Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Traditional knowledge is often referred to as Indigenous knowledge and local knowledge. It is knowledge that is handed down through generations about life experiences. Traditional knowledge includes knowledge about the land, the people, the creator, and other things like traditional practices such as ceremonies, religious practices such as prayer, and teachings about life.
Traditional ecological knowledge is the knowledge that First Nations people have regarding sustainability of local resources. It is a cumulative body of knowledge, belief and practice.
Lesson 5: Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Grade: 6-9 (Science and Social Studies)
Topic: What traditional knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge are and some examples of this knowledge.
Time: Two class periods (approximately two hours).
Space requirement: Classroom
Materials: Dictionaries or an electronic way (tablet, smartphone, computers, etc.) for students to find definitions of words; chalkboard or whiteboard and computer and projector, or Smartboard; Internet; photocopies of the First Nations’ Perspective on Drinking Water sheets; paper and pencils/pens, the plant names printed (each set is good for 15 students, so if you have more than 15 students you will need to print a couple sets and if you have more than 30 students you will need to print three sets) and cut out, folded and in a hat/cup/bucket or placed face down on a desk/table; one copy of the “Medicinal Plants Worksheet” document for each student; a way for students to conduct online research (smartphones, tablets, computers, etc.).
Objectives: Students will learn what traditional knowledge is and what traditional ecological knowledge is and they will learn about some aspects of this knowledge.
Keywords: Traditional knowledge, Traditional ecological knowledge, First Nations people, Sustainability, Resources, Ceremonies
1. Put the words traditional, ecological, and knowledge on the board. Have students race to find each word in a dictionary or an electronic dictionary. Ask students what each word on its own means. Write the definitions on the board. (Traditional means long-established; habitually done, used, or found. Ecological means relating to or concerned with the relationship of living organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings. Knowledge means facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education.)
2. Ask students to try to write one sentence that puts the meanings of the words traditional, ecological, and knowledge together in order to write what they think traditional ecological knowledge is. Ask students what they have come up with (choose students to read their sentences) and write a sentence on the board that encompasses what the class thinks traditional ecological knowledge means. (For example, Long-established facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education that is about the relationship of living organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings.)
3. Tell students that the word traditional does, in fact, mean long-established or habitually done for a long time. Ask students who the first people in Canada were (Answer: First Nations people) and whether they think traditional ecological knowledge might refer to knowledge held by that group of people. Then, ask students what kind of facts, information and skills First Nations people might have about the relationship of living organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings. (For example, identification of medicinal plants, identification of different species of fish, movement of caribou herds, how animals are categorized, etc.).
4. Tell students that there is also something called “traditional knowledge” (the word ecological is not in this term). Ask students what they think traditional knowledge is and write a sentence on the board that encompasses what the class thinks traditional knowledge is. (For example, Long-established facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education.) Ask them what some examples of traditional knowledge that are not traditional ecological knowledge might be. (For example, ceremonies like smudging, sacred pipe ceremonies, sweat lodges, water ceremonies, water walks, and fasting. Also, creation stories or other myths and legends – for example why dogs have long tongues).
5. Give students the handout “First Nations’ Perspective on Water”. Go over the handout and discuss it as a class.
6. Ask the students to write a concrete poem/shape poem (a poem that is written in such a way that the shape of the words on the page matches the subject of the poem). Give the students the remainder of the class to create their concrete poems/shape poems as they will be due the next day.
1. Have students hand in their concrete poems/shape poems. They will be marked based on the Concrete Poem/Shape Poem rubric.
2. Talk about the fact that traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is often compared to western science. Ask students what some of the characteristics of western science are. Here are some questions to guide the students:
a. Is western science all one subject, or is western science divided up into different subjects (chemistry, physics, biology, environmental science, astronomy, geology, etc.)? (It is divided up into different subjects.)
b. What are some characteristics of labs you do in your science class? Do you change many variables at the same time or do you change one variable at a time? Do you record your data? (In western science, experiments are controlled and one variable is changed at a time. Quantitative results are recorded and analyzed.)
c. What is the goal of western science? Why are experiments conducted, data recorded, and data analyzed in western science? (Hypotheses are being tested and the goal is to find universal truths.)
