Traditional ecological knowledge or TEK is a term used to describe “a cumulative body of knowledge, practice, and belief, evolving by adaptive processes and handed down through generations by cultural transmission about the relationships of living beings (including humans) with one another and the environment” (Berkes, 1999, p. 8). It refers to the evolving knowledge acquired by indigenous and local peoples over hundreds or thousands of years through direct contact with the environment. This type of knowledge is found in cultures that validate their nature connection experiences and validate the derived wisdom. TEK's importance is increasingly validated as a means to offer possible solutions to the ecological problems we face.
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has adopted the ‘ecosystem approach’ as a way to approach environmental wicked (complex) problems. The approach has 12 guiding principles* out of which principle 11 says: ‘The ecosystem approach should consider all forms of relevant information, including scientific and indigenous and local knowledge, innovations and practices. Information from all sources is critical to arriving at effective ecosystem management strategies.’ This principle shows that the ecosystem approach to environmental problem solving, values and validates TEK as well as conventional scientific knowledge in its importance to understanding and working with ecosystems.
Indigenous societies have maintained a close tie to their land in both their cultural and economic practices. Their cultures understands natural law, the law of the earth, as they have been nourished by, and have nourished their ties to their particular territory. Their distinctive social, cultural, economic and political characteristics have a direct connection to the place they inhabit.
David Garneau, one of the curators of Transformer / Native art in Light and Sound uses the term Indigenous contemporary, referring to Indigenous artists who have embraced current, cutting edge contemporary artistic practices. He says 'The role of indigenous contemporary artist is to tap into ancient springs and serve sustenance in new skins'.
I saw the above mentioned exhibition in the National Museum of the American Indian (NYC) and was inspired by contemporary practices that brought forth the artistic discourse of people whose art seems to link directly to a connection to place. It highlighted the deep relevance Indigenous culture has within Western contemporary culture in transmitting distinct ways of 'seeing' and inspire ecological thinking.
Traditional Indigenous ways of thinking can guide us to re-imagine our own culture in a way that is less divorced from the natural world. Contemporary Art and storytelling play a vital role in transmitting and disseminating this wisdom.
Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan 1&2
We will again open this container of wisdom that has been left in our care
* IUCN’s classification of the 12 principles of the Ecosystem Approach (Shepherd, 2008, p. 5.)