Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Traditional ecological knowledge is knowledge gained through interactions between humans and their environments over millennia. Traditional ecological knowledge is inherently adaptive and in constant evolution as it comes from human adaptation to its surroundings. An intimate sense of respect for nature in its diversity is a vital component of the knowledge shared with each new generation. Traditional ecological knowledge changes through time, but not its basic elements of respect, observation, regular interaction, innovation and sharing.
Traditional ecological knowledge is still an important factor in our society, especially for those who interact daily with our natural environment, such as foresters, farmers, hunters, fishers, conservationists, naturalists and First Nations. It is found often in our older generations. However, traditional ecological knowledge is rarely used in the decision-making processes of our society.
Traditional ecological knowledge is dependant on a regular relation with other beings and Earth’s natural systems. As Earth’s natural systems are changing and being degraded rapidly by humans for short-term profits, so too is traditional ecological knowledge. Today, traditional ecological knowledge is still present but silenced by our institutions, isolating it from the realities of decision-making.
For centuries the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot people lived and thrived in this region relying on their traditional ecological knowledge. European settlers to the region came to know their new natural surroundings in order to survive, aided by the knowledge shared by First Nations. They passed on that understanding to future generations. Many cultural, political, social and economic decisions were made based on this traditional or local knowledge. Afraid of the exploitation that has occurred over the centuries through misappropriation, traditional knowledge keepers have learned to guard it from abuse. Yet, carefully sharing the knowledge for the well being of all is essential to future generations.
On February 26, 2009, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, the Schoodic Band of the Passamaquoddy Nation of St. Andrew’s, the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence Coalition on Sustainability and the Bay of Fundy Ecosystem Partnership (BoFep) hosted a talking circle on conservation and cooperation at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
A commonality shared by all participants at the talking circle was a relationship of friendship with Chief Hugh Akagi of the Schoodic Band of the Passamaquoddy; either directly or through his friends. This permitted the conversations, even sensitive ones, to be held in respect and recognition of our mutual friendship. Participants came from all the Maritime provinces and Maine.
One of the outcomes of the talking circle was increased awareness of the realities, concerns and perspectives of the First Nations in regards to conservation and relations with non-natives. Another outcome was the creation of a video by BoFep of the talking circle for educational purposes. The talking circle facilitated the creation of new relations, which were of use in accomplishing the second part of this project.
The second part of the project was to hold conversations through an informal interview process with traditional forest knowledge keepers in different parts of New Brunswick. The goal of each interview was to identify what, according to their perspective and experience, are the challenges to the health of the Acadian forest and its species; how traditional ecological knowledge could be applied in our efforts to ensure a healthy forest for future generations, and how traditional ecological knowledge can be protected from abuse in New Brunswick.
Participation in this project was voluntary. Those receiving the knowledge shared met the participants in their chosen location and respected each of their comfort level of participation. They were given the option of participating individually or in small groups. The knowledge keepers were given the choice of including their name or remaining anonymous in this report. The report attempts to capture the thoughts and insights of the knowledge keepers as it relates to ensuring healthy natural forests for future generations. This report has been shared with all participants to ensure the content is accurate and approved by all.
An accompanying poster to this report captures, in quotes and pictures, the main themes of the conversations. The poster, in English, French, Maliseet and Mi’kmaq, will be distributed to First Nation centres, schools, government departments and agencies and the wider public throughout the province in 2009 and 2010.
This project is one of many regional efforts by non-governmental organisations and traditional knowledge keepers to ensure this knowledge regains a place of importance in informing our decisions and is not lost for future generations.
The current state of what we referred to as “Acadian forest” today and the challenges that await us because of climate change make it necessary for our decision makers to revisit the importance and place of traditional ecological knowledge in decisions that affect our forest.
Check out the report on the conversations held with forest knowledge keepers. The project as a whole provided a means to assist local efforts to bring together those interested in seeing the Acadian forest and traditional ecological knowledge restored.
In the spirit of decolonization and justice, protecting the forest of our region must involve processes of reclamation of traditional knowledge and culture, and reassertion of the original inhabitants of this land as a distinct identity. Decisions regarding the Acadian Forest must respect treaty rights and recognise that the lands of the province of New Brunswick were never ceded to the British Crown by the First Nations. These processes are necessary for the appropriate integration of traditional ecological knowledge in decision making.