My previous post on the strategic uses of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) spawned a discussion about the history of the label and identified similar or complementary approaches to the documentation of knowledge about the land held by indigenous peoples. Adam Henne’s comment (#5) is particularly provocative. In it, he writes:
… for the knowledge and practices of indigenous people to have standing in court they must be turned into “TEK” by a credentialed representative.
This point can be extended to the application of TEK more generally – TEK studies fuel the consulting industry in places like British Columbia in large part because the government and industry want (require) the outside expert to offer information related to land use and the environment in a non-native idiom. To do so, the outside expert is often expected to ‘translate’ native ways of seeing the world into maps, reports, and databases.
This discussion encourages further critique of the uneven power relations between aboriginal peoples and governments/industry. It raises question about the direction in which information, codified as TEK, flows. As Paul Nadasdy says in his book about the Kluane of the Yukon: “[indigenous knowledge studies focus] on the incorporation of First Nations cultural elements into existing Euro-Canadian institutional contexts without ever questioning the appropriateness of such a project” (Nadasdy 2003:10). To that I’d add: ‘without questioning the possibility of such a project.’
While I feel that discussions of TEK might start conversations, I am concerned about finding ways other than the translation of knowledge to incorporate indigenous views of the world into industrial development, biological studies, land claims agreements, and other cross-cultural projects. In my own work, I aim for this by attending to the speech acts and events associated with discussion about the environment – and that probably falls short when the audience is uninformed or unreceptive to narrative data. Are there other ways to promote the dialogue without favoring one side and its goals so heavily?
(And this is my last post … thanks again to everyone at SM for the opportunity to write here over the past couple of weeks. I have an increased amount of respect for all of you and the astonishing rate of high quality and thought-provoking posts you publish.)
Nadasdy, Paul. 2003. Hunters and Bureaucrats: Power, Knowledge, and Aboriginal-State Relations in the Southwest Yukon . Vancouver: UBC Press.
Cruikshank, Julie. 1998. The Social Life of Stories: Narrative and Knowledge in the Yukon Territory. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press.