Working with Traditional Knowledge in Land Use Planning: Gwich’in Place Names, Land Uses, and Heritage Sites in the Northern Territories of Canada

Credit: Ingrid Kritsch, GSC

Project Contributor: Ingrid Kritsch

Hills at Tl’oondih where summer and winter trails led to traditional Gwich’in hunting grounds in the Yukon, and a clearing where one Gwich’in elder had his camp. Credit: Ingrid Kritsch, GSC

The Gwich’in are one of the most northerly aboriginal peoples on the North American continent, living at the northwestern limits of the boreal forest. Many families still maintain summer and winter camps outside their communities. Hunting, fishing and trapping remain important both culturally and economically, with caribou, moose and whitefish being staples of the local diet. The Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute (GSCI) was established in 1992 because the Gwich’in were concerned about the loss of their culture and language and the impact this was having on their families. The Dinjii Zhu’ Ginjik (Gwich’in language) is one of the most endangered Aboriginal languages in Canada. Due to the encroachment of English into all aspects of daily life, only a small number of elders and a few determined individuals continue to use the language on a regular basis, and it is rare to hear children speak the language. Government statistics in 1998 revealed that only 2% of all the Gwich’in spoke the language in their home, and only 13% reported they could speak the language at all. The last generation of elders who lived on the land and consequently have an in-depth knowledge of it, is passing away very quickly and there is great pressure to record their knowledge before it is too late.

The “Gwich’in Place Names and Traditional Land Use” project  is carried out by the GSCI, the cultural and heritage arm of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, in collaboration with Gwich’in communities in the land claim area. The project is based in the Northwest Territories, Canada and promotes sustainable land use among the Gwich’in First Nation through the application of their traditional knowledge to land use planning. Project research documented Gwich’in traditional knowledge and land use through the study of place names, traditional land use, ethnobotany, ethnoarchaeology, elders’ biographies, genealogy, a Gwich’in language dictionary, the replication of 19th century caribou skin clothing, and the identification of National Historic Sites in the Gwich’in Settlement Region (GSR). Gwich’in place names and the associated stories along with trails, traditional camp sites, graves, historic sites, harvesting locales and sacred or legendary places are windows into Gwich’in culture and history. The project has also successfully brought elders continue reading–>

Teaching and Learning from an Indigenous Perspective: Knowledge and Language Revitalization in Hawaii

Project Contributor: Chad Kälepa Baybayan

A consortium of Native Hawaiian schools and education professionals is using the indigenous Hawaiian language as a medium for making connections between traditional and formal scientific knowledge within a Hawaiian paradigm – one that is grounded in practices that allow people to be self-sufficient by sustaining the environments that feed and nurture them. Those environments – the sky, air, rain, rivers, streams, wetlands, shores, reefs, deep ocean, together with people – are part of an everlasting symbiotic relationship that Native Hawaiians recognize, protect, and preserve because doing so sustains the generational cycle of indigenous existence. What researchers would label “biodiversity conservation”, indigenous Hawaiians would simply call the Kumu Honua Mauli Ola, or “the way we live”.

The consortium has spearheaded several initiatives under the project title “Knowledge and Language Revitalization in Hawaii” . The He Lani Ko Luna Community-Based Learning Centre, located on a 10-acre farm run by ‘Aha Pünana Leo (language immersion pre-school), has hands-on learning activities that focus on ‘ölelo (language); lawena (social behaviour and traditional protocols); pili ‘uhanae (spirituality); as well as ‘ike ku‘una, which is traditional knowledge that makes connections to the contemporary world. The College of Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawaii, Hilo has long offered regular classes in traditional farming, medicinal herbs, and gathering of native forest products; traditional fishing and aquaculture; and song and dance through performance to celebrate and record orally the history of the Hawaiian people. At the Näwahïokalaniÿöpuÿu immersion school, learning occurs in the Hawaiian language and within a Hawaiian paradigm. The curriculum is grounded in an indigenous perspective and makes connections to mainstream academics through indigenous approaches to learning.

Reconnecting with Natural and Cultural Heritage: Flora and Fauna of the Marshall Islands

Project Contributor: Nancy Vander Velde with Jorelik Tibon

In the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, as is occurring in many other areas of the world, traditional lifestyles are being replaced by urbanized ones. This transformation, compounded by the occurrence of invasive species and other non-native species, is resulting in disconnection from local biodiverse surroundings. Much of the traditional environmental knowledge is lost, along with Marshallese languages, especially among the younger generations, who no longer know the names and uses of the local flora and fauna.

Through the project “A Review of the Birds and Plants of Bikini Atoll, Trees of the Marshall Islands and Fish of Micronesia”, efforts were made to preserve some aspects of the biodiversity of the Marshalls. One result was the book “Seashells and Other Molluscs of the Marshall Islands” produced through the Republic of the Marshall Islands Historic Preservation Office and the United States National Park Service. The book presented known species of gastropods and chitons, with Marshallese names, along with traditional stories and usage. This will hopefully be followed by a similar presentation on the bivalves and cephalopods. Producing such guides to the local flora and fauna, to be made widely accessible locally, is seen as a contribution to fostering language and knowledge transmission.