Ask students what some of the characteristics of traditional ecological knowledge are. Here are some questions to guide the students:
a. Is it separated into different subjects or is it holistic (including metaphysical and spiritual)? (It is holistic.)
b. Does it use quantitative data (like numbers) or qualitative data (like descriptions)? (It uses qualitative data.)
c. What is the goal of traditional ecological knowledge? Why did they teach this knowledge to the youth? (Practical and applied goals, like knowing what plants can fix which problems and to promote sustainability.)
Ask students what western science and traditional ecological knowledge have in common. Here are some questions to guide the students:
a. Are both western science and traditional ecological knowledge based on observation? (Yes.)
b. Does both western science knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge change over time? (Yes.)
c. Are both western science and traditional ecological knowledge verified through repetition (repeating experiments, seeing what time of year animals migrate, etc.)? (Yes.)
d. Do both western science and traditional ecological knowledge seek to understand the physical world? (Yes.)
e. Do both western science and traditional ecological knowledge explain complex systems? (Yes.)
3. Remind the students that medicinal plants grow in or around water. Play the video of Wanuskewin Heritage Park’s walking tour of medicinal plants: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/indigenous-medicinal-walk-1.4235900 (it is about three-minutes in length).
4. Ask students questions about their preferences for plants or methods we tend to use and about their preferences for medicinal plants or medication. Ask them:
a. Whether they would rather use a trembling aspen or a weather website/channel/app to figure out whether it is going to rain. Why do they prefer that method?
b. Whether they would rather use the white powder from the bark of a trembling aspen or sunscreen that is bought in a store as sunscreen. Why do they have that preference?
c. Whether they would rather use creeping juniper tea or an over the counter pain reliever (Tylenol, Robax, etc.) if they had back pain. Why would that be their preference?
d. Whether they would prefer to use stinging nettle or vitamins to get more iron and minerals (if they needed more). Ask them why that would be their preference.
e. Whether they would rather use cattails or antibiotic ointment (like Polysporin) if they had a skin burn or a skin infection. Ask students why that would be their preference.
f. Whether they would rather use plantain or over the counter or doctor-prescribed creams if they had an issue like eczema or psoriasis. Ask them why they would make that choice.
g. Whether they would rather use yarrow or over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve pain. Ask them why they would prefer that.
h. Whether they would use yarrow tea or over-the-counter medication like Tylenol, Nyquil, etc. if they had a fever, cold, or flu. Why would they make that choice?
i. Whether they would use yarrow or bug spray, (like OFF!) as an insect repellant. Why would they make that choice?
5. Have each student pull a plant name folded piece of paper out of a hat/cup/bucket or pick one plant name piece of paper that is facedown on a table or desk.
6. Give each student a copy of the Medicinal Plants Worksheet. Ask the students to conduct research in order to complete the worksheet. If there is not enough time to complete the Medicinal Plants Worksheet in class then have students do it as homework. This worksheet is due next class.
Evaluation: Can be based on their participation in answering questions during the class discussions. Will also be based on their completed shape poem (see the Shape Poem Rubric) and completed Medicinal Plants Worksheet (see the Medicinal Plants Worksheet Answer Key).
Resources used in the lesson
Medicine in your backyard: How Indigenous peoples have used medicinal plants. CBC/Radio-Canada. (August 2017). Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/indigenous-medicinal-walk-1.4235900
Plant Directory. Virtual Museum of Canada. (2005). Retrieved from http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/expositions-exhibitions/plantes-plants/plant_dir/index.php
Traditional Knowledge: Considerations for Protecting Water in Ontario. The International Indigenous Policy Journal. (2012). Retrieved from https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1080&context=iipj