Traditional environmental knowledge: A resource to manage and share

TitleTraditional environmental knowledge: A resource to manage and share
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1992
AuthorsMorin-Labatut, G, Akhtar, S
JournalDevelopment (Journal of SID [Society for International Development])
Keywordsdemographic factors; economic factors; environment; environmental protection; indigenous population; natural resources; population characteristics; sociocultural factors

Gisèle Morin-Labatut and Shahid Akhtar examine the knowledge base acquired by indigenous and local peoples over the generations through direct contact with their environment. They argue that this knowledge, including an intimate and detailed understanding of plants, animals and natural phenomena, the development and use of appropriate technologies for hunting, fishing, agriculture and forestry, and a holistic knowledge, or "world view," parallels the scientific disciplines of ecology and environmental studies. Their paper indicates how indigenous knowledge is embedded in a dynamic, multidimensional universe in which cultural, economic, environmental and political factors intersect and influence one another. (author)

Indigenous people have acquired traditional environmental or ecological knowledge (TEK) over generations as a survival strategy. Knowledge and application are intricately linked with cultural economic environmental and political factors. Recognition of indigenous peoples contributions to management of natural resources was given in the 1989 World Conservation Strategy and the 1987 Brundtland Commissions Our Common Future. The premise is that sustainable management of resources can be achieved only through scientific development which includes the priorities of local population. It is also achieved through technological development which uses both traditional and modern approaches to problem solving. Western scientists have not readily accepted TEK. THe current relationship between TEK and Western approaches is a power relationship where indigenous people lack political power and control over natural resources and Western development paradigms are imposed. Comparisons of TEK and Western knowledge systems are given in Annex 1. This paper addresses the issues of how traditional and Western environment knowledge are complementary and jointly contribute to sustainable development. Integration requires different forms of institutional and political organization and power. Respect for indigenous knowledge (IK) will occur during the process of documenting and disseminating IK. It also occurs when indigenous populations become involved in the research process itself and affect changes in the research design and implementation. What is needed is more indigenous people who can manage Western research methods and Western researchers who understand aboriginal approaches to understanding the environment. Western researchers also need holistic ways of defining the universe. UNCED documents (Agenda 21) recognize the importance of indigenous cultures knowledge about health culture and human settlements. Other documents which provide a framework for dealing with these issues are Principle 22 of the Rio Declaration and the Preamble of the Convention on Biodiversity. Examples of TEK cooperative programs are given for Canada (Man and the Biosphere the International Development Research Center and other initiatives). Other centers for knowledge about TEK are also noted. An international TEK Management System affiliated with the Canadians has been proposed.

  1. Development (SID Journal) not found online prior to 1999; Google Scholar version is a paper presented at the Conference on Development with Equity and Ecological Security: Strategies and Institutions for the 21st Century, 11-12 September 1992.
  2. Please see the record for the Google Scholar version that was presented at the conference.
Short TitleTraditional environmental knowledge

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