Research Methodologies & Challenges

A global assessment of Indigenous community engagement in climate research
By: Dominique M. David-Chavez and Michael C. Gavin
Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 13
Key words: Research, collaboration, extractive methods, global, inclusion, engagement, Indigenous knowledge systems
Researchers conducted a global review of literature in climate field studies which have made use of Indigenous knowledge in some way. They adapted a framework of community participation including five levels: “contractual,” “”consultative,” “collaborative,” “collegial,” and “Indigenous.” They found that 87% of these studies have minimally engaged with the communities who hold Indigenous knowledge, a practice that the authors call an “extractive model.” These studies’ outcomes do not typically benefit those communities or make findings easily accessible within them. The authors encourage future research to engage local communities and utilize transparent communication of research methods.

The Importance of Research Ethics to Native Communities
By: Jeannine Mjoseth
June 8, 2017
Key words: Institutional Review Boards, human subjects research, tribal sovereignty
National Institutes of Health conducted an Institutional Review Board training for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Collaborative Research Approaches for Aligning Landscape Restoration, Climate Change, Wildland Fire Management Strategies
By: Frank K. Lake
National Forest Foundation
Key words: Multiple scales, tribal resource use, paleoclimate, LiDAR, adaptation, California
Presented at the Collaborative Restoration Workshop in Denver, CO at History Colorado. The presentation offers many considerations for working with tribes in co-management research. Specific examples are shown from the work of the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership in northern California.

A Classification of Threats to Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Conservation Responses
By: Ruifei Tang & Michael C. Gavin
Conservation and Society, 14(1):57-70
Key words: Traditional Ecological Knowledge, direct threat, underlying threat, TEK conservation, classification;year=2016;volume=14;issue=1;spage=57;epage=70;aulast=Tang
Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) shapes human-environment interactions across much of the globe. Previous studies draw on diverse academic disciplines, each with a unique set of theoretical constructs and discipline-specific jargon. The lack of a standard lexicon for TEK threats and conservation actions impedes the comparative work needed to understand broad patterns of TEK degradation and implications for biodiversity conservation planning. Authors complete a literature review, questionnaires, and semi-structured interviews on TEK and conservation to draw out conclusions.

The Ethics of Traditional Knowledge Exchange in Climate Change Initiatives
By: The Climate and Traditional Knowledges Workgroup
July 31, 2015
Key words: Informed consent, misappropriation, right not to participate
This article is an overview of the reasons why the group developed their documents and website.

Weaving Indigenous science, protocols and sustainability science
By: Whyte, K. P., Brewer, J. P., & Johnson, J. T.
Sustainability Science.
Key words: Reciprocity, guardianship, caretaking, stewardship, ethics, Indigenous Science, sustainability science, Meskawki, Anishinaabe, Traditional Ecological Knowledge
DOI: 10.1007/s11625-015-0296-6
The proceedings of the National Science Foundation supported WIS2DOM workshop state that sustainability scientists must respect the “protocols” of practitioners of Indigenous sciences if the practitioners of the two knowledge systems are to learn from each other. Indigenous persons at the workshop described protocols as referring to attitudes about how to approach the world that are inseparable from how people approach scientific inquiry; they used the terms caretaking and stewardship to characterize protocols in their Indigenous communities and nations. Yet sustainability scientists may be rather mystified by the idea of protocols as a necessary dimension of scientific inquiry. Moreover, the terms stewardship and caretaking are seldom used in sustainability science. In this case report, the authors seek to elaborate on some possible meanings of protocols for sustainability scientists who may be unaccustomed to talking about stewardship and caretaking in relation to scientific inquiry. To do so, the authors describe cases of Indigenous protocols in action in relation to scientific inquiry in two Indigenous-led sustainability initiatives in the Great Lakes/Midwest North American region.

