Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Information pertaining to Traditional Ecological Knowledge methods.

When All Peoples Have the Same Story, Humans will Cease to Exist: Protecting and Conserving Traditional Knowledge

A Report for the Biodiversity Convention Office
Prepared for the Dene Cultural Institute
by: Aggie Brockman
with the assistance of Barney Masuzumi and Stephen Augustine
September, 1997

Traditional Knowledge has become acknowledged in the past 20 years as having great
potential to contribute to environmental conservation and management. Biological
diversity is increasingly recognized as interdependent with cultural diversity, which in
turn relies on traditional knowledge, the cornerstone for the cultural identity of
indigenous peoples.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge is a body of knowledge built up by a group of people
through generations of living in close contact with nature. Traditional Knowledge is
cumulative and dynamic. It builds upon the historic experiences of a people and adapts
to social, economic, environmental, spiritual and political change. The quantity and
quality of Traditional Knowledge differs among community members according to their
gender, age, social standing, profession and intellectual capabilities. While those
concerned about biological diversity will be most interested in knowledge about the
environment, this information must be understood in a manner which encompasses
knowledge about the cultural, economic, political and spiritual relationships with the land
(Brockman and Legat, 1995). “It provides a distinctive worldview of which outsiders are
rarely aware, and at best can only incompletely grasp” (Greaves 1996).

Defining Traditional Knowledge is the responsibility of First Nations and Inuit. It may
not be possible, or advisable for one definition to be adopted universally (Brooke 1993).
“It resists simple, abstract and objective definitions and focuses on inter-relatedness”
(Couture 1991 quoted in Friesen 1995).

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Political Anthropology of TEK in the Canadian Subarctic

Roy C. Dudgeon, M. A.

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Submitted to Crossing Boundaries, the Seventh Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property, Vancouver, British Columbia. June 9-14, 1998.

This paper shall present the preliminary findings of my Ph. D. research in anthropology at the University of Manitoba. As a whole, this project is intended to describe and compare the worldviews, as systems of knowledge, of First Nations in the Canadian subarctic to that of public and private development planners, in order to better understand the ongoing disputes between the two. This preliminary paper, however, shall focus more narrowly upon the role which Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) has played in recent disputes over land use between First Nations peoples and development planners, and the manner in which they have deployed TEK in their presentations to various legal and political bodies. The methodological and theoretical approaches of the paper have been developed in my earlier writings, and are best understood through a description of the same. The methodology which the paper shall deploy was first developed in an earlier manuscript, Common Ground: Ecology & Native American Philosophy, which is currently being revised for resubmission at the request of a major Canadian academic press.

This work illustrates the many similarities linking Native American philosophies with recent ecological philosophies, and their common differences from the modern philosophy of the contemporary Western world. The methodology employed was to directly compare Western philosophical works to the literature, narratives and oratory of Native American peoples since first contact. Thus, rather than turning to ethnographic accounts of Aboriginal philosophies, as so much previous anthropology has done, it turned directly to their own literatures. This allowed for an equitable comparison of the various philosophies considered, since all were accessed in the same manner-through a comparison of primary sources.

The same methodology shall be deployed in the current paper, which shall turn to primary documents in order to reach an understanding of the role which TEK plays in land use disputes. The narratives considered shall include, though not be confined to: 1. recent presentations to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), which were recorded at the RCAP's public hearings, and 2. the presentations of the Moose River/James Bay Coalition to the Environmental Assessment Board of Ontario concerning James Bay hydroelectric development. While the primary focus shall be upon the various Cree Nations of the Canadian subarctic, the views of other peoples may also be included. The theoretical framework which shall be deployed in the current paper was most fully developed in my M. A. Thesis, The Pattern Which Connects: Ecology, Anthropology & Postmodernity (York University, 1996). This work developed a theoretical orientation based upon the works of ecological anthropologist, Gregory Bateson, and discussed its significance for contemporary anthropology. Such an eco-holist approach, or postmodern science, is also closely linked to other recent schools of ecological philosophy-such as deep ecology, ecofeminism, and social ecology. Its basic insight is shared with the discipline of ecology itself-that all things are interconnected in living systems. Thus, while the current work shall focus upon the role of TEK in recent political and legal disputes and presentations, it shall not ignore the larger relationships between ideological, social and ecological systems, nor the political relationships between First Nations and development planners, and the implications of each view for ecological relationships and practices.

The objectives of the paper will be threefold, each of which builds upon the previous themes. Firstly, as noted, it shall attempt to illustrate the political role which TEK has played in recent land use disputes between development planners and First Nations peoples in the Canadian subarctic, through an examination of the public presentations made by various Aboriginal groups in order to represent their views to the larger Canadian population. This shall allow for the development of the second theme, which is a comparison of the different approaches to the "management" of common property resources on the part of the two parties. In other words, it shall allow for a comparison of the management approaches suggested by the TEK of Aboriginal groups, with the management approaches of the modern Western techno-economic view, as well as the ecological consequences which have tended to follow from the adoption and practice of each view. This section shall suggest that while TEK has more often than not lead to sustainable management of the commons, the techno-economic view has tended towards a short term, profit oriented approach, which erodes the resource base over a relatively short period of time.

