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On the Role of Traditional Ecological Knowledge as a Collaborative Concept: A Philosophical Study

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Document pages: 12 pages

Abstract: The concept of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), along with synonymous or closely related terms like indigenous knowledge and native science, has some of its origins in literatures on international development and adaptive management. There is a tendency to want to determine one definition for TEK that can satisfy every stakeholder in every situation. Yet a scan of environmental science and policy literatures reveals there to be differences in definitions that make it difficult to form a consensus. What should be explored instead is the role that the concept of TEK plays in facilitating or discouraging cross-cultural and cross-situational collaboration among actors working for indigenous and non-indigenous institutions of environmental governance, such as tribal natural resources departments, federal agencies working with tribes, and co-management boards. I argue that the concept of TEK should be understood as a collaborative concept. It serves to invite diverse populations to continually learn from one another about how each approaches the very question of “knowledge” in the first place, and how these different approaches can be blended to better steward natural resources and adapt to climate change. The implication is that environmental scientists and policy professionals, indigenous and non-indigenous, should not be in the business of creating definitions of TEK. Instead, they should focus more on creating long term processes that allow the different implications of approaches to knowledge in relation to stewardship goals to be responsibly thought through.

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