What Is Traditional Ecological Knowledge?

Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) “refers to the evolving knowledge acquired by indigenous and local peoples over hundreds or thousands of years through direct contact with the environment.” Also known as traditional environmental knowledge, it is “specific to a location and includes the relationships between plants, animals, natural phenomena, landscapes and timing of events that are used for lifeways, including but not limited to hunting, fishing, trapping, agriculture, and forestry.”

TEK has a long and complicated history with Western science, which historically viewed indigenous knowledge as contrary to scientific inquiry. Scientists—generally privileged outsiders with colonial mindsets—would disregard local communities’ traditional knowledge, often resulting in issues like mismanagement of natural resources.

Today, however, that relationship is on the mend. Climate projects in particular work with indigenous communities around the world, approaching research with an albeit imperfect mix of science and TEK. As TEK is increasingly accepted and employed, many causes are benefitting from indigenous knowledge. One such area is sustainable food systems.


TEK and Sustainable Food Systems

As global populations struggle with unsustainable food systems, leaders, researchers, and policymakers are turning to TEK to provide frameworks for sustainability. Indigenous land management has been shown to be “highly productive, sustainable, and equitable,” with systems that “preserve rich biodiversity, provide nutritious food, and are climate resilient and low carbon.” TEK has also enabled indigenous communities to uphold the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals—which are proving incredibly difficult for much of the world to achieve.

Working toward a better future and a more sustainable global food system requires acknowledging and embracing TEK. And from the example of TEK, we are shown the value of addressing problems at a local level, with community knowledge. Here at Appetite For Change, we’re working hard to create sustainable food systems in North Minneapolis. Working with partners and leaders in our community, we’re using food as a tool to build health, wealth, and social change.

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