Traditional Ecological Knowledge
(TEK) and its Integration into CIDA Programming



At the Plenary Session on Global Knowledge and Local Culture of the International Conference Global Knowledge 97, Ms. Hugette Labelle, recent past President of CIDA, referred to local cultures as alternative information-banks. Ms. Labelle stated that "...indigenous peoples embody knowledge, even wisdom, that we may have lost, or never had. Their loss would impoverish us for, just as the world needs genetic diversity of species, it needs diversity of knowledge systems..."

Underpinning this statement are a broad range of national and international policies, conventions, laws and agreements which require that traditional knowledge systems be respected and applied, where appropriate in development planning.

CIDA's Policy Branch, through the Environmental Assessment and Compliance Unit, will be finalising in the 1999-00 fiscal year a CIDA handbook on the integration of traditional knowledge systems into environmental assessments and development projects. The target audiences are CIDA project and programme officers and CIDA's executing agencies and development partners. Through successful application of the guidance provided in the handbook, beneficiaries will also include indigenous peoples and their communities. The document is drafted in such a way so that clear results and outcomes of using TKS in CIDA project design and implementation can be identified. As well, this unit is also collaborating with the World Bank's Indigenous Knowledge for Development Initiative in creating a set of 4 guidelines (in one document) that can be used by NGO's, Indigenous Peoples government departments and private industry when a project involves the knowledge systems of traditional and indigenous peoples. This document will be generic in nature so that is can be used and modified according to local situations.

In the body of published and grey literature there is very limited direct operational information on how a project officer in various stakeholder groups can successfully incorporate indigenous knowledge into project design or environmental assessments. In this context traditional knowledge includes knowledge systems, values, cultural attributes and beliefs, and is not focused just on "biological" knowledge. As well, these knowledge systems are not limited to the Canadian perspective of indigenous knowledge (i.e. Inuit, Metis, First Nation). Much of Islamic, Hindu or Buddhist science and knowledge systems could be considered "traditional" or "indigenous". Consideration of the value and relevance of the TKS results in project goals and objectives that may be more in tune with the cultural underpinnings of the project beneficiaries. Countless examples in published and unpublished literature demonstrate how indigenous knowledge can be applied to the development agenda.

The Centre for Intercultural Learning, Canadian Foreign Service Institute has calculated that the "cost" of an unsuccessful private sector expatriate on a 2-3 year assignment can be $1.4 million (e.g. lost profits, failed deals, bad public relations). The principle reason for this is due to cultural insensitivity or an inability to cope in a different culture. Approximately 50% of private sector expatriates are not fully effective in their position because of these cultural issues. As well, up to 80% of private sector joint ventures are not successful due to cultural sensitivities.

Indigenous peoples are not saying that their communities are not interested in participating in the development process, or in sharing their knowledge with scientists, development planners, and the global community. They are saying that there must be respect for the cultural values of the knowledge and that their rights to maintain these values must be acknowledged and protected in the development process. Indigenous peoples also recognise that the western and indigenous knowledge systems can complement each other with respect to providing appropriate goods and services that an indigenous community has defined for itself. The key problem for indigenous communities has been their lack of control of how the knowledge is accessed and used outside of the community.

Rather than being an analytical or descriptive discussion of this topic, the CIDA handbook and CIDA-World Bank Guidelines provide practical guidance on how indigenous knowledge can be better incorporated into project development and environmental assessments.

Peter Croal Sr.
Environmental Specialist
Environment and Natural Resources Division Policy Branch
Canadian International Development Agency
12th Floor 200 Promenade du Portage
Hull, Quebec Canada K1A 0G4
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