Finally, with this comparison in hand, the paper shall conclude with a brief discussion and critique of "The Tragedy of the Commons," as described by Garrett Hardin. For if, as the case studies shall attempt to illustrate, we must admit both that: 1. Aboriginal and Western peoples have different worldviews which, when enacted in practice, suggest different methods of managing and interacting with the commons, and that, 2. the former practices have tended to be more sustainable, while only the latter have tended to embody the "tragedy" described by Hardin, then his arguments must be reassessed. Thus, the conclusion shall use the case studies outlined above to critique, once again, the short comings of Hardin's views, and to suggest that the tragedy in question might be more aptly dubbed "the tragedy of capitalism in a commons."

Control and Access to Indigenous knowledge and Biological Resources

Submitted by Yianna Lambrou, Ph.D
to the Biodiversity Convention Office
Environment Canada
October 31, 1997

As indigenous peoples increasingly manage theiraffairs in ways they see culturally and spiritually appropriate, theyhave expressed concern over the trespasses committed by non-indigenouspeoples seeking to use, manage and control the land and its resources.Motivated by an exclusively human-centered point of view non-indigenouspolicies, research, laws, and economic mechanisms, have in many casesexploited resources and disregarded relationships that are destroyingthe capacity of indigenous peoples to be responsible to the ‘seventhgeneration’ (Clarkson et al, 1993).
This paper will seek to providea critical analysis of the means, both currently existing andenvisioned, by which indigenous peoples can control access to and theuse of their biological resources. Since extensive work has alreadybeen done on a previous paper on Benefit Sharing and IndigenousKnowledge (submitted to the Biodiversity Convention Office, September28, 1997) it will not be necessary to repeat the discussion on thenature of indigenous knowledge but use it as the basis for the analysisin this paper.
“Control of access” refers to the self-determinedprocess of managing biological and other resources in a holistic way tosustain indigenous peoples and their cultures, the environment andtheir natural resources for present and future generations. Control ofaccess to biological resources is a contentious topic for indigenousand non-indigenous peoples since it entails a clash of cultural andspiritual approaches to the use of land based on different values,concepts of power sharing and equity. For example, the concept of“control” stimulates memories of colonization and marginalization forindigenous peoples as well as the rude experiences of extractivistmethods of resource exploitation for profit, to the detriment of theenvironment and cultural integrity. Control of access is a politicalissue of self-government and self-determination, as well as an issue ofhuman rights and ethics.
In the review of the literature, I haveidentified below the most important contested areas for the control ofindigenous knowledge and biological resources.
Relationship between researchers and Indigenous communities.Research and the subsequent need for ethical guidelines for workingwith communities given the impact research has on the survival ofindigenous knowledge and the spiritual and economic well-being ofcommunities.
Relationship between Indigenous communities and Provincial and Federal governments.How non-indigenous research is interpreted (and the legislation, actionand policies) that ensue from this research which includescomanagement, environmental assessments and natural resourcesmanagement practices.
Relations between indigenous communities and corporate/commercial interests.The role of self-determination and self-government which underliesdiscussions of control and benefit sharing and therefore the legalmechanisms available for controlling the use of indigenous knowledge,biological resources and the long term benefits of these resources forindigenous peoples. This topic was analysed extensively in my paper“Benefit Sharing and Indigenous Knowledge” presented to EnvironmentCanada; the paper on Intellectual Properties by Howard Mann alsopresented covered most of the relevant issues. For this reason thelegal and intellectual property controls mechanisms will not bediscussed here. The issues of land claims, self-determination andself-government should be assumed to permeate and underlie alldiscussions on control mechanisms. Until indigenous peoples have theright to manage and be fully responsible for their affairs, any controlmechanisms over biological resources will only be partially successful.
Relations within indigenous communities and the non-indigenous world.Control of access to biological resources has been denied to indigenouspeoples by historical circumstances and political decisions. Lack ofpower and control over their environment is seen as a denial of theirhuman rights as a sovereign people. Therefore political action isneeded globally to rectify past injustices that will heal communitiesby restoring cultural autonomy, respect for their knowledge andself-reliance.

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Intellectual Property Rights, Biodiversity and Indigenous knowledge: A Critical Analysis in the Canadian Context

by Howard Mann

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The Convention on Biological Diversity, more commonly referred to as the Biodiversity Convention, was completed in 1992 and entered into force in 1993.1  Among the many features of the Convention are a series of provisions relating to indigenous peoples, their knowledge, and their role in protecting and supporting the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources.  The Convention, in this respect, made clear the view that the preservation of biodiversity required, in many ways, the preservation of cultural diversity and the respect for and inclusion of the diverse range of knowledge that could be brought forward by indigenous peoples.

The negotiation and inclusion of these provisions was one of the most controversial elements of the Convention process.  They have, since first appearing in draft form, generated a large international debate on the relationship between the knowledge held by indigenous peoples and its recognition and protection through intellectual property rights and laws.2

For the purposes of this paper, this knowledge is referred to as indigenous knowledge, or IK. Indigenous knowledge has different meanings to different people, or peoples.  No one definition has been universally endorsed or accepted by either Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal peoples in .  What is clear, however, is that indigenous knowledge as a concept concerns information, understanding and knowledge that reflects symbiotic relationships between individuals, communities, generations, the physical environment and other living creatures, and the spiritual relationships of a people.  IK evolves as ecosystem and other factors change, but remains grounded in the more enduring aspects of identity, culture, generations and spirituality.

The key area within this very broad definitional context that will be focused on in this report is the indigenous knowledge relating to the quality and condition of the environment, and the use or conservation of biodiversity.  This limitation does not mean that the critical holistic nature of indigenous knowledge is not recognized for purposes of this study.  Rather, the study focuses on that knowledge which is most relevant in its main point of expression to the conservation and sustainable use issues that underlie the Biodiversity Convention.

This approach also highlights a critical issue: the substance of IK is not the same for each Native community.  To the extent IK is dependent on, or variable with the local environment and local living resources, the substance will be specific to the local area of the knowledge holders.  In a biodiversity context, this places an important emphasis on ensuring the contribution of the appropriate knowledge holders.

The goal of this paper is to go outside the precise terms and frame of reference of the international debate, and undertake a critical review of the relationship between intellectual property rights, indigenous knowledge and the protection and conservation of biodiversity in .  To do this, the paper will look first at what the international debate is about: the provisions contained in the Biodiversity Convention, related work in the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the role of the 1994 World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, and work in the Organization of American States in this area.

Having set the stage of the international debate, the paper then moves to a consideration of Canadian IPR laws.  A brief introduction and categorization of these laws is followed by a statute and common law centred view of their relationship to indigenous knowledge.  This orientation takes the statutes (or common law) as the starting point: what are the existing opportunities and barriers to the use of IPR law in in relation to IK?

The subsequent section will reverse this approach.  It will take indigenous knowledge as the starting point and ask what type of protection and respect is being sought by Aboriginal peoples in , and how does this fit with or require alterations in addition to IPR law as it exists today.  This section puts a greater premium on an understanding of these objectives, and an ability to place them into the context of the existing goals and framework of IPRs in and globally.  The goal here is to place them into a context in which the best means to consider them can be systematically identified and developed.

Two concerns underlie a great deal of what follows.  The first is that much of what is known today as intellectual property rights or laws have been derived from a commercial or commercialization context that is inconsistent with or otherwise not applicable to indigenous knowledge and its holders.

The second issue flows in many ways from the first.  This is the use of the terms and language from the existing superstructure of intellectual property law to identify what deserves or does not deserve to be called a right.  This creates, it is submitted, the reverse approach to what is likely to be needed to overcome the rhetoric that has become the hallmark of the debate.  In determining whether indigenous knowledge is “deserving” of being called intellectual property or of having intellectual property rights protection through reference to the existing legal structures, we in reality avoid the preliminary, but critical, policy question of whether it is deserving of protection.  Only after answering this question in the affirmative in a policy context, and then identifying what type of protections are desirable, can the next step of applying existing laws towards this end, or developing new laws, be successfully tackled.  It is hoped that the structure of this paper will help highlight this difficulty, and assist in identifying a productive way forward.

The final section of this paper will try to synthesize the author’s understanding of the objectives for the protection of IK, where these can be accommodated by existing IPRs or by other types of laws, and where new legislation may be required.  An effort will also be made to relate this to necessary international approaches in addition to potential domestic approaches.

An intriguing quote from a recent book on Canadian intellectual property law provides an appropriate conclusion to this introduction:

In a general sense, intellectual property law is about those legal principles that regulate the exploitation of ideas, creations or information.  Ironically, of the three categories, that of ideas is the most problematic for the intellectual property lawyers.3

If ideas constitute a serious problem for intellectual property law, what then of indigenous knowledge with its confluence of what many IP lawyers would call ideas, culture, information and knowledge?  How can this fit with the superstructure of intellectual property law that has been developed to give enforceability specifically to the rights articulated almost exclusively to support western commercial practices?

1. The Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992, 31 International Legal Materials 822 (1992).  was the first OECD country to ratify the Convention, in December, 1992.  Biodiversity” is shorthand for the Convention term of “biological diversity”, defined as the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are a part; this includes diversity within species, between species and ecosystems.

2. A review of much of this literature is found in Howard Mann, Intellectual Property Rights, Biotechnology and the Protection of Biodiversity, prepared for Industry , Intellectual Property Policy Directorate, January 1996

3.  Milan Chromecek and Stuart McCormack, World Intellectual Property Guidebook: , Matthew Bender, Times Mirror Books, 1991, Introduction, p. 1-4.