Exploring the Role of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Climate Change Initiatives

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Vinyeta, Kristen and Lynn, Kathy

Indigenous populations are projected to face disproportionate impacts as a result of climate change in comparison to nonindigenous populations. For this reason, many American Indian and Alaska Native tribes are identifying and implementing culturally appropriate strategies to assess climate impacts and adapt to projected changes. Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), as the indigenous knowledge system is called, has the potential to play a central role in both indigenous and nonindigenous climate change initiatives. The detection of environmental changes, the development of strategies to adapt to these changes, and the implementation of sustainable land-management principles are all important climate action items that can be informed by TEK. Although there is a significant body of literature on traditional knowledge, this synthesis examines literature that specifically explores the relationship between TEK and climate change. The synthesis describes the potential role of TEK in climate change assessment and adaptation efforts. It also identifies some of the challenges and benefits associated with merging TEK with Western science, and reviews the way in which federal policies and administrative practices facilitate or challenge the incorporation of TEK in climate change initiatives. The synthesis highlights examples of how tribes and others are including TEK into climate research, education, and resource planning and explores strategies to incorporate TEK into climate change policy, assessments, and adaptation efforts at national, regional, and local levels.


Vinyeta, K., and K. Lynn. 2013. Exploring the Role of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Climate Change Initiatives. US Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station. General Technical Report PNW-GTR-879.