Problems of Defining and Validating Traditional Knowledge: A Historical Approach
By: Kenichi Matsui
The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 6(2):2
Key words: Traditional Knowledge definition, knowledge validation
The United Nations’ agencies and many scholars have regarded traditional knowledge as an alternative to science for the purposes of managing the environment. Despite a large number of publications on traditional knowledge, there seems to be little consensus about the definition of what traditional knowledge is and how it can be useful for environmental management. This article first approaches this definition problem within a historical context, then discusses how traditional knowledge can be validated among parties with different interests so that traditional knowledge research and policy can be more effectively implemented in policy-making arenas.

‘Knowledge Making’: Issues in Modelling Local and Indigenous Ecological Knowledge
By: M. Barber & S. Jackson
Human Ecology, 43:119-130
Key words: Modelling, visualization, Indigenous Ecological Knowledge, causality, Indigenous Australian societies
Modelling, particularly computer-based modelling, is increasingly used in political, managerial, and scientific contexts to enable and justify decisions. Authors analyze one consequence of this situation-ongoing attempts to formalize, synthesize and integrate local and/or indigenous knowledge into models. To improve interdisciplinary understanding of what might be entailed by genuine attempts to meet that demand, our paper provides signposts to and analysis of important features of local ecological knowledge modelling.

Renewing “That Which Was Almost Lost or Forgotten”: The Implications of Old Ethnologies for Present-Day Traditional Ecological Knowledge Among Canada’s Pacific Coast Peoples
By: Dianne C. Newell
The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 6(2)
Key words: Ethnology, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Indigenous Peoples, Canada’s Pacific Coast
The pressure on traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) to solve socio-economic issues globally begs the question: What is the state of TEK today, given the economic, social, and cultural ruptures it has endured during the past 200 years? The author traces how historical collaborative work between ethnographic pairings of “insiders” and “outsiders” created partnerships between some prominent anthropologists and local Indigenous research collaborators. The author then suggests future policy concerning collaboration between non-Indigenous academics and Indigenous communities should take into account the lessons to be learned from these historical practices.

Is Local Ecological Knowledge A Useful Conservation Tool for Small Mammals in a Caribbean Multicultural Landscape?
By: Samuel T. Turvey, Cristina Fernández-Secades, Jose M. Nuñez-Miño, Tom Hart, Pedro Martinez, Jorge L. Brocca, & Richard P. Young
Biological Conservation, 169:189-197
Key words: Charismatic species, ethnotaxonomy, interview survey, Plagiodontia, Solenodon
Local ecological knowledge is an increasingly used, cost-effective source of data for conservation research and management. However, untrained observers are more likely to provide meaningful information on species that are charismatic and easily identifiable (e.g. large-bodied vertebrates) or of socio-economic importance, and may ignore or misidentify smaller-bodied, elusive and non-charismatic species. These problems may be further exacerbated by variation in environmental awareness and perception between different socio-cultural and ethnic groups often present across the range of threatened non-charismatic species.

Introduction: Conceptual, Methodological, Practical, and Ethical Challenges in Studying and Applying Indigenous Knowledge
By: Courtney Carothers, Mark Moritz, & Rebecca Zarger
Ecology and Society, 19(4):43
Key words: Collaborative methodology, Indigenous education, Indigenous Knowledge, Indigenous Knowledge change, practice theory
This special feature, based on an invited session of papers presented at the 2012 American Anthropological Association (AAA) annual meeting, explores key conceptual, methodological, practical, and ethical challenges and opportunities in studying indigenous knowledge systems and applying insights from such knowledge systems in scholarly, resource management, and local community venues across the globe. The papers in this feature represent geographic and topical diversity, while converging on several important themes facing anthropology and other fields that study knowledge systems.

Trails, Fires, and Tribulations: Tribal Resource Management and Research Issues in Northern California
By: Frank K. Lake
Occasion: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities
Key words: Fire history, severity studies, multimodal research, California
This essay presents multiple ways of engaging in ecological research—particularly in the study of fuels, the effect of fire on the landscape, anthropogenic causes and ways to engage with tribal partners.

