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Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Conservation

Author(s): Mary Heskel

Macalester College

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Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is based on deep understanding of systems from observations made over hundreds to thousands of years. This resource connects TEK to modern conservation through media and primary literature interpretation.


Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Conservation is a week-long module that can be taught completely online. It was developed during Spring 2020 for an introductory ecology course. 

Day 1: Watch Prof. Robin Wall Kimmerer's lecture on TEK made at ESA 2019. Additionally, students read about Prof. Elinor Ostrom's work on Common Pool Resources (though I discussed this in an online lecture I did not attach, so additional resources on this are needed). 

Day 2: Students work in small groups or individually to complete a worksheet on interpreting primary literature (graphs and writing) on Indigenous conservation and resource management in regions around the world (Amazon, India, US Midwest). 

Day 3: Student watch two short documentary episodes of "Tending the Wild" - one on cultural burning and one on salmon streams and dams. Students complete discussion questions based around the documentary. 

Additional links are to all primary literature referenced in the worksheet. This module could be adapted and expanded on to read 1-2 of these papers and compare them, have students design an original thought experiment based around these studies, or explore online about Indigenous conservation practices that are occur and are practiced in their region, and how they benefit ecosystem services and may mitigate climate change. 

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