Canadian government awards contracts to research the traditional knowledge of First Nations elders and communities.

The indigenous peoples of northern Canada and other Arctic regions around the world have long argued they are the first to experience and suffer from the effects of global warming.

They also possess a wealth of traditional ecological knowledge — through oral histories, hunting and fishing patterns, and other observations that come from calling a place home for millennia — that can document the effects of the changing climate and, perhaps, offer solutions on how to better protect it.

Canada looks like it might be starting to pay more attention.

Traditional knowledge in the Northwest Territories

Natural Resources Canada is awarding contracts to study traditional and cultural knowledge on climate and environmental change in the Northwest Territories to the North Slave M├ętis Alliance and the government of the Tlicho First Nation.

“This contractor may use a variety of data-collection methods, including interviews with community members that have direct experience with land-use, environmental and climate change in their cultural lands,” says the advance contract award notice posted to a government tenders website.

Traditional knowledge meets western science

Jennifer Galloway, a federal research scientist in the Calgary office of the Geological Survey of Canada, said the reports from the indigenous communities are part of a three-year project on geoscience tools that can be used to support environmental risk assessments of metal mining in the Canadian Arctic.

“It’s a way to calibrate our western scientific reconstructions of past climate against the oral histories that are provided by these First Nations groups in the Northwest Territories,” Galloway said in an interview.

Increasing confidence

“Some of the information that we might produce with western scientific knowledge, like the position of a tree line or where it was warmer or longer ice free seasons, this is the same type of information that can be provided with traditional knowledge,” said Galloway, who is working on the project funded by Polar Knowledge Canada, with Tim Patterson, a geology professor at Carleton University.

“If we are both reporting the same thing at the same time, that increases our confidence that these are accurate reconstructions,” she said.

Vancouver Declaration

The Vancouver Declaration that came out of the March 3 first ministers meeting, where much of the focus had been on disagreements over a national carbon-pricing plan, also said Trudeau and the premiers recognized “the importance of traditional ecological knowledge in regard to understanding climate impacts and adaptation measures.”

National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations said he included it in his address to Trudeau and the premiers at their meeting with indigenous leaders in Vancouver the day before.

The language of knowledge

Tero Mustonen, the executive director of Snowchange, a non-profit organization based in Finland that incorporates traditional knowledge into its work on climate change in the Arctic, said place names are another example of how traditional knowledge can be used to document the changing climate.

“You might have a place name in a local language that talks about a place of pine forests and today it’s filled with birch or some other type of tree,” Mustonen said in an interview.

First-hand knowledge

Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod said his government has had a policy on traditional knowledge for about 25 years and so has much to teach the rest of the country and the world.

“I look at all the changes that are being caused by climate change up here and some of them probably can only be explained by understanding traditional knowledge,” said McLeod, explaining, for example, that knowing a species of fish that used to be caught in a particular river supports the notion that the temperature of the water is rising.

Course for the future

Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day said traditional knowledge can play a role in setting a course for the future, too.

Elders know, for example, that some roads were built along First Nations trap lines that followed the migration of animals and it is from these patterns they are able to tell the health of the local moose population.

“Oftentimes western science won’t be able to explain something, but it is the way it has always been in certain parts of the land . . . The elders will always say those things have to be maintained, that’s just our responsibility to uphold that,” said Day.

Responses to "Canada Seeks Traditional Aboriginal Knowledge On Climate Change"

  1. I would love to be part of this movement of merging science with TEK. I would especially love work in this field if there are any opportunities out there. Thank you.

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