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Your Environment. Your Health.

Tribal Ecological Knowledge Workshop

December 2-4, 2015


This workshop focused on the value of Tribal Ecological Knowledge (TEK) for environmental health sciences (EHS) and biomedical research. The term TEK denotes "traditional knowledge [that], like Western science, is based on accumulation of observation. It is knowledge that is transmitted through generations, practice in how tribes carry out resource use practices, and beliefs about how people fit into ecosystems" (Berkes, 2000). The term is widely used by tribal communities to denote a range of factors affecting Native health from an indigenous perspective. We propose that TEK is a culturally appropriate form of community-engaged research that could benefit biomedical research focused on environmental factors affecting health, and may also be a way to increase trust and mutual respect in tribal-academic partnership. In addition, we believe that TEK is an example of citizen science, which we would like to highlight due to the increased attention to citizen science as a viable element of research among researchers and federal agencies.

Workshop Goals

The workshop goals were to explore ways to improve trust in academic-tribal research; to identify methods for incorporating community-acquired data and local TEK into environmental health and biomedical research studies; to consider ethical approaches for tribal specific data collection; and to build capacity to respond to long term and immediate disaster events.

This workshop was organized by representatives of seven tribal communities working with NIH (NIEHS and NIMHD), Indian Health Service, Smithsonian Museums, and CDC/ATSDR staff. We believe that hosting a workshop around the theme of TEK raised awareness of the importance of this type of contribution to research and garnered input from those with expertise in TEK to identify the types of environmental health sciences research where TEK could complement and add to Western scientific approaches.

Workshop Outcomes

The workshop was a success in creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and for promoting the value of understanding and valuing TEK for research. Specific outcomes include:

  • Presentation of the TEK workshop recommendations to the NIH Tribal Consultation Advisory Committee in February, 2016. These recommendations were provided by each speaker and by all participants during the concluding discussion.
  • An invited commentary to be submitted to Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) in March 2016.
  • A review article to be submitted to EHP in September 2016.  
  • Planning for future workshops in 2017 and beyond
    • to further explore TEK and its potential for biomedical research, and
    • to explore the impact of climate change on tribal elderly and other health disparate populations.
  • Inclusion of TEK as a topic in funding announcements. The NIEHS has reissued a program announcement, PA-16-083 "Research to Action: Assessing and Addressing Community Exposures to Environmental Contaminants (R01)" This program announcement includes interest in research that explores or validates TEK as part of an environmental health sciences research application.
  • Provision of emergency response safety training targeted to tribal communities

Workshop Program Booklet


December 3, 2015
8:30 a.m.
8:35 a.m.
Ceremonial Blessing
Tom Belt (Western Band of Cherokee), Western Carolina University
8:40 a.m. Opening Remarks – Purpose of the Meeting (2MB)
Symma Finn, NIEHS
8:50 a.m.
NIH Commitment to Research with Tribal Communities (3MB)
Linda Birnbaum, Director, NIEHS
Gwyneira Issacs, Smithsonian Institution, Moderator
9:10 a.m.
Overview of TEK (874KB)
Stewart Hill (Cree), University of Manitoba
9:40 a.m. Exploring the Interface of Indigenous Traditional Knowledge and the Health Sciences (517KB