Simply marrying up science and traditional/indigenous knowledge is not an option. Too often, science has sifted through the sandbox of traditional knowledge and taken what was seen as valuable (bio-active ingredients in plants that can be used for profit) and discarded the rest.
Often discarded was the cultural and spiritual base of traditional knowledge. Science has long claimed to be culture free, and logical and thus the best world view, when in fact this in itself is a cultural assumption! We need to “listen to our own historians and philosophers of science, then we must acknowledge that science has another face that is not the one most commonly presented for public consumption. Science has its own historical, social and cultural context. From its very origins, science is anchored in a dualistic worldview that separates Culture and Nature, sets humans apart from other living organisms, and opposes the rational and the spiritual. This will to separate, reduce and compartmentalise is both science’s force, as witnessed by enormous advances in Western technology, and its weakness” as can be seen by the problems that modern science has gotten us into recently!
What also needs to be considered are the intellectual property rights of the owners of the knowledge. Just like the patent of a drug must be respected, even though it can save lives, so to must the intellectual property of a group of indigenous peoples.
This pdf is a bit of a review of the discussions and events at the Seven Generations Conference in 2008. Of particular interest to my research is the interview with Daniel Wildcat who is a professor at Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas. His specialty is in Indigenous knowledge, technology, environment and education. The epiphany he describes through story in this interview is my thesis for my paper. While working with NASA and remote sensing satellite images of Earth, he decided that First Nations people were “local sensing” experts and that the two forms of knowing–scientific and indigenous–work together to create a larger, more accurate picture.
Indigenous knowledge can certainly give scientists more specific, holistic information about what is happening at ground level or “in real life” (as opposed to in satellite images on on pages of data), but the rapid rate at which things are changing, and the extreme nature of the changes often renders the problem solving skill set of the particular indigenous knowledge ill equipped to deal. Thus, scientists and indigenous thinkers need to collaborate in order to problem solve and troubleshoot the solutions to this massive issue.
This video from Alaska identifies the irony between traditional knowledge and climate change and scientific knowledge and climate change. Aboriginal people in Alaska have been discussing climate change for over 40 years, but supposed modern science has only started seeing a trend in the last 20 years and only in the last 5 has the gravity of the situation begun to sink in. The Aboriginal people of Alaska are seeing new species that do not like the cold waters of their oceans and new diseases in the animals. Also pressing to their situation are increased deaths due to fragile ice–it’s melting sooner and faster.
I particularly like how advanced the traditional knowledge of climate change is here versus scientific knowledge. I’m wondering if the connotations of “traditional knowledge” imply too much antiquity and render it less reliable than scientific knowledge, or if it is a ethnocentric stubbornness that is preventing scientists from working with Elders.