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Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Environmental Decisionmaking

April 2019

Citation: ELR 10309

Author: Greta Swanson, Minnie Degawan, Kathy Hodgson-Smith, and Anthony Moffa

Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is defined as a deep understanding of the environment developed by local communities and indigenous peoples over generations. In the United States, Canada, and around the world, indigenous peoples are increasingly advocating for incorporation of TEK into a range of environmental decisionmaking contexts, including natural resource and wildlife management, pollution standards, environmental and social planning, environmental impact assessment, and adaptation to climate change. On October 31, 2018, ELI hosted an expert panel on TEK, co-sponsored by the National Native American Bar Association and the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources. The panel discussed the challenges that  indigenous peoples face in defending the legitimacy of, and intellectual property in, TEK; how policymakers can modify existing laws and regulations to better incorporate TEK; and the potential for TEK to meet today’s most pressing environmental challenges. This Article presents a transcript of the discussion, which has been edited for style, clarity, and space considerations.

Greta Swanson (moderator) is a Visiting Attorney at the Environmental Law Institute. Minnie Degawan is Director of the Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program at Conservation International. Kathy Hodgson-Smith is an Attorney and TEK Member of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. Anthony Moffa is a Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Maine School of Law and former Staff Attorney with the Office of General Counsel of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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