Weaving Traditional Ecological Knowledge into the Restoration of Basketry Plants

By Shebitz, Daniela | Journal of Ecological Anthropology, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Weaving Traditional Ecological Knowledge into the Restoration of Basketry Plants


Shebitz, Daniela, Journal of Ecological Anthropology


Abstract

This paper focuses on the benefits of incorporating traditional ecological knowledge into the field of ecological restoration. Case studies on indigenous use of sweetgrass in New York State, U.S.A (Haudenosaunee Nation), and beargrass in Washington State, U.S.A (Quinault and Skokomish Nations), are presented. Both studies focus on the restoration of basketry plants by incorporating indigenous knowledge of changes in abundance of culturally significant plants; knowledge of sites appropriate for restoration of culturally significant plants; and knowledge of land management methods to restore species and/ or habitats. Open-ended, semi-formal, and informal interviews were conducted with indigenous consultants familiar with the plant and/ or habitat of interest. Traditional knowledge of appropriate restoration sites was used in a field experiment to re-establish sweetgrass in an area from which it is believed to have been extirpated. Traditional knowledge of anthropogenic burning was used to reintroduce fire in low-elevation beargrass habitats to manage both the resource and its environment. By incorporating traditional knowledge with published information on sweetgrass biology, it was found that two potential factors influencing its population in cultural gathering sites are unsustainable harvesting and the absence of controlled burns.

Introduction

Knowledge developed over generations of interactions between indigenous people and the land can make valuable contributions to contemporary sciences such as conservation and restoration, the study of ecological processes, and sustainable resource use (Berkes et al. 2000). This paper discusses ecological restoration as a field that can benefit considerably from incorporating traditional ecological knowledge. While restoration is the primary focus, topics covered may also assist in developing methods to incorporate traditional knowledge into land management and ecological, anthropological, social science and geographical studies addressing both cultural and environmental issues. The studies presented use traditional knowledge in different stages of restoration projects, such as: recognizing population trends through exploratory research, choosing a re-establishment site, and using traditional knowledge as a tool in implementing restoration experiments.

Ecological restoration as defined by Dave Egan is: "[t]he practice of reestablishing the historic plant and animal communities of a given area or region and the renewal of the ecosystem and cultural functions necessary to maintain these communities now and into the future" (Egan 2001, cited in Anderson 2002:60). Traditional ecological knowledge is "a cumulative body of knowledge, practice and belief, evolving by adaptive processes and handed down through generations by cultural transmission, concerning the relationship of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environment" (Berkes et al. 2000:1252). These two concepts are complimentary. Indeed, academics, agency scientists and policy makers have been increasingly seeking traditional knowledge as a source of ideas for ecosystem management, restoration and conservation biology (Huntington 2000; Kimmerer 2002).

Once resources essential for traditions cannot be acquired, traditions themselves may be significantly changed. Restoring the land and plants that were a part of the pre-European setdement North America may assist in strengthening or supporting the cultural practices of people that lived off of that land (Martinez 1993; Shebitz and Kimmerer 2005).

Species or ecosystems that historically were anthropogenically managed offer unique opportunities to incorporate both traditional and Western scientific worldviews into restoration (Anderson 1996a; Lewis 1993:58; Peacock and Turner 2000:170). Ecological research that tests the effects of integrating traditional knowledge in restoration of plants and ecosystems is limited and the implementation of such projects based on collaborative research with tribal members is not well documented. …

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