Humankind and Nature


Valuing TEK


Here's a selection of recent stories and articles about Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

A couple of weeks ago we shared the latest episode of our podcast "Connecting the Dots", with guest Alaka Wali, the Field Museum's curator of North American Anthropology. During our conversation, Alaka spoke at length about her work in the Amazon, where the museum's Keller Science Action Centre works with local communities to develop Indigenous-led conservation strategies. 

It's worth citing Alaka's description of her work with these communities: 
"I never cease to be amazed at how strong the knowledge base is, of people who live and managed to have held on to a way of life in these territories"

In discussions about climate change, the biodiversity crisis and sustainable management of natural resources, the growing focus on TEK, which stands for "Traditional Ecological Knowledge", is long overdue. 

As studies have shown that the most effective conservation efforts happen on Indigenous territories, the depth of knowledge held by these communities is finally being recognized by the rest of the world.

We're still very far from a truly respectful understanding of TEK, but some incredible stories we came across this month bring us one step closer to seeing how Indigenous ecological knowledge can be a guiding principle for building a better future:

Architecture hub ArchDaily published a beautiful piece on author Julia Watson's book "Lo-TEK: design by radical indigenism", which "proposes to revalue the techniques of construction, production, cultivation and extraction carried out by diverse remote populations who, generation after generation, have managed to keep alive ancestral cultural practices integrated with nature, with a low environmental cost and simple execution." 

Sustainable and resilient infrastructures are a testament to Indigenous communities' respect of each particular ecosystem and serve as a model for a balanced relationship between Humankind & Nature.

We can see how Indigenous knowledge is an extremely important asset in planning a just and sustainable future that addresses our world's most pressing crisis, but TEK is playing a fundamental role in Western scientific research as we speak. Nature Magazine is reporting on how "Indigenous oral accounts have helped scientists to reconstruct a 3,000-year history of a large fire-prone forest in California", making it ever more clear that "understanding how Indigenous tribes used fire is essential for managing forests to reduce wildfire risk".

These developments are harbingers of hope, as is the attention given to TEK in the latest IPCC report. For the first time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognized the profound connection between colonialism and climate change, and devoted an entire chapter to the role of Indigenous knowledge in tackling it. 

But these words will only mater if they are substantiated by concrete, courageous actions, as Navajo scholar Dr. Len Necefer so clearly states in his enlightening new op-ed for Outside:

In Dr. Necefer's piece, there's a quote taken from a recent Vox interview with Maasai scholar Kimaren ole Riamit, titled "Who Decides to Conserve Nature?". We highly recommend listening to it, if you want to learn more about the importance of TEK for the future of conservation.

It is particularly relevant as we read about the latest developments in the ongoing eviction of the Maasai in Tanzania, in the name of conservation:

Valuing TEK goes hand-in-hand with fighting for Indigenous peoples' rights to manage their lands and resources. A fight which for so many means putting their lives at risk. We urge you to listen to the voices on the frontlines, and Mongabay Latam's recent interview with 12 Indigenous leaders from nine countries across Latin America is essential reading:

And what happens when TEK and land rights are actually respected and valued? 

32,000 hectares of the most biodiverse forest in the world are protected from extractive industries. In 2018, Ecuador's courts cancelled 52 goldmining concessions, thanks to a campaign by Cofan activists Alex Lucitante and Alexandra Narváez. As the Guardian points out, "the case relied on evidence gathered by forest patrols, camera traps, GIS tools and drones organised by the community and their allies."

Alex and Alexandra have now been awarded the Goldman prize, "the world's pre-eminent environmental award":

Another inspiring story comes from the United States, where Native American organizations such as the Pueblo Action Alliance in the Southwest, or the NDN companies in the Southeast have developed many effective strategies to demand the protection of water resources and the water rights of their communities. We've learned a lot from Anishinaabe/Shawnee journalist Kayla DeVault's recent piece for Yes! magazine:

Azimuth World Foundation will keep working to show the value of TEK by amplifying the voices of Indigenous peoples and local communities. And by funding projects that are designed, led and implemented by the bearers of this knowledge.

We are an ally to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities dealing with matters of access to Health and Water and the protection of the right to maintain traditional ways of living in harmony with Nature.

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