Observations on the Utility of the Semi-directive Interview for Documenting Traditional Ecological Knowledge

By Henry P. Huntington

Vol. 51, No. 3 (September 1998) p. 237–242, Arctic

Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) offers ecological information and insight relevant to ecological management and research that cannot be obtained from other sources. Its use is hindered by difficulties of access, in that TEK is typically not available to a wide audience. Documentation can overcome this obstacle, allowing TEK to be considered with other forms of easily disseminated information. This paper describes the author’s experience using the semi-directive interview to document TEK about beluga whales in Alaska. This method allows the participants as well as the researcher to guide the interview, so that associations made by the participant, and not just those anticipated by the researcher, are discussed. Using maps as the starting point for discussions with individuals or groups, the interviews covered expected topics, such as migration and feeding behavior, as well as unanticipated topics, such as the possible influence of beavers on beluga distribution. The primary research session was followed a year later by a review session to verify the accuracy of the draft report, add missing information, or remove information the publication of which might harm community interests. The author found the semi-directive interview to be an effective and powerful method for accurate and comprehensive documentation of TEK. It worked especially well in group interviews, which allowed participants to stimulate and validate each other.

Key words:
traditional ecological knowledge, TEK, semi-directive interview, documentation, beluga, Delphinapterus leucas

Full Text: http://pubs.aina.ucalgary.ca/arctic/Arctic51-3-237.pdf