Two papers were recently published in the journal Science that deal with the importance of different perspectives and knowledge in land management. Brondizio and Le Tourneau discussed the importance of including local indigenous populations in land management, and Mistry and Berardi discussed the importance of considering indigenous knowledge when making management decisions. Both papers were perspective pieces, and offered few details, but gave convincing arguments on why changes are needed to land management practices.
Brondizio and Le Tourneau included some surprising statistics. Most landmasses are still sparsely populated: roughly 81% of North America, 57% of Asia and 94% of Australia have population densities less than 1 person/km2. In North America this will probably be largely in the north, but these areas are also where a great deal of resource extraction activity takes place. As a result, remote aboriginal populations are the most affected by resource extraction activities. Revenues flow to urban centres, but local communities are pressed upon to deal with outcomes, and/or provide environmental management or monitoring. So the question remains, how do we support local economies to participate in these activities and manage the environmental outcomes in a way that’s fair, sustainable and provides long-term stable solutions?

Both papers offered convincing arguments that involving local populations and considering local knowledge is crucial, however, neither offered very concrete methods of doing so. As perspective pieces, they were meant more to spark discussion. However, Brondizio and Le Tourneau described some examples of how environmental governance can be done more inclusively, and Mistry and Berardi offered some interesting insight into the intersection of indigenous knowledge and science.
• Indigenous knowledge does a better job of collating complex information and considering it as a whole, so when climate change alters the ecosystem, indigenous knowledge users find holistic solutions.
• Often indigenous knowledge will identify patterns that western knowledge would have missed, and is more detailed.
• When considering a complex environment, indigenous knowledge can integrate a large number of variables over time.
• Indigenous knowledge evolves over time, and is better at rapidly responding to a changing environment.
• Because scientists interpret the natural world in categories, and reduce the whole to its parts, offering solutions or guidance to the public based on science becomes difficult when the situation is complex.
• Indigenous knowledge can generate a systemic understanding of the situation and offer better guidance by creating simple rules that can be easily remembered and passed along.

In Alberta, there’s a great deal of interest in including indigenous knowledge in environmental monitoring. Alberta’s Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA) has established an Indigenous Wisdom Advisory Panel, and many communities have expressed interest in community-based monitoring. There’s interest in co-management from a variety of communities, but less progress in making this a reality. How co-management and incorporation of indigenous wisdom in environmental management and monitoring would look is still an open question, but the answers will likely be as varied as the communities who wish to participate. Success in this area means more decentralization, and an ability to stretch our horizons.

As a scientist who works to communicate the philosophy and accumulated knowledge of science, I am keenly aware of the difficulty in expressing complexity, uncertainty, and non-linear dynamics. That indigenous knowledge could offer a different approach is very exciting. Including local communities in environmental monitoring and land management decisions makes political and social sense, and certainly the political and legal landscape in Canada means that this will become more necessary. By bringing together local communities, scientists and policy makers, maybe we can realize the promise of mixing western and indigenous ways of knowing to find solutions to some of the environmental issues we face.

Works Cited:
Brondizio ES and Le Tourneau F-M. 2016. Environmental governance for all. Science 352(6291): 1272
Mistry J and Berardi A. 2016. Bridging indigenous and scientific knowledge. Science 352(6291): 1274

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