Language and Terminology
Language is vital to the continuation of Indigenous cultural practices and is an important part of the Tracking Change project. Across the Mackenzie Basin, many Indigenous languages are spoken including six dialects of Dene (Tłı̨chǫ Yatıı̀, Dëne Sųłıné – Chipewyan, Dene Zhatıé – South Slavey, Sahtúot’ı̨nę Yatı̨́ – North Slavey, Dinjii Zhu’ Ginjik – Gwich’in, and Dane-zaa Záágéʔ – Beaver), Nēhiyawēwin (Cree), and Inuvialuktun. In many cases, concepts in English do not have a direct translation into these Indigenous languages and the opposite is also true. These Indigenous languages reflect a strong connection to the land and water and can help us to understand more about Indigenous knowledge systems. We have put together a collection of commonly used terms in the five most commonly used languages across the region that can be used by our research team. Access the table HERE.
Not only is language important but having a common understanding of terminology is key to building a successful interdisciplinary research project. Developing a glossary or shared list of terms upfront can help to ensure that all participants understand the project in a similar way. Below are some of the terms that we have come across in developing the Tracking Change Project and Community Based Monitoring projects across western Canada.
Traditional Knowledge (TK)
Traditional Knowledge refers to the cumulative body of knowledge, practices, and beliefs that have developed over many generations by local communities about ecosystems and their relationship to it (Berkes, 1998). It is referred to in different ways by different cultural groups. Fishers’ knowledge can refer to both local knowledge (knowledge of an observed area) of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers. Traditional Knowledge is unique from local knowledge in that it is longitudinal or based on many years, if not generations, of observing, experiencing, and interpreting ecosystems; whereas local knowledge is more short-term in scope. It is because of this longitudinal scope, that Traditional Knowledge is increasingly recognized as useful in monitoring by many wildlife biologists and some other scientists, resource managers, and governments who see opportunities to understand long-term ecosystem change. In this context Traditional Knowledge may be able to help answer the following kinds of questions:
- What kinds of patterns of ecological variability are characteristic of different areas of the Mackenzie River Basin?
- What kinds of unusual events or patterns are visible and to what extent are these associated with the impacts of climate change and resource development?
- What is the meaning and significance of observed trends and patterns of ecosystem change?
- What are useful indicators for tracking aquatic ecosystem change in the Mackenzie River Basin
- How should we respectfully and meaningfully track these changes over time?
Indigenous Knowledge (IK)
Indigenous Knowledge is generally considered to be Traditional Knowledge that is held specifically by Indigenous Peoples. Typically, Indigenous knowledge is embedded in Indigenous language, and is passed down through generations orally. This transmission of knowledge is part of defining distinct Indigenous cultures.
Local Knowledge (LK)
Indigenous knowledge is sometimes used interchangeably with the term local knowledge; while there are some similarities, the two knowledge systems are unique. Indigenous knowledge refers specifically to the knowledge of an Indigenous person or peoples; local knowledge has broader origins and tends not to reflect the longitudinal (long term) observation, experience nor spiritual connectedness often associated with Indigenous knowledge systems. Local knowledge is a widely used concept used in academic and practical contexts. There is no universally accepted definition of local knowledge given there is a diversity of environments and cultures in which knowledge is generated and myriad uses and outcomes of use (Berkes, 2008; Brook & McLachlan, 2005). Most descriptions of local knowledge in natural resource management refer to land-based or applied knowledge and skills including observations of ecological conditions and how-to knowledge for coping and adapting to change. Like traditional knowledge, local knowledge also tends to be orally or informally transmitted and shared locally and within family and community groups (McGregor, 2000)
Local knowledge is the knowledge that any peoples might hold about the environment around them. “This includes the way people observe and measure their surroundings, how they solve problems and validate new information. It includes the processes whereby knowledge is generated, stored, applied and transmitted to others” (FAO, 2004). Local knowledge, like traditional knowledge, is a cumulative body of knowledge and may be passed down from generation to generation and closely interwoven with people’s cultural values. This encompasses the skills, experiences and insights of people, applied to maintain or improve their livelihood (FAO, 2004). A related category of local knowledge is “fishers’ knowledge” (B. Neis, 1992).
Local knowledge is a resource within communities. In economic terms, it might be considered a form of capital that exists within urban centres and among rural peoples. “It is the main asset they invest in the struggle for survival, to produce food, provide for shelter or achieve control of their own lives” (FAO, 2004). A community’s ability to build and mobilize knowledge capital is as essential to its development as physical and financial capital (FAO, 2004).
Western Scientific Knowledge
“Western science” is often defined as the mainstream body of knowledge behind conventional resource management practices. The increasing interest in alternative knowledge (e.g., Traditional Knowledge) stems in part, from a critique of mainstream science as expert-driven, centralized and top down, technocratic and reductionist with limited potential to address complex or wicked problems such as climate change (Ludwig, 2001).
Community Based Monitoring (CBM)
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The Tracking Change… program is focused on building capacity for partner communities in the Mackenzie River Basin to document and share local and traditional knowledge they consider relevant to the governance of the Basin. Capacity-building refers to advancing skills and knowledge needed for research and monitoring through training and mentorship. The program also aims to ensure experiential learning opportunities in which elders, youth and other members of the community are engaged in knowledge-building and multi-generational knowledge sharing. The kinds of capacity-building initiatives vary significantly from project to project and region to region, depending on a range of factors. Communities in settled land claim areas tend to have more capacity to carry out their work than communities in unsettled land claim areas. Those close to urban centers in the southern areas may be more or less advantaged than those living further north in the Mackenzie River Basin.