Yippee – Valuing Traditional Ecological Knowledge

By: Jill Lackett

I was so pleased to see the article on NSF’s website, “Data Collection by Indigenous People,” validating the ability of indigenous populations to be active participants in the scientific process (http://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/mmg_disp.cfm?med_id=71673&from=mmg). A research team from Stanford found that native people in Guyana were reliable participants in the collection of data on the vertebrate animal populations in the region. All too often, western scientists dismiss indigenous groups’ participation in science projects because they are not trained or don’t have the “right” knowledge. But, they have traditional ecological knowledge that western scientists need to acknowledge and value to strengthen both their research projects and the acceptance of the project and the results by the local communities.
It was interesting that the Stanford group found that data collected by participants that come from communities that have strong leadership and are part of larger indigenous organizations were consistently the most reliable. They also found that if the indigenous researcher showed interest in the research,  that his/her data were more reliable. This leads me to my next thought. If only the Stanford group could have gone one step further and involved the indigenous group in project design and establishing research agendas, questions and methods. I think this is the gold standard that collaborative research projects should strive for.