Fifteen Key Insights on Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Environmental Change



Students from Constance Lake First Nation in northern Ontario, Canada, taking part in an environmental knowledge photography workshop organized by Laura Taylor, Managing Partner, Shared Value Solutions Ltd. Students from Constance Lake First Nation in northern Ontario, Canada, taking part in an environmental knowledge photography workshop organized by Laura Taylor, Managing Partner, Shared Value Solutions Ltd. Several of these students will be entering photos in a "What Water Means to Me" photo contest as part of GroundSwell: Conference on Groundwater Innovation, June 16-18, 2014 in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Their photos will be judged by National Geographic Emerging Explorer and world water advocate,Alexandra Cousteau, Photo by Laura Taylor, February, 2014.

If you enjoy this post, we also have a series of blog posts, “Traditional Knowledge Matters”, on the ways and means of influencing the environmental assessment and permitting process using Aboriginal traditional knowledge. with topics including: 

Support for traditional knowledge and traditional land use studies is especially important for building relationships between communities and project proponents where there is a mutual desire to create real and meaningful partnerships and enhance Aboriginal community wellbeing.  As new forms of Aboriginal and industry partnerships emerge, it is important for partnerships to start on a footing of protecting the lands, waters and way of life of Aboriginal community members and future generations.  Combining scientific and traditional knowledge is important for designing adaptation strategies so that they are scientifically sound and truly connected to local value systems, needs and priorities.


Fifteen Key Insights on Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Environmental Change

By Don Richardson, Managing Partner, Shared Value Solutions Ltd.

In 2013 the academic journal Ecology and Society published a special feature “Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Global Environmental Change. As we prepare to conduct an important review of Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK) in environmental assessment (EA) in the context of the 2012 Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, we review this journal feature and highlight fifteen key insights.

Through case studies from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe, the Special Issue of Ecology and Society highlights the resilience and persistence of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) in the face of global change – climate change and changes from resource extraction and infrastructure development. The Special Issue presents several insights on how TEK strengthens community resilience to respond to the many stressors of global environmental change.

In our work we actively seek out opportunities for communities building and enhancing TEK systems to partner with progressive resource extraction companies, infrastructure players, and government agencies that are serious about addressing climate change, enhancing biodiversity and effectively managing environmental risks. We often conduct traditional land use studies and traditonal land use and occupancy mapping in the context of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and other environmental approval processes.  We seek out Valued Ecocystem Compoents or VECs and Valued Socio-Economic Components or VSECs that support and enhance Aboriginal community wellbeing and fold them into project planning processes.  The opportunities for creating shared value and strengthening community resilience are immense.

Fifteen Key Insights on Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Environmental Change:
  1. TEK is fundamental to building community-level resilience in the face of global environmental change
  2. Local TEK systems contribute to sustaining local, regional and watershed-based biodiversity and ecosystem services
  3. Combining scientific and traditional knowledge is important for designing adaptation strategies so that they are scientifically sound and truly connected to local value systems, needs and priorities
  4. Local TEK systems represent biocultural “refugia” of traditional knowledge – “arks” of important ecological knowledge that have significant value in the face of worldwide TEK erosion
  5. TEK systems can be resilient, but to survive, thrive and endure TEK systems adapt by hybridizing and accommodating new forms of knowledge, including scientific knowledge
  6. TEK resilience requires the local ability, and the tools – both traditional and modern multi-media - to generate, transform, transmit, and apply TEK
  7. Environmental conflicts have the ironic benefit of re-invigorating TEK - processes to resolve those conflicts– including conflicts over resource rights, resource extraction projects and industrial environmental impacts – catalyze creative approaches to generating, transforming, transmitting and applying TEK
  8. TEK, conflict and the rights of indigenous people are linked:- globally, there is a correlation between environmental change and environmental conflicts and strategies to secure the right of indigenous peoples to maintain, control, protect, and develop their traditional knowledge
  9. “Any approach attempting to preserve TEK in fossilized forms is bound to fail.” External changes lead to changes in TEK systems. TEK systems are adaptive, continually evolving and continually appropriating new forms of knowledge and new approaches to using new knowledge
  10. TEK does not just emerge from long term observation of local ecosystems, watersheds and land uses - TEK also emerges dynamically from learning through conflicts, crises and making mistakes
  11. TEK is seriously important for environmental change adaptation strategies - when TEK systems erode and bodies of TEK are lost, the world loses options to respond to challenges and global environmental change
  12. Local priorities matter - what governments, institutions and major NGOs determine as priorities for climate change adaptation strategies does not typically fit with what local communities understand as the priority issues that need to be locally and immediately
  13. Local, immediate threats matter - today’s immediate challenges, such as protecting water quality from resource extraction activities (mining projects, oil and gas projects, forestry, etc.) and major land use changes infrastructure development are usually perceived by local communities as more threatening to community livelihoods than longer-term threats such as climate change
  14. Local communities are adept at recognizing, monitoring and understanding environmental change and TEK about environmental change often correlates with scientific knowledge and data of environmental change
  15. TEK is powerful for managing environmental risks - TEK, local understandings and ways of documenting and responding to environmental change must be considered by governments, institutions and NGOs when designing and implementing climate change adaptation strategies and strategies to manage environmental risks from resource extraction and infrastructure projects


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About Shared Value Solutions Ltd.


We bring the best engineering, design, environment, architecture and other technical discipline expertise to address your challenges and opportunities:

■ Strategic Environmental Assessment guidance, coordination and support
■ Collaborative land and resource use planning and management- process design and delivery
■ Traditional Ecological Knowledge Studies
■ Traditional Land Use Studies (TLUS)/Land-Use and Occupancy Mapping
■ Design and delivery of programs promoting/supporting positive behaviour change- environmental stewardship, community-based social marketing, health/environmental health promotion
■ Contributing human environment considerations to technical assessments and management plans in sectors such as water resources, remediation, land use, mining, oil & gas, linear corridor development, forestry, renewable energy, nuclear waste, contaminated sites, brownfield redevelopment, watershed planning, drought planning, water use planning, waste management and waste diversion
■ Value Engineering & Value Analysis: we facilitate project teams to optimize a project by understanding functions, objectives, costs and social, cultural and environmental considerations.


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