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Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Environmental Stewardship

  • Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Environmental Stewardship

The following blog post was written by Tahira Ebrahim, Centre Liaison Officer at the School of Global Access.

When we consider environmental stewardship and practices of sustainability, we may perceive these practices as approaches to help our society move towards a sustainable future. However, how many of us have thought to look to our past in order to be successful?
Caretaking for the environment is a practice embedded within Indigenous ways of knowing and living and is practiced in different forms throughout the world. These ways of knowing have begun to be taught and incorporated into research and academia through the concept of “traditional environmental knowledge” or TEK. 

TEK is known as:
“A body of knowledge and beliefs transmitted through oral tradition and first-hand observation. Ecological aspects are closely tied to social and spiritual aspects of the knowledge systems. With its roots firmly in the past, TEK is … building upon the experience of earlier generations and adapting to the new technological and socioeconomic changes of the present” (Tsuji & Ho, 2002, p.328). 

Although development theorists have noted that inclusion of Indigenous ways of knowing in research must be more intentional, and viewed as foundational knowledge rather than supplementing Western perspectives, the application of such knowledge signals the importance of taking “greater account of the specificities of local conditions” and drawing “on the knowledge of a population who have lived experience of the environments” (Briggs & Sharp, 2006, p.661). 

Engaging with Indigenous communities on well-established practices of managing natural resources, nuanced understandings ecosystems, and values within environmental ethics offers non-Indigenous communities the opportunity to quickly advance conversational stewardship and understand our ever-changing natural environment. 

Learn more about Indigenous approaches to the environment, as well as what you can do to contribute to conversational stewardship at the IC’s Cultural Insights event for Earth Day, on April 11, hosting pieces from the collection Transparency, by TEDxBowValleyCollege 2016 speaker and artist, Miguel Barros.  

Briggs, J., & Sharp, J. (2004). Indigenous knowledges and development: A postcolonial caution.  Third World Quarterly, 25(4), 661-676, DOI: 10.1080/01436590410001678915. Retrieved April 3, 2018

Tsuji, L., & Ho, E.  (2002). Traditional environmental knowledge and western science: In search of common ground. The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, 22(2), 327-360. Retrieved April 3, 2018.