Converging knowledges to inform and empower conservation

While Indigenous Knowledge always has been and will always remain important in its own right, examples of Indigenous Knowledge intersecting with and contributing to science are becoming common in scientific literature.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to travel aboard the Raincoast vessel Achiever with several other members of the ACS lab to participate in Koeye camp, a cultural revitalization and education program operated by the Heiltsuk First Nation’s QQS Projects Society. We were there to engage with the youth campers about the research conducted by Raincoast in the area. Each of us, however, left having learned more than we taught.

Something that struck me was how easily the campers were able to apply their traditional teachings to the scientific information and methods we shared to them. Questions and insights seemed to originate from them in a way that brought out aspects of both knowledge systems in surprising and unique ways. This experience made me think about the broader ways in which ‘ways of knowing’ interact.

While Indigenous Knowledge (IK) always has been and will always remain important in its own right, examples of IK intersecting with and contributing to science are becoming common in scientific literature. Understanding the potential connections between IK and science is emerging as a central topic in my graduate research.

Recent calls for integrating IK with science not only holds promises for a greater understanding of ecological processes, but also presents challenges to weaving together these distinct ways of knowing. The varied modes of knowledge acquisition and transmission that characterize IK can be difficult to reconcile (by scientists, at least) with the standardized approaches of scientific inquiry. However, as I delve further into this topic, I believe there may be more complementarities than one would expect, and recent papers show how this is possible. For example, a recent paper by ACS graduate student and Raincoast fellow Lauren Eckert highlighted how IK can extend historical baseline estimates of rockfish size – a quantitative approach realized not via calipers but via interviews with Knowledge Holders. Several years earlier, PhD student Christina Service showed how Indigenous Knowledge and science – united – could provide more comprehensive insight into the recent colonization of islands by grizzly bears than any approach alone.

Ultimately, the promises of integrating knowledge from IK with science extend beyond a greater understanding of ecosystems and processes that shape them. It also has the potential to spark new dialogues about the nature of wildlife management, governance, social justice, and the validity of different ontologies. Clearly, guidance from Indigenous scholars, practitioners, and colleagues will be important for me to think about this carefully. For me, the trend towards a more integrated approach to understanding the world is reflected in the campers at Koeye and underscores the possibilities of respectfully broadening the scope of ecological research.

A version of this dispatch was first published by the Raincoast Applied Conservation Science Lab.

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.