Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)

In 1994, the Council received its first call from a community resident to incorporate Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of spill area residents into the restoration program, and subsequently funded three projects on community involvement and TEK. Two years later, the 1996 annual restoration workshop had TEK as its theme and led to a set of protocols for incorporating TEK into restoration projects developed by a committee of Alaska Natives and others and approved later that year by the Trustee Council. In 1998, the final report for project 97052B was published as the Traditional Ecological Knowledge Handbook: A Training Manual and Reference Guide for Designing, Conducting, and Participating in Research Projects Using Traditional Ecological Knowledge. The handbook includes the Council’s 1996 TEK protocols.

Examples of projects incorporating TEK as a result of Trustee Council efforts include:

  • Scientist Jody Seitz conducted an extensive project involving Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Researchers interviewed thirty-nine spill area community members to document the historical distribution of forage fish such as juvenile herring, sandlance, capelin, and eulachon. This information was mapped and provided to the Alaska Predator Ecosystem Experiment (APEX) and Sound Ecosystem Assessment (SEA) researchers. The results were extremely valuable because they could not have been obtained from other historical sources or from current data collection efforts.
  • Scientist Dan Rosenberg solicited local participation from communities and conveyed results of his research on surf scoters, an important subsistence resource. The project idea came from local communities. Rosenberg worked with them throughout all stages of the project, from project design to writing the final report.
  • The Trustee Council provided funding support to the Alaska Native Harbor Seal Commission, which uses Alaska Native hunters to conduct biosampling of harbor seal tissues using lab-approved techniques. In 1999, the commission reached an agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service to co-manage harbor seal populations.
  • Three videos have been produced to provide the public information about Traditional Ecological Knowledge and concerns about subsistence use after the oil spill. The first two, "Alutiiq Pride: A Story of Subsistence" and "Changing Tides in Tatitlek", describe subsistence methods, interview Alaska Native people who experienced the spill first hand, show actual subsistence hunts, and illustrate the importance of subsistence in Alutiiq culture. The third, "Our Alutiiq Journey", documents the communities of Chenega Bay and Ouzinkie in relation to the effects of the oil spill, residual oil in the spill region, and concerns about PSP, a natural toxin found in clams harvested for food. These videos were distributed at no charge to all schools in Alaska via their school districts, all spill area tribal councils, and any other library or school in the U.S. upon request.
  • The Trustee Council funded Elders/Youth Conferences in 1995 and 1998 that brought together Alaska Native elders, youth, other subsistence users, scientists, and managers to share ideas about subsistence issues and facilitate community involvement. The Trustee Council paid for four people from each of 20 spill area communities to attend each conference. Participants shared stories, voiced frustration, and asked scientists questions about subsistence issues. They also developed ideas for youth to get more involved through spirit camps, internships, and educational opportunities. These workshops facilitated collaboration between communities of the spill area, while concerns and ideas generated at the conference were reported to the Trustee Council.