditional ceremonies honoring the river and springs throughout the watershed and utilize traditional ecological knowledge in their management of the land and water resources. Read more.

The Role of Mongolian Nomadic Pastoralists' Ecological Knowledge in Rangeland Management
Past stereotypes of indigenous pastoralists as ignorant and environmentally destructive are being revised as ecological and social science research advances. As yet, little documentation of pastoralists' ecological knowledge exists, and even less is known about how this knowledge is, or can be, applied to resource management. This paper outlines the ecological knowledge of Mongolian nomadic pastoralists and its role in rangeland management. Read more.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge: The Third Alternative (Commentary)
Contemporary Western attitudes concerning the management of natural resources, treatment of nonhuman animals, and the natural world emerge from traditions derived from Western European philosophy, i.e., they assume that humans are autonomous from, and in control of, the natural world. A different approach is presented by Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of indigenous peoples of North America. Although spiritually oriented, TEK converges on Western scientific approaches. TEK is based on close observation of nature and natural phenomena; however, it is combined with a concept of community membership that differs from that of Western political and social thought. Read More.

Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence by Gregory Cajete
Cajete examines the multiple levels of meaning that inform Native astronomy, cosmology, psychology, agriculture, and the healing arts. Unlike the western scientific method, native thinking does not isolate an object or phenomenon in order to understand it, but perceives it in terms of relationship. An understanding of the relationships that bind together natural forces and all forms of life has been fundamental to the ability of indigenous peoples to live for millennia in spiritual and physical harmony with the land. It is clear that the first peoples offer perspectives that can help us work toward solutions at this time of global environmental crisis. This book deals with the topic of traditional ecological knowledge specifically in the context of natural resource management. An issue of today is how humans can develop a more acceptable relationship with the environment that supports them. Growing interest in traditional ecological knowledge is perhaps indicative of two things: the need for ecological insights from indigenous practices of resource use; and the need to develop a new ecological ethic in part by learning from the wisdom of traditional knowledge holders.

Sacred Ecology: Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Resource Management by Fikret Berkes
This book explores both of these ideas together by treating traditional ecological knowledge as a knowledge-practice-belief complex.; This complex looks at traditional knowledge at four interrelated levels: local knowledge (species specific); the resource management system; social institutions; and worldview (religion, ethics, and defined belief systems). Divided into three parts that deal with concepts, practices and issues, respectively, the book examines many traditional knowledge systems. It discusses the usefulness of traditional ecological knowledge in terms of providing an understanding, not merely information, which is complementary to scientific ecology. At the same time, the book explores a diversity of relationships that different groups have developed with their environment, using extensive case studies.

Indigenous Knowledge, Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology by Raymond Pierotti
Indigenous ways of understanding and interacting with the natural world are characterized as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), which derives from emphasizing relationships and connections among species. This book examines TEK and its strengths in relation to Western ecological knowledge and evolutionary philosophy. Pierotti takes a look at the scientific basis of this approach, focusing on different concepts of communities and connections among living entities, the importance of understanding the meaning of relatedness in both spiritual and biological creation, and a careful comparison with evolutionary ecology. The text examines the themes and principles informing this knowledge, and offers a look at the complexities of conducting research from an indigenous perspective.

Blackfoot Physics: A Journey into the Native American Universe by F. David Peat
Blackfoot Physics: A Journey into the Native American Universe. 2005. F. David Peat (Weiser Books).

Traditional Environmental Knowledge In Federal Natural Resource Management Agencies
The study of traditional environmental knowledge (TEK, also expressed as traditional ecological knowledge) in applied settings is an important and growing field for environmental anthropologists who seek to put the methods and findings of anthropology to work in public and environmental policy contexts. The incredible depth and insight of indigenous environmental knowledge is well known in anthropological circles, and for better or worse, has been captured in the public consciousness. Read More.

Rediscovery of Traditional Ecological Knowledge as Adaptive Management
Indigenous groups offer alternative knowledge and perspectives based on their own locally developed practices of resource use. Case studies revealed that there exists a diversity of local or traditional practices for ecosystem management. Some traditional knowledge and management systems were characterized by the use of local ecological knowledge to interpret and respond to feedbacks from the environment to guide the direction of resource management. These traditional systems had certain similarities to adaptive management with its emphasis on feedback. Read More.

Using Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Science: Methods And Applications
Advocates of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) have promoted its use in scientific research, impact assessment, and ecological understanding. While several examples illustrate the utility of applying TEK in these contexts, wider application of TEK derived information remains elusive. This paper describes some of the benefits of using TEK in scientific and management contexts. It also reviews some of the methods that are available to do so, including semi-directive interviews, questionnaires, facilitated workshops, and collaborative field projects. Read More.

Interspecific Relationships Affecting Endangered Species Recognized by O'odham And Comcaac Cultures
Because certain indigenous peoples have lived in the same habitats for centuries, their languages often encode traditional ecological knowledge about interactions between plant and animal species that occur in those habitats. This local knowledge is sometimes complementary to more broadly derived knowledge accrued by academically trained field ecologists. Read More.

New Meanings for Old Knowledge: The People's Biodiversity Registers Program
The program of People's Biodiversity Registers (PBR) is an attempt to promote folk ecological knowledge and wisdom in two ways: by devising more formal means for their maintenance, and by creating new contexts for their continued practice. The process of preparation of PBRs, as well as the resultant documents, could serve a significant role in promoting more sustainable, flexible, participatory systems of management and in ensuring a better flow of benefits from economic use of the living resources to the local communities. Read More.

Kincentric Ecology: Indigenous Perceptions of The Human-Nature Relationship
Indigenous people view both themselves and nature as part of an extended ecological family that shares ancestry and origins. It is an awareness that life in any environment is viable only when humans view the life surrounding them as kin. The kin, or relatives, include all the natural elements of an ecosystem. Indigenous people are affected by and, in turn, affect the life around them. The interactions that result from this "kincentric ecology" enhance and preserve the ecosystem. Read More.

The Kvichak Watershed Subsistence Salmon Fishery: An Ethnographic Study
This report presents the results of an ethnographic project that investigated how families in 4 communities of the Kvichak District of the Bristol Bay Management Area of Southwest Alaska develop subsistence fishing strategies, such as when to fish, where to fish, who to fish with, and how much to harvest, in response to changing sociocultural, economic, and environmental circumstances. The report concludes that the subsistence fishery is vital to the way of life of the study communities, and is accomplished in an efficient and sustainable manner informed by traditional knowledge. Read More.

Red Alert!: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge by Daniel R. Wildcat
"What the world needs today is a good dose of indigenous realism," says Native American scholar Daniel R. Wildcat in this thoughtful, forward-looking treatise. The Native response to the environmental crisis facing our planet, Red Alert! seeks to debunk our civilization’s long-misguided perception that humankind is at odds with nature or that it exerts control over the natural world. Taking a hard look at the biggest problem that we face today—the damaging way we live on this earth—Wildcat draws upon ancient Native American wisdom and nature-centered beliefs to advocate a modern strategy to combat global warming. Inspiring and insightful, Red Alert! is a stirring call to action.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Natural Resource Management by Charles R. Menzies
Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Natural Resource Management examines how traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is taught and practiced today among Native communities. Of special interest is the complex relationship between indigenous ecological practices and other ways of interacting with the environment, particularly regional and national programs of natural resource management. Focusing primarily on the northwest coast of North America, scholars look at the challenges and opportunities confronting the local practice of indigenous ecological knowledge in a range of communities, including the Tsimshian, the Nisga’a, the Tlingit, the Gitksan, the Kwagult, the Sto:lo, and the northern Dene in the Yukon. The experts consider how traditional knowledge is taught and learned and address the cultural importance of different subsistence practices using natural elements such as seaweed (Gitga’a), pine mushrooms (Tsimshian), and salmon (Tlingit). Several contributors discuss the extent to which national and regional programs of resource management need to include models of TEK in their planning and execution. This volume highlights the different ways of seeing and engaging with the natural world and underscores the need to acknowledge and honor the ways that indigenous peoples have done so for generations.

Lighting the Seventh Fire: The Spiritual Ways, Healing, and Science of the Native American by F. David Peat
Lighting the Seventh Fire: The Spiritual Ways, Healing, and Science of the Native American. 1994. F. David Peat (Birch Lane Press Book)


Last updated: August 6, 2013