Indigenous Knowledge posters

A series of seven indigenous knowledge posters was launched by the LINKS Programme at the National Cultural Centre of Vanuatu in December 2008. These posters introduce important concepts and issues relating to knowledge in indigenous societies today. They are illustrated with case studies and images from around the world. The posters serve as a learning resource that strengthens awareness of the many opportunities and challenges facing indigenous knowledge holders. They may be used in a variety of educational settings within schools or the community.

The posters are available (in PDF) in Bislama (Vanuatu), English, French, Russian and Spanish languages. Localized editions of the posters have been produced in the Philippines, where an English-language local edition has been published by indigenous NGO, Tebtebba with a Philippine language version to be developed in 2011.

To order hardcopies (size: 47cm x 68cm), email links(at)

Strong roots for sustainable development
‘Local and indigenous knowledge’ refers to the understandings, skills and philosophies developed by societies with long histories of interaction with their natural surroundings. For rural and indigenous peoples, local knowledge informs decision making about fundamental aspects of day-to-day life.

This knowledge is integral to a cultural complex that also encompasses language, systems of classification, resource use practices, social interactions, rituals and spirituality.

These unique ways of knowing are important components of the world’s cultural diversity, and provide a foundation for locally-appropriate sustainable development.

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Gender & knowledge complementary ways of knowing
Women and men possess extensive bodies of knowledge and skills. However, women have their own areas of expertise and their own modes of knowledge transmission. Their knowledge is vital for sustaining community livelihoods, values and well-being.

Indigenous knowledge research has mainly focused on knowledge held by men. Today, it is recognised that the two ways of knowing complement each other and that they are both essential to the continuing vitality and dynamism of indigenous knowledge systems.

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Challenging the assumptions of western science
Western conservation philosophies separate humans from nature. This leads to the notion that people must be excluded if environments are to be preserved. In indigenous worldviews, however, such a division is unacceptable, as ecosystems and social systems are intertwined. Landscapes are rendered meaningless when one excludes the human relationships and attachments that create them and that are in turn created by them.

Unlike science, indigenous thought does not oppose the rational and the spiritual, nor value one above the other. Instead, they flow together and intermingle. For this reason, efforts to extract indigenous knowledge from its moral and spiritual foundations often result in its misinterpretation and fragmentation.

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Continuity & change the dynamism of ‘traditional’ knowledge
Local and indigenous knowledge is frequently represented as a fixed body of ancient wisdom that is passed down intact from generation to generation. Terms such as ‘tradition’ and ‘heritage’ evoke constancy, immutability and inflexibility. In reality, local knowledge has always been reassessed, renewed and expanded. Each generation reinterprets the knowledge of their forebears to confront the emerging challenges and opportunities of a changing world.

The adoption of modern technologies by indigenous peoples is often misinterpreted as the abandonment of their distinct values and ways of life. In reality, the capacity to incorporate new tools and skills has always been fundamental to the dynamism of indigenous cultures. Indeed, it is by blending new ways with old that many indigenous communities are able to uphold their unique lifestyles and worldviews.

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Synergies between scientific & indigenous knowledge
Indigenous knowledge may advance scientific understandings, providing new information and perspectives that supersede those currently held by scientists. This is particularly evident in remote areas that have not been at the heart of mainstream scientific research.

The recognition that local and indigenous peoples have their own ecological understandings, conservation practices and resource management goals has important implications. It transforms the relationship between biodiversity managers and local communities. While previously they were perceived simply as resource users, indigenous peoples are now recognised as essential partners in environmental management.

However, differences between scientific and indigenous worldviews continue to create barriers to meaningful collaboration, as does the widespread assumption that science is superior to other knowledge systems.

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Protecting indigenous knowledge from inappropriate use
Indigenous knowledge is vulnerable to exploitation by outsiders for commercial profit. In many cases, it is obtained without consultation with indigenous communities or any effort to explain how it may be used.

Today, many communities are calling for the protection of their knowledge from inappropriate use, emphasising the need for prior informed consent and the sharing of benefits.

However, existing regimes for protecting intellectual property are ill-adapted to indigenous knowledge and the needs of indigenous societies. Efforts are being made to develop more appropriate methods, such as sui generis systems based upon customary law.

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Revitalising knowledge transmission within indigenous communities
While education programmes provide important tools for human development, they may also compromise the transmission of indigenous knowledge.

With formal education, children spend much time learning passively in classroom settings, rather than engaged in hands-on learning on the land. Teachers replace parents and elders as the holders of knowledge and authority. National languages become the medium of instruction, while vernacular languages are sidelined. Formal education may therefore contribute to an erosion of cultural diversity, a loss of social cohesion and the alienation and disorientation of indigenous youth.

There is an urgent need to enhance the intergenerational transmission of indigenous knowledge, as a complement to mainstream education. Efforts are now being made to bring indigenous language and knowledge into school curricula, and to move learning back into the community, thus reaffirming the status of elders as knowledge holders.

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