Culture, law, risk and governance: contexts of traditional knowledge in climate change adaptation
By: Terry Williams and Preston Hardison
Special Issue on "Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples in the United States: Impacts, Experiences, and Actions"
Available with open access at
Key words: Knowledge exchange, power asymmetries, reciprocity, informed consent
This article promotes awareness of cultural, legal, risk-benefit, and governance issues and encourages the use of research and policy measures, including incorporation of free prior and informed consent.

Walk Softly and Listen Carefully: Building Research Relationships with Tribal Communities
By: NCAI Policy Research Center and MSU Center for Native Health Partnerships
Key words: Building trust, community driven research, tribal sovereignty
This publication is informative with regard to initiating and engaging with American Indians and Alaska Natives in research in a culturally appropriate way. It provides researchers with some advice on how to conduct themselves, and points to consider.

Constructing Confidence: Rational Skepticism and Systematic Enquiry in Local Ecological Knowledge Research
By: Anthony Davis & Kenneth Ruddle
Ecological Applications, 20(3):880-894
Key words: Indigenous/Local/Traditional Ecological Knowledge, rational skepticism, research design, research methodology
Key attributes of the social research contributions on indigenous ecological knowledge (IEK), local ecological knowledge (LEK), and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) are analyzed using the most frequently cited literature generated by the “ISI Web of Knowledge” and “Google Scholar” search engines. They are further exemplified by an examination of two contrasting approaches to the analysis of IEK/LEK/TEK. This paper examines the roles each of these play as well as suggests additional research topics that could address some of the issues.

Chapter 6
The Haudenosaunee Environmental Protection Process (HEPP): Reinforcing the Three Principles of Goodmindedness, Peacefulness, and Strength to Protect the Natural World

By: Brenda E. LaFrance and James E. Costello
from Preserving Tradition and Understanding the Past: Papers from the Conference on Iroquois Research, 2001-2005
Key words: Haudenosaunee, environmental protection, traditional teachings Located on page 61
HEPP has one member from each nation who meet to discuss traditional teachings to address modern environmental concerns. Each nation may choose if and how it uses the traditional teachings to address environmental issues.

Assessing participatory GIS for community‐based natural resource management: claiming community forests in Cameroon
By: Michael McCall, and Peter Minang
The Geographical Journal
Key words: Participatory GIS, good governance, community forest management, spatial planning, Cameroon
Using a case study in Tinto, Cameroon, authors develop a model to evaluate the efficacy of participatory‐GIS (PGIS) and mapping in spatial planning applications. Particular focus is on indigenous participant expectations, legitimizing local knowledge, degrees of participation, and changes in equity for the target community.

Criteria and indicators for sustainable forest planning: a framework for recording Aboriginal resource and social values
By: Melanie Karjala, Erin Sherry, and Stephen Dewhurst
Forest Policy and Economics
Key words: Sustainable forest management, criteria and indicators, Indigenous people, First Nations, John Prince Research Forest, Canada
The Aboriginal Forest Planning Process (AFPP) is a participatory decision-making tool developed for the John Prince Research Forest. The framework will help collaborative management partners assess how well they are able to meet their goals.

Evaluating Collaborative Natural Resource Management
By: Alexander Conley, and Margaret A. Moote
Society and Natural Resources
Key words: Collaboration, evaluation, natural resource management, participatory decision making
Authors discuss several variations of collaborative management and the ways in which they are evaluated.

LORE: Capturing Traditional Environmental Knowledge
By: Ed. Martha Johnson
Dene Cultural Institute and International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Ontario
Key words: Integrating Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Dene Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Inuit Environmental Knowledge
In recent years, the value of the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples, and particularly their traditional environmental knowledge, has been recognized. This has unleashed a flood of research. Some of the research has been undertaken by scientists working alone, but the most innovative responses to this trend have been developed by indigenous researchers working in collaboration with Western scientists. This book presents the results of a workshop on the documentation and application of traditional environmental knowledge through community-based research.

Last updated: March 21, 2019