Traditional ecological knowledge

Joy Ufford photos

November is Native American Heritage Month, also referred to as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.

The month is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. Contributions of Native people in the West are vast and include important generationally passed-down ecological knowledge. Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is defined by Fikret Berkes in the book Sacred Ecology as: “A cumulative body of knowledge, practice and belief, evolving by adaptive processes and handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings (including humans) with one another and their environment.”

TEK can be and is used equally alongside western science to improve the way landscapes are managed, how wildlife is studied and managed and help to formulate the best ways to attack the wide range of natural resource issues that plague the world today. Using both types of knowledge to complement each other has proved to be a more successful approach to the way we manage natural resources. Much of this is because sustainability is at the foundation of traditional ecological knowledge.

Combining western science and generational wisdom of people who have lived with the land for millennia allows managers of natural resources to not only understand the why of now but the diverse history of what happened before.

Currently, research is being conducted in the Sunlight Basin in northwest Wyoming that is combining TEK from the Eastern Shoshone tribe as it relates to traditional plant harvesting practices and general plant knowledge with contemporary ethnographic interviews, plant surveys and post excavation paleoethnobotanical studies (study of past human-plant interactions).

By using all of these modes of research, this study will help to contextualize cultural landscapes, better understand archaeological information related to plants utilized in diets and complete environmental reconstructions including what kinds of plants were present in this region during the Middle Archaic period (lasted from approximately 8,000 to 5,000 years ago). This period was a time of changing climatic conditions where the area most likely became more arid and warmer than it is now.

You can read the full paper from the University of Montana at this link:

Sublette County is a very diverse landscape with a rich history of indigenous knowledge. According to the Bureau of Land Management, the following tribes have ties to Sublette County: Eastern Shoshone, Shoshone-Bannock, Northern Arapaho, Blackfeet, Crow Creek Sioux, Northern Ute and Comanche.

As a range specialist working on ever-evolving lands throughout the county, I continually wonder about the “best” way to approach management hurdles or how to slow and reverse ecological issues caused by a changing climate, land disturbance and human influences. Understanding how to solve problems moving forward is very much dependent upon understanding the past. Utilizing TEK here in Sublette County and collaborating with the original stewards of the lands in which we work could help us better understand the values and practices that enabled its sustainable management for millennia.