Efforts have also been recently made to preserve one of the most important traditional food and general-use plant species, Pandanus tectorius. In much of its range, this tree is only found in a wild form, but in times past the early inhabitants of the Marshall Islands developed numerous edible cultivars. So far, through the Republic of the Marshall Islands Agriculture Division and the United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, over 200 names have been documented for these cultivars, and ongoing efforts are being made to locate and preserve as many of these as possible. However, some of the cultivars may have gone extinct and local knowledge of and interest in the subject seem to have been lost over recent decades. Many members of the younger generation appear to only know the names of three or four cultivars.

The people of Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands face an even greater challenge to maintain knowledge of their ancestral home. They evacuated their atoll during the nuclear testing in the 1940s and 50s, and until now the land remains too radioactive for permanent habitation. In October 2003, the Kili-Bikini-Ejit Local Government sponsored continue reading–>

Taboos and Conservation: Traditional Conservation Sites in the Marshall Islands

Project Contributor: Nancy Vander Velde with Jorelik Tibon

In previous times, tribal chiefs could designate an island, a section of land or reef as being mo, or “taboo”. These areas were off-limits to people in general, being reserved for only certain personages and purposes. As in other countries, however, changes in biodiversity and culture have continued to increase in recent years. The Marshall Islands’ biodiversity has become threatened by invasive species, urbanization, development, and climate change. Caring for traditional resources has often been neglected as the society has moved into more contemporary systems of economics and governance. Over the past few years, however, some marine protected areas (MPAs) have been established in the Marshall Islands, and continue to be established on some remote atolls such as Rongalap, Ailingnae and Rongerik. The project “Collection and Documentation of Traditional Conservation Sites”, based in Majuro in the Marshall Islands and supported in part by the local government, documents the traditional knowledge and beliefs linked to traditional conservation sites and other traditionally taboo areas in the Marshall Islands. The Woja Conservation Area was recently established in part of Majuro Atoll, the capital of the modern Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Being the population centre, it is probably the most visible of the current marine protected areas in the country. There are roadside signs that serve to raise public awareness of the concept of modern protected areas.

Jorelik Tibon, who was Project Coordinator of the Marshall Islands Biodiversity Project, resides in the land adjacent to the MPA. He expresses his point of view about the current management of MPAs as follows: ‘Not enough attention is being given to understanding the new challenges of protected areas from the perspectives of the caretakers of these resources. In the past, when the authority and the law were vested with the ruling iroij, or high chiefs, the people did observe sanctions and orders issued by the iroij. Now law and order are held by constitutional governments on the national and local level, and therefore the governments need to be part of successful management of mo along with the iroij. Since the national constitution recognizes the rights of the alaps [traditional landowners], they likewise need to be involved. As landowners and other people live close to the conservation sites, they need to be part of government conservation initiatives, because they are the ones using these resources. On the other hand, for community-based conservation initiatives such as the one in Woja area, they also need the help of governments for continue reading–>

Integrating Customary Tenure Systems in Marine Protected Areas: A Solomon Islands Example

Credit: Shankar Aswani

Project Contributor: Shankar Aswani

Men involved in participatory mapping exercise in Roviana, Solomon Islands Credit: Shankar Aswani

Protected areas presently cover less than 0.5% of the land and seascapes of the Solomon Islands. In part, this is because Solomon Islands legislation lacks specific and appropriate provisions for creating protected areas, but the creation of protected areas is also complicated by patterns of land tenure. Land use is determined by holders of customary rights to the land, namely individuals within local communities. Overall, there are well over 30 marine protected/conservation areas in the Solomon Islands, managed by NGOs and community-based organizations, as well as by the government’s Environment and Conservation Division. To date, more than 40 other sites have been identified and recommended as potential marine conservation areas, deemed to be of high marine biodiversity significance (Supporting Country Action on the CBD Programme of Work on Protected Areas).

The program called the “Western Solomons Conservation Program” (WSCP) works in tandem with the Roviana Conservation Foundation (RCF), which is a local community based organization established with the assistance of WCSP in the Roviana and Vona Vona Lagoons, Solomon Islands. The project “Establishing Marine Protected Areas and Spatio-temporal Refugia”  is located in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands, and is a collaborative effort by researchers from the USA and customary landowners. Its central objective has been to create a network of Community-Based Marine Protected Areas (CBMPAs) to conserve marine and riparian habitats in various areas of the Western lagoons in the Solomon Islands.

The protected areas strategy is based on an amalgamation between customary management and modern conservation methods. More specifically, the CBMPA sites were selected through various research strategies, including (1) an ethnographic study of regional customary sea tenure to assess, among other factors, the feasibility of implementing fisheries management in the area; (2) the incorporation of the visual assessments of local photo interpreters, who identified benthic habitats, resident taxa, and spatio-temporal events of biological significance, into a geographical information system (GIS) database; (3) the coupling of indigenous ecological knowledge with marine science to study aspects of life history characteristics of vulnerable species; and (4) the incorporation of fishing time-series data (1994–2004) into the GIS to examine spatial and temporal patterns of human fishing effort and yields. The use of customary land and sea tenure systems, which are traditional structures that set the rules for resource access using continue reading–>