Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Concepts and Cases
In December 1989, the United Nations General Assembly called for a global meeting that would devise strategies to halt and reverse the effects of environmental degradation. In response to this request, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), commonly known as the Earth Summit, was held in June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. The Earth Summit produced agreements on basic principles for sustainability and established specific requirements for assuring a more secure and sustainable future. The principles are enshrined in the Rio Declaration and the requirements in Agenda 21, a comprehensive and far reaching program of action for assuring sustainability Critical to the successful implementation of Agenda 21 is the recognition of the contribution of indigenous peoples and their knowledge to the quest for a sustainable future. There are numerous references to indigenous knowledge, or what is commonly known as traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), in the Rio Declaration, the agreements, and Agenda 21, including: • Principle 22 of the Rio Declaration • Preamble, Articles 8 and 10 of the Convention on Biological Diversity • "Forest Principles" • Chapter 26 of Agenda 21 TEK refers to the knowledge base acquired by indigenous and local peoples over many hundreds of years through direct contact with the environment. It 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. In September 1991, recognizing the importance of TEK in planning and decision-making for sustainable development, UNESCO Canada Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Research Council (CEARC) jointly sponsored the International Workshop on Indigenous Knowledge and Community Based Resource Management. More than 50 indigenous people and specialists participated in this two-day workshop. The workshop recommended that an international program be established to promote and advance the concept and use of TEK in planning and decision-making. The Program was initially developed under the auspices of the UNESCO CanadaJMAB program, and it is recognized under the UN Decade for Cultural Development. The International Program has now been formally established under the leadership of the Honourable James Bourque P.C., Chair, Traditional Ecological Knowledge at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, Canada. The goal of the Program is to promote and advance the recognition, understanding and use of TEK in policy and decision-making for sustainable development. Program objectives are: • to foster and support research into the nature, scope, use and preservation of TEK; • to promote the development and implementation of a Code of Ethics and Practice regarding the acquisition and use of TEK; • to facilitate the communication, and exchange, of ideas, information, experiences and practices associated with TEK; • to promote the understanding and use of TEK through the formal, non-formal and informal education systems; • to ensure that both traditional ecological knowledge and western-based science are employed in a complementary manner in planning and decision-making. The papers in this volume were selected from presentations made in a number of special sessions on TEK, which were held as part of the Common Property Conference, the second annual meeting of the International Association for the Study of Common Property The meetings were attended by indigenous peoples and specialists in the subject from around the world. The papers selected for this volume represent a wide range of perspectives on the nature of TEK. They explore the underlying concepts, provide case studies, and confirm once again the importance and, as yet, unrealized potential of TEK in resource and environmental management. The papers reinforce the conviction that TEK can make a major contribution to the delivery of Agenda 21 and to sustainable development. The papers also reinforce the point that indigenous and local peoples have themselves lived in harmony with their environments for many hundreds of years, a relationship which is evident in many of their activities today. The International Program seeks to encourage the use of this knowledge at the community level,in all resource sectors, as a very real and essential contribution to the local, regional and national economy. In many cases, it is a matter of survival.