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Suggested Citation:"Appendix H: Traditional Knowledge." National Research Council. 2003. Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska's North Slope. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10639.
Page 232
Suggested Citation:"Appendix H: Traditional Knowledge." National Research Council. 2003. Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska's North Slope. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10639.
Page 233

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Appendix H Traditional Knowledge Richard Glenn Vice Presidents Arctic Slope Regional Corporation Barrow, AK Native American people have since the time of the first European contact struggled with the idea of sharing with the outside world a storehouse of raw information, truisms, phi- losophies, and ways of life. This storehouse is wrapped in a big blanket and named by the outside world as "traditional knowledge." It has been obtained (as in any culture) over time by observations of nature, trial and error, dogged per- sistence, and flashes of inspiration. In cultures without a written history, such as our Alaskan North Slope Inupiat culture, this knowledge is passed person to person, through social organizations, individual training, as well as through stories and legends. Our culture is based on knowledge of the natural envi- ronment and its resources. Knowledge of the Arctic tundra, rivers and lakes, of the lagoons and oceans, and all of the food resources they provide are our foundation. Further, knowledge of snow and ice conditions, of ocean currents, weather patterns, and their effects on natural systems be- comes necessary for navigation, finding and trailing game, and locating shelter and each other. This knowledge has value. First, to pass amongst each other and on to our chil- dren, and, second (should we decide to) to pass on to those outside of our culture. To someone unfamiliar with the Inupiat culture or the arctic environment (such as a youngster or an outsider) the storehouse of information must seem near infinite and inac- cessible. And, stereotypes abound amongst ourselves and in the eyes of outsiders. Legends of the "hundred different terms for snow . . . or ice" serve to perpetuate the mystery. Regarding sharing with outsiders, in addition to the stereo- types, there is a stigma: bad experiences too numerous to count that began by good-faith sharing of traditional knowl- edge and ended by abuses of the sharing process. These range from simple plagiarism to exploitation and thievery. Here, too, legends and stereotypes abound. Such experiences have led many Inupiat people first to ask "Why share?" And even if this challenge has been an- 232 swered sufficiently, an equally difficult challenge remains for both sides: "How to share?" WHY SHARE? Why do we share our traditional knowledge? Despite the stigma, our community is proud of a long history of pro- ductive cooperative efforts with visiting researchers, and proud of hunters, travelers, and other experts lending their support to visiting scientists, mapmakers, and others. Why? We share when we consider others as close enough to be part of our own culture, and we share when we think it is in the best interest of a greater cultural struggle. Experts Sharing With Each Other The question of "why" is always easy to answer when two individuals are sharing equally, and the joy of discovery takes place on both sides. Examples in our own hundred- year history of cooperation serve as good models. The wild- life biologist and the whaler, the nomadic traveler and geologist, the archaeologist and the village elders. This two- way exchange has often worked when a given researcher has been around long enough to be considered "one of us," or at least has displayed to the community that he possesses some common values. Sharing for the Greater Good For a more locally important reason, we share tradi- tional knowledge when we believe that it will lead to pre- serving our land, our resources, or our way of life. This reason has prodded us to work hard with regulatory agen- cies and other organizations to develop policies, to draft environmental impact statements, or to offer even the most specific knowledge of the environment, wildlife, or cul- tural practice.

APPENDIX H Sharing as a Part of Inupiat Eclucation A third reason exists: Pure instruction. Like a teacher to a student, our elders and experts teach the rest of our com- munity in any facet of traditional knowledge. We share to perpetuate our culture. How does one become involved in this kind of sharing? The answer is simple: Become a stu- dent. However, this can take a lifetime, pairing with a given expert over years of learning. Chances are that the teacher himself is learning, too. This is the method most commonly used by our own people to transfer knowledge amongst our- selves. Our culture has many vehicles to allow this kind of instruction to take place. This method, too, faces challenges due to changing culture, loss of language, and other factors. HOW TO SHARE? How can an outsider partake in any of the vehicles of sharing traditional knowledge? Choose one or all above cri- teria: an exchange among experts, become part of an effort that is of value to our people, or remain in the community and become a real student. Any other method risks lack of context, data gaps from abbreviated efforts, and other such problems. Current Efforts Funding exists in many government agencies for pro- grams that elicit traditional knowledge. These programs can be found from NSF to NOAA to MMS. Recently these ef- forts have drawn praise from outside quarters, as it demon- strates that the government has "validated" traditional knowledge. Yet, even so, we are still struggling with the very agencies that have given traditional knowledge some credibility. Why is this? In many instances the goal of elicit- ing traditional knowledge is a short-term project objective for an effort that might necessarily take a lifetime. A common problem many agency efforts face is that they try to gather traditional knowledge in "nontraditional ways." They hold public meetings, offer copies of documents for comment, or rely on whatever political leadership hap- pens to be in place. Another vehicle in vogue for agencies is the contract with a Native organization. Native tribal organizations, profit and nonprofit corpo- rations, and rural and local governments all represent some aspect of a Native constituency. So, because the groups have some legitimacy in attempting to be the bridge between tra- ditional knowledge and the outside world, a contract is de- veloped. The contractor must somehow assimilate, docu- ment, and contribute traditional knowledge. Thus, what should take (1) years of heart-to-heart collaboration between experts, or (2) a whole army of local energy focused on a single issue, or (3) years of tutelage under a suite of instruc- tors must now be completed before the contract deadline, usually a period of weeks to months. 233 When contracting with a Native organization to elicit traditional knowledge, the government can wash its hands of the issue. It looks appropriate; it's in the Natives' hands. And, the Native organization, hungry as it should be for grants and contracts from the "feds," offers to carry the obli- gation. Again, contract and project timelines become the tar- gets, and we collect what we can while we can. Quality may suffer, content and context as well. Knowing that change happens slowly, and that agencies can only do so much, it is reasonable to assume that what is presently occurring will continue. Meetings to assess tradi- tional knowledge will undoubtedly go on. With this in mind, there are a few more cautions to those interested in docu- menting traditional knowledge, learning about the environ- ment without reinventing the wheel, and working with Na- tive communities on regionally important issues. Choose the Forum with Care A meeting's attendees must be matched to the issue. When expertise is really needed, it should be stated. Stereo- types will allow any agency to assume the expertise is there. There is a scene from the movie On Deadly Ground where the leading actress (an Asian woman playing a Yup'ik) jumps on a horse to the surprise of Steven Seagal's charac- ter. He asks, "You can ride a horse?" to which she answers, "Of course, I'm Native American!" A comical analogy, but not far from the mark from many real-life stereotypes. Don't Put Your Eggs in One Basket Check sources. Stated another way, the most talkative person may not be the most knowledgeable. Ours is a culture of consensus. Agreement is mandatory on nearly every item passed as traditional knowledge. If one person stands alone, he may be an expert, or he may be wrong. Given the size of the task, it is easy to run away from documenting traditional knowledge, even for our own inter- nal reasons. For many it can be an intensely personal en- deavor. Still, such documentation will continue by our own people as well as by outside groups. Our culture is changing, and some day we may be learning "traditional knowledge" using the same techniques employed by those today who are outside looking in. We may be learning of our own tradi- tional knowledge as if it belonged to others. Just as today in many places we are learning our own language as if it were a foreign language. As long as we are pledged to the task, we should look past the requirements of this contract or that mandate, and remember the quality of information, time-tested and true. With everything changing, it is a valuable reference plane. If it is not where we are going, at least it is where we are com- r 1ng from.

Next: Appendix I: Legal Framework for Activities on State Lands on the North Slope »
Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska's North Slope Get This Book

This book identifies accumulated environmental, social and economic effects of oil and gas leasing, exploration, and production on Alaska's North Slope. Economic benefits to the region have been accompanied by effects of the roads, infrastructure and activies of oil and gas production on the terrain, plants, animals and peoples of the North Slope. While attempts by the oil industry and regulatory agencies have reduced many of the environmental effects, they have not been eliminated. The book makes recommendations for further environmental research related to environmental effects.

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