Science, Traditional Knowledge and Sustainable Development
Reef and Rainforest: An Environmental Encyclopedia of Marovo Lagoon, Solomon Islands
The Canoe Is the People: Indigenous Navigation in the Pacific
NGOs in the Governance of Biodiversity, no. 178
Indigenous Knowledge, no. 173
Beginnings: Local & Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) project
The environmental knowledge of local & indigenous peoples is now widely recognised as an essential building block for sustainable development and the conservation of biological and cultural diversity. Emerging on the international scene at the Earth Summit (Rio 1992), and through the Convention on Biodiversity, whose Article 8(j) incites State Parties to 'respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities', the domain has rapidly gained prominence and momentum.
UNESCO launched the Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) project in 2002 as one of a new generation of cross-cutting projects to heighten interdisciplinary and intersectoral action (cf. LINKS website). Contributing to the Millennium Development Goals of poverty eradication and environmental sustainability, the project aims to empower local and indigenous peoples in biodiversity governance by advocating full recognition of their unique knowledge, know-how and practices. LINKS is led by the Natural Science's Coastal Regions and Small Islands Platform and involves all five UNESCO programme sectors, as well as the Apia, Bangkok, Dhaka, Hanoi, Montevideo and Moscow field offices. From its inception, the project has hosted and benefited from the yearly support of indigenous youth interns sponsored by Canada.
The LINKS project was in part born out of the debate generated by UNESCO's inclusion of indigenous knowledge on the agenda of the "World Conference on Science" (Budapest 1999). Placing scientific and indigenous knowledge side-by-side triggered considerable discussion about the status and validity of knowledge. Some questioned whether it was appropriate for the world's scientists to give recognition to these 'other knowledge systems' (Nakashima 2000). Responding to these concerns, the International Council for Science (ICSU), with the support of UNESCO-LINKS, produced a report on "Science, Traditional Knowledge and Sustainable Development" that was launched in Johannesburg during the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and that defines and differentiates science, traditional knowledge and pseudoscience (ICSU/UNESCO 2002).
Since its inception, LINKS combines field-based action with efforts to raise awareness and build dialogue among indigenous knowledge holders, scientists and the public at large. A number of field projects have been established. In the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve in Nicaragua, the Mayangna people have requested that their knowledge be recorded in the form of an 'encyclopedia of nature' that would serve both to educate their children, as well as affirm their status as knowers and managers of their lands and resources. Work has begun in the community of Arandak with an initial focus on elucidating the economically important category of 'things of the water', that encompasses numerous types of fish, but also extends to turtles. Another Latin American project is underway with the Mapuche Pewenche in Chile. Working with the Asociación de Comunidades Mapuche pewenche Markan Kura, a local indigenous NGO, this project focuses on the many facets of Mapuche knowledge. The project is centered on the Monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria imbricata), a keystone species for the ecological system, and a core element in Mapuche society. Other LINKS field projects have been initiated with the fishers of Charan District, Bangladesh, the Cree First Nation hunter-trappers of subarctic Quebec, Canada, the Even and Koryak herders and hunters of Kamchatka, Russia, and the Pacific island peoples of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Palau. In the framework of the latter field project, LINKS launched the first volume in its publication series Knowledges of Nature. This book, entitled "Reef and Rainforest: An Environmental Encyclopedia of Marovo Lagoon, Solomon Islands" by Professor Edvard Hviding (2005), provides a meticulous documentation of Solomon Islander knowledge of reef and land topography, and of marine and terrestrial animals and plants. Containing more than 1200 Marovo terms with descriptions in both Marovo and English, it is destined for use in local schools, where there is a dearth of indigenous language materials, and provides a first basis for dialogue between scientists and the Marovo peoples.
In addition to empowering local & indigenous communities in biodiversity governance, through their recognition as knowledge-holders, the LINKS project also seeks to maintain the vitality of local knowledge within communities. Indigenous and local rural peoples are often marginalized by mainstream society. In the formal school system, this results in the exclusion, and even denigration, of local knowledge, values and worldviews. The resulting alienation, loss of identity and self-esteem, is devastating for indigenous youth and for the society as a whole. In several of its field projects, LINKS seeks to strengthen ties between elders and youth in order to reinforce the transmission of indigenous knowledge and know-how. One approach targeting youth has been the use of new information and communication technologies, such as multimedia CD-ROMs, as a vehicle for conveying traditional knowledge. The LINKS CD-ROM series thus far includes two interactive CD-ROMs, the first on Aboriginal Australian life-worlds entitled "Dream Trackers - Yapa Art and Knowledge of the Australian Desert" (Glowzewski 2000), and the second, to be released in 2005, on Pacific Islander knowledge of ocean navigation and the arts of canoe construction and sailing, entitled "The Canoe is the People".
Despite broadened support, the issue of local & indigenous knowledge continues to be contentious and is plagued with stereotypes and misconceptions. To build awareness and promote dialogue and mutual understanding, the LINKS project has organized international seminars and workshops, and prepared publications on the theme. In the framework of the World Water Forum (WWF), LINKS organised workshops on water and indigenous peoples at the Second WWF in The Hague in 2000, and at the Third WWF in Kyoto in 2003. At the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg 2002), LINKS organised a session with ICSU on "Linking Traditional and Scientific Knowledge for Sustainable Development". A further international seminar, "NGOs, Indigenous Peoples and Local Knowledge", was organized with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS- France) in UNESCO Headquarters in 2003, leading to the publication of a thematic issue of the International Social Science Journal (ISSJ) on "NGOs and the Governance of Biodiversity" (Roué 2003). An earlier issue of ISSJ was produced on "Indigenous Knowledge" (Agrawal 2002). Most recently, LINKS organised, in cooperation with CNRS, and in the framework of the international conference on "Biodiversity: Science and Governance", a workshop on "Sustaining Biological and Cultural Diversity: The challenge of local knowledge, practice and worldviews".
Rural populations and indigenous peoples are often marginalized from governance processes, such as decisions pertaining to access, use and management of land and resources. Yet such decisions are critical for their economic, social and cultural well-being. By promoting local and indigenous knowledge systems, the LINKS project argues for the rights of local & indigenous peoples to not only participate in these processes, but also shape them to their own needs and aspirations.
By Douglas Nakashima and Annette Nilsson
Nakashima, D. and Nilsson, A. 2006. Linking Biological and Cultural Diversity: Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) project. Pp. 385-388. In: Petitjean, P., Zharov, V., Glaser, G., Richardson, J., de Padirac, B. and Archibald, G. (eds.). 60 years of Science at UNESCO 1945-2005, UNESCO, Paris.
Order a copy through UNESCO Publishing
Agrawal, Arun (ed. advisor), 2002, "Indigenous Knowledge", International Social Science Journal No. 173 (in 6 languages)
Glowzewski, Barabara, 2000, Dream trackers. Yapa art and knowledge of the Australian Desert, UNESCO Publishing: Paris (in Walpiri, English and French)
Hviding, Edvard, 2005, Reef and Rainforest: An Environmental Encyclopedia of Marovo Lagoon, Solomon Islands, LINKS Knowledges of Nature series no. 1, UNESCO: Paris. 252 pp.
Nakashima, Douglas, 2000, "What relationship between scientific and traditional systems of knowledge? Science and other systems of knowledge", pp. 432-444, In: Cetto, A. M., Science for the 21st Century - A New Commitment, UNESCO: Paris.
Roué, Marie (ed. advisor) 2003, "NGOs in the Governance of Biodiversity", International Social Science Journal No. 178 (in 6 languages)
ICSU/UNESCO, 2002, Science, Traditional Knowledge and Sustainable Development, ICSU Series for Science and Sustainable Development No. 4, 24 pp. ICSU: Paris