Traditional Ecological Knowledge


The terms ‘Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK),’ ‘traditional knowledge,’ and ‘indigenous knowledge’ are often used interchangeably. Defined in many ways, they reflect concepts that have no singular, universal description. Traditional knowledge can be expressed in various ways but most often is transmitted interpersonally by individuals entrusted with its care through languages, stories, songs.


Some look at TEK as knowledge systems of community, traditions, rituals, practices, and moral values that reflect an intergenerational worldview of interrelationships with the environment. Others view it more as linked to spiritual beliefs, cultural practices, and ways of life. To many, TEK is a combination of all of these things.


TEK often differs from the more western-based, scientific ecological knowledge (often referred to as “SEK”) that typically is applied in natural resource agencies. The way scientists describe plants, animals, and ecosystems can be very different from a native perspective. Scientists describe plants and animals as inanimate or as objects, in ways that can be inconsistent with the Native perspective in which we are all connected, living beings. Whereas SEK emphasizes trial-and-error learning obtained through controlled observation, TEK Holders obtain knowledge through direct connections with the environment, viewing the knowledge as a gift from the Creator, the Ancestors, and the spirit world. As noted by an Anishinaabe Elder, “Our people do not define; they describe.


Despite these differing approaches to ecological knowledge and how it is gathered, both TEK and SEK play a critical role in GLIFWC’s work protecting treaty resources in the Ceded Territories. In GLIFWC’s Climate Change Program, we strive to integrate each knowledge form in a way that is both complementary to and supportive of the other. Both systems of knowledge provide the foundation for our work in assessing climate change impacts in the Ceded Territories and how GLIFWC can best adapt to them.


Melonee Montano is GLIFWC’s TEK Outreach Specialist. Melonee’s work focuses on interviewing tribal Harvesters and Knowledge Holders, listening to their stories and observations of the natural world and how climate change may be affecting treaty resources.  



To read more about Melonee Montano, GLIFWC TEK specialist, go to Mazina'igan Summer 2016

To hear about some of the traditional knowledge our Harvesters and Knowledge Holders have shared with Melonee recently, go to Mazina'igan Fall 2016


To read about the ceremony held by GLIFWC and partners to acknowledge the tree and plant beings monitored at the GLIFWC phenology study site, go to Mazina'igan Winter 2015