Traditional Knowledge

Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) ~ or sometimes referred to as indigenous knowledge or traditional environmental knowledge ~ is often described as local and holistic, integrating the physical and spiritual into a worldview or “cosmovision” that has evolved over time and emphasizes the practical application of skills and knowledge. TEK is the product of careful observations and responses to ever changing environmental and socio-economic conditions. As defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity, Article 8 (j):

“Traditional knowledge refers to the knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities around the world. Developed from experience gained over the centuries and adapted to the local culture and environment, traditional knowledge is transmitted orally from generation to generation. It tends to be collectively owned and takes the form of stories, songs, folklore, proverbs, cultural values, beliefs, rituals, community laws, local language, and agricultural practices, including the development of plant species and animal breeds. Traditional knowledge is mainly of a practical nature, particularly in such fields as agriculture, fisheries, health, horticulture, and forestry.”

Fikret Berkes (1999) considers four interrelated levels within TEK which he terms the knowledge-practice-belief complex: the first includes knowledge based on empirical observations essential for survival (species taxonomy, distribution, and life cycles); the second focuses on the understanding of ecological processes and natural resource management (practices, tools, and techniques); the third is the socio-economic organization necessary for effective coordination and cooperation (rules and taboos); and the fourth is referred to as the worldview or “cosmovision” (religion, belief, and ethics).


The Indigenous Peoples’ Restoration Network’s (IPRN) – a working group of the Society for Ecological Restoration International – mission is to support native and tribal communities in need of technical assistance for environmental restoration and cultural rehabilitation, and to assist leaders and practitioners in their efforts to apply traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) within their own vision of political, economic, and cultural sovereignty.

The TK Bulletin provides a weekly review of TK issues in the global news (updated every Tuesday) as well as individual posts on issues of relevance to TK at a global level, including issues discussed at international meetings. The TK Bulletin is offered by the UNU-IAS as a pilot activity of the Traditional Knowledge Institute (TKI), which focuses on research and training in many aspects of the TK of indigenous and local communities from a global perspective, grounded in local experience.

The Alaska Native Knowledge Network (ANKN) is an AKRSI partner designed to serve as a resource for compiling and exchanging information related to Alaska Native knowledge systems and ways of knowing. It has been established to assist Native people, government agencies, educators and the general public in gaining access to the knowledge base that Alaska Natives have acquired through cumulative experience over millennia.

The AAAS Project on Traditional Ecological Knowledge explores the intersection between traditional knowledge, intellectual property, and human rights. The goals of the project include exploring the role of the public domain as it applies to TK, examining issues affecting TK relating to the current intellectual property regime, and identifying and applying intellectual property options available to traditional knowledge holders.


Fishers’ Knowledge in Fisheries Science and Management focuses on how and where fishers’ knowledge – indigenous and artisanal, as well as large and small-scale commercial – is being put to work in collaboration with scientists, government managers and non-governmental organizations. Case studies from around the globe show clearly that it is time to move beyond debates about the utility of fishers’ knowledge to focus on establishing frameworks that best allow fishers and their knowledge to become effective and appropriate counterparts in fisheries science and management.

The Nature and Utility of Traditional Ecological Knowledge is more than merely esoteric; it is directed toward gaining a useful understanding of how ecological systems generally work, to how many of the key components of the total ecosystem interrelate, and how predictive outcomes in respect to matters of practical concern can best be effected. This is precisely what ecological scientists or wildlife and fisheries biologists attempt to do; however, the question remains: How successful are both groups (the scientists and the traditional resource users) in their efforts to understand these complex realities?

Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Concepts and Cases explores 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 that is evident in many of their activities today.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Natural Resource Management examines how traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is taught and practiced today among Native communities. Of special interest is the complex relationship between indigenous ecological practices and other ways of interacting with the environment, particularly regional and national programs of natural resource management.

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