Linking Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), native grassland and soil health, and human health on Indigenous traditional lands

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Cristina Eisenberg

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For millennia, Indigenous people have created more productive, healthy ecosystems by modifying them with fire and by altering the movements of important wildlife species such as bison. These practices, part of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), created healthy, productive soils, increased biodiversity, ecosystem resiliency and vigor, and sustained human health. Globally, colonialism, defined as a foreign polity seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories to develop or exploit them to benefit the colonizing country and help the colonies modernize in terms defined by the colonizers, has created extensive ecological degradation. We illustrate this global problem—and solution—with a case study from an EcoHealth Network founder site in southwest Alberta, Canada, that involves the Kainai (Blackfoot or Nitsitapi) First Nation. Here, colonialism directly caused ecological degradation. Euro-American settler-induced changes included extirpation of bison (Bison bison), wolves, and beavers; elimination of wildfire, introduction of non-native agronomic grass species, suppression of traditional fires set by Indigenous people, and introduction of infectious diseases. Collectively these actions caused soil erosion and desertification and a sharp decline in biodiversity and human health. Here I discuss how empowering Indigenous communities to restore ecosystems using TEK can heal the damage done. Restoration projects co-created and led by Indigenous communities rooted in their cultural beliefs, can synergistically restore soil health, ecological function, biodiversity, and human health. This leads to improved resiliency to ecological problems such as climate change and to solutions to widespread human health problems, such as diabetes, that we face today.

Resource Type:
Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019

Society for Ecological Restoration