Evergreen briefing note

Traditional ecological knowledge

2007.10.20 Autumn Tomato

Prepared 12 October 2007 for Prof. Shauna Brail (INI306Y1Y, University of Toronto).

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In this paper:
Key points


Campaigning for the greening of public and urban spaces is demanding unprecedented attention as more citizens reckon their daily actions against how those choices alter our environment. Charities like Evergreen are pioneering empowerment strategies for communities to voluntarily restore, reclaim, and revitalize spaces that until recently were neglected by human industry (Lindsay & King, 2007, 2). Beyond effecting healthier conservational habits, these co-ordinated volunteer efforts (particularly with marginalized communities) also demonstrate valuable implications for fostering cultural and community alliances while teaching entire generations about the pivotal role of natural habitation stewardship within the urban landscape (Salomons, 2004, 8).


  1. Not a matter of what, but how. No longer is conservation the only key to fostering habitat health in places where human impact is acute. In cities, where people cluster heavily, green space is finite — rarified by existing development brought upon by past policy (Groenewegen, et al., 2006, ¶30). Rather, a necessity to integrate traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), amassed by cultures with generations of applied ecological experience, must lead the way to do more [variety] with less [space] (Stevenson, 2006, 174; Corsiglia & Snively, 1997, 23).
  2. Reclamation over conservation. While conservation efforts are noble, they ill-reflect the inevitable outcome of human interaction with the environment. State-based conservation over the past century stands in stark contrast to the deliberate manipulation of the environment by aboriginal peoples prior to European contact — as evidenced by wide-scale “retool[ing of] whole ecosystems to grow bumper crops” of sustainable food sources (Mann, 2002, 50).

Key points

  • TEK is a foundational extension of environmental stewardship;
  • TEK affirms that centuries-old aboriginal experiences with ecological habitats continue to reach
    far beyond what is currently amassed by non-aboriginal understandings;
  • Such experiences foster new interdependency between the myriad cultures that populate a city.


  • Unlike “co-management” (which trivializes aboriginal knowledge inside aboriginal lands), learning from aboriginal communities how indigenous management systems (IMS) vary from non-aboriginal notions of scientific reliance and “environmental awareness” may do more to help Evergreen improve the quality of green restoration in urban areas (Stevenson, 2006, 177).
  • With TEK, under-utilized, limited urban spaces can be repurposed to do more — and do so more diversely, thus improving habitat. This dovetails into Evergreen’s mandate “to bring nature to our cities through naturalization projects” (Evergreen, 2005, 76). While co- management is a “top-down” ecological policy, applying TEK to non-aboriginal spaces changes ecological paradigms, opening unexplored grassroots possibilities for conservation easements and urban corridors (Karjala, 2002, 26). Also, involving the meaningful participation of elders who would lead TEK will not only galvanize the key necessity of aboriginal communities within urban areas, but it will also “confirm the legitimacy of Aboriginal title and rights to land and resources” (Ibid., 25). In other words, start small, educate, and empower neighbourhoods to restore both green space and community relations.


Corsiglia, John & Snively, Gloria. 1997. Knowing home: NisGa’a traditional knowledge and wisdom improve environmental decision making. Alternatives Journal, Summer 1997, 23 (3), 22–27. Waterloo: Alternatives, Inc., University of Waterloo.

Evergreen. 2005. Keeping it green: a citizen’s guide to urban land protection in Canada. Toronto: Evergreen.

Groenewegen, Peter P., Agnes van der Berg, Sjerp de Vries, & Robert A. Verheij. 2006. Vitamin G: effects of green space on health, well-being, and social safety. BMC Public Health, 6(149). London: BioMed Central.

Karjala, Melanie K. 2002. Integrating aboriginal values into strategic-level forest planning on the John Prince Research Forest, Central Interior, British Columbia (Masters thesis, University of Northern British Columbia, 2001). Masters Abstracts International, 42–01, 0194.

Lindsay, Lois & King, Sarah. 2007. Working with your local government: a manual for environmental groups and volunteers. Toronto: Knowledge Development Centre/Imagine Canada/Evergreen.

Mann, Charles. 2002. 1491. The Atlantic Monthly, March 2002, 289(3), 41–53. Boston: Atlantic Monthly Group.

Salomons, M.J. 2004. Discussion paper: establishing an Edmonton Regional Land Trust. Edmonton: The Land Stewardship Resource Centre.

Stevenson, Marc G. (2006). The possibility of difference: rethinking co-management. Human Organization, 65(2), 167–180. Oklahoma City: Society for Applied Anthropology.


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