Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is a concept that has been gaining attention in non-native communities in recent years, and frequently coming up in conversation at OFRF. It is hard to provide one all-encompassing definition of TEK, but generally TEK references ecological knowledge that is place-based and also inherently tied to a culture. It is not only a system of knowledge that has been handed down generationally, but a holistic way to view all living things in relationship to the landscape; that means not seeing ourselves as separate from it, but as embedded within the ecological system. To some, TEK represents a wholly-separate knowledge system than Western scientific knowledge, or Western Science, which prioritizes reductionism and transportability. Instead, TEK recognizes that there are pieces of knowledge, especially in the agroecological context, that are too complex to be reduced to their specific constituent parts, and that cannot be replicated elsewhere because the ecological and social factors are not the same.
We recognize that some of the focus on TEK includes examples of white individuals and white-led organizations claiming ancestral and cultural knowledge that belongs to the Indigenous peoples of what is now called North America. As a white-led organization in the agricultural sector, we at OFRF are actively working to properly acknowledge the importance of TEK to organic practices in a way that honors the cultures that hold this deep knowledge and understanding. There are some institutions and communities that are actively trying to facilitate interactions with Western Science and TEK, and integrate this knowledge system and indigenous perspective. Institutions like Cal Poly Humboldt, who are developing and using programming on Place-based Learning Communities. Outside of the agricultural space, arctic researchers are working with tribal nations to gain a better understanding of how the arctic is changing.
There are many that claim the knowledge and principles associated with TEK is a crucial piece of meeting the stacking challenges of our time, especially climate change, even the White House has announced guidance on utilizing TEK. That is one reason why we are working with Senators in Washington D.C. to ensure that TEK is not co-opted by academia, but facilitated by it. But, we acknowledge that these are just small steps when large leaps are needed.
As an organization, we are committed to learning and growing by listening to the needs of communities we aim to serve. We are exploring ways to engage in this path meaningfully while also being mindful of the space we occupy. We know we have a lot to learn, and we hope you will join us in this work.