Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Uggianaqtuq: A Friend Acting Strangely




Arctic peoples have managed to eke out a subsistence lifestyle for nearly 10,000 years in the Arctic region. Countless generations have acquired knowledge about fish, seals, whales, walrus, polar bears birds and plants to help them live and survive.

This knowledge of the land and wildlife is vital to their culture. Traditionally, food, clothing shelter, tools and medicine are obtained from the land. Living as nomads on the land, the ability to find these important resources are directly connected to their previous experience with weather, seasons and climate. Fishing, caribou calfing, gathering eggs, hunting walrus occur during different times of the year. Understanding these natural variations in wildlife distribution and abundance is the traditional way of life and how the Arctic peoples have survived for thousands of years.

Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is the way in which people make sense of their surroundings. TEK is accumulated during time spent on the land. It is the intimate knowledge of plants, animals and other natural phenomenon. It also implies the development and use of appropriate technologies for hunting, fishing and trapping. It encompasses all aspects of the environment - biophysical, economic, social, cultural and spiritual. TEK sees humans as an intimate part of the environment. Acquired over many generations through daily contact with the environment, TEK is passed on orally through songs and stories, as well as through actions and observations.

In recent years, the voices of Arctic communities have been getting stronger. Arctic indigenous peoples have been speaking out about their observations and concerns, often through collaborative work with northern researchers. Scientists have realized the importance of collecting TEK from Elders in Arctic communities as a vital source of environmental information. Today, TEK contributes greatly to the scientific understanding of the processes and patterns of climate change and its effect on various ecological and social issues. Furthermore, it supports scientists in recognizing and evaluating species and spaces at risk by providing information on broad trends in species distribution, abundance and seasonal behavior patterns. While TEK was often dismissed in the past due to its anecdotal nature, it is now recognized as important component of understanding climate change and other variations in the natural world.