Indigenous Knowledge, Peoples and Sustainable Practice

By Douglas Nakashima and Marie Roué

Volume 5: Social and economic dimensions of global environmental change (pp 314–324)

In Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change

Indigenous knowledge is entering into the mainstream of sustainable development and biodiversity conservation discourse. Article 8(j) of the Convention of Biological Diversity (Rio, 1992) has contributed to this process by requiring signatories to: "respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional life-styles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity".

As the potential contribution for indigenous knowledge to key items on the global agenda gains widening recognition, an increasing number of scientists and policy-makers are calling for the integration of indigenous and science-based knowledge. While indigenous peoples who have been lobbying for such recognition have reason to be satisfied, there are also reasons for concern.

Are scientists serious enough about this emerging issue to go so far as to question the construction of their own knowledge? Or at the end of the day, will they do little more than add a veneer of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and then carry on business as usual? For the time being, the scientific and the development communities views indigenous knowledge first and foremost as a resource to be appropriated and exploited. Integration with (or more accurately into) science implies the application of a validation process based on scientific criteria that purportedly separates the useful from the useless, objective from the subjective, indigenous ‘science’ from indigenous ‘beliefs’.

Through this process, knowledge corresponding with the paradigm of Western science is extracted, and the rest is rejected. While this cognitive mining may be profitable to science, it threatens indigenous knowledge systems with dismemberment and dispossession.

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