There is a great deal of confusion concerning the actual meaning of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, particularly on the part of individuals who hold stereotypical views of Indigenous cultures and knowledge. One important aspect of TEK is that it actively incorporates ethical and metaphysical considerations into its interactions with the natural world. This was because survival depended upon the quality of the knowledge and how it was applied. As the Salishan scholar Lilian Alessa has pointed out "the consequences (of a poor knowledge or a mistake in interpretation) are not the ridicule of one's peers, or the failure to get a research grant, they are sickness, suffering and death" (Alessa 2009; Alaska Native Reader, Duke University Press). As a university research scholar and professor, this is a sobering thought and should make everyone who discusses TEK careful and respectful of how they treat such knowledge. I open with a module called The Land of Wolf and Raven because these two species are important both to each other and to the Indigenous peoples who paid close attention to these two species. They learned, at least at some levels, to master the survival skills of these two generalized and widespread species, who were important components of their environment.  

Recommended reading:

  • Chapter 1 in Indigenous Knowledge, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Pierotti (2010) Routledge Press, NY, NY
Presentation prepared by: Dr. Raymond Pierotti

To view presentation with speaker notes, click on the full screen view and click on "Actions", select "View speaker notes".

You can also view the entire presentation with notes on one page by clicking here.

Discussion points to keep in mind: 

  • What is a Worldview? How do worldviews differ among people from different cultural traditions?
  • What does the word "traditional" imply? Does this mean that anything described as "traditional" cannot change? Does tradition emerge from cultures as a process or is it simply an adjective implying a static state?
  • What does it mean to seek "global" as opposed to "local" solutions to problems? Are any solutions or interpretations truly "global"?