Monday, 27 September 2010 13:21

Comparing traditional and scientific knowledge

In August 2010, the European Environment Agency in association with BIO Intelligence Service prepared a draft report on Arctic peoples traditional knowledge. Shailendra Mudgal, Anne Turbé, and Sandra Berman are the leading authors of the report.

Especially in the Arctic, indigenous knowledge and local observations are extremely valuable in providing detailed information about the region, regarding environmental and climatic conditions as well as the cultural heritage of the localities. As such, indigenous knowledge just like scientific knowledge can be used to provide identification of environmental changes, the behaviour of species, and adaptation processes within particular ecosystems. However, a paradox is appearing when comparing traditional and scientific knowledge. Regarding climate changes, the same interests would be shared by governments and indigenous peoples alike, namely, how to conserve the area. The paradox relies on the fact that the approaches for protecting the area would be very different. Taken as an example, the approach of a government would lack factors concerning cultural and traditional heritage and identity values, as an indigenous approach would. It is one of the several conclusions of this recently prepared report. 

“The case study on Arctic peoples is intended to provide insights into how decisionmakers use or could use indigenous knowledge (that Arctic peoples have) when implementing decisions” – in this manner the authors introduce into the detailed study on possible complementarities, relations as well as paradoxes linked to the use of traditional knowledge and Western scientific knowledge.

The report provides a great insight into several projects and monitoring programmes that include indigenous observations, taxonomies and inferences, and, at the same time, enable the Native communities to participate in research.

Another important point of the report is its systematic account on the theoretical approach to definitions of indigenous knowledge. References are made to scholars such as Doherty S., Krupnik I., and Usher P.J. among others. 

There are many distinctions between these ways of gathering knowledge. The following quotation reflects this assumption: “The scientific knowledge will be produced to answer a specific question, while traditional knowledge builds through a lifetime’s experience, and may thus not apply directly to the specific question that is asked in the decision-making process”.

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Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat
Fram Centre, Postboks 6606 Langnes, NO-9296 Tromsø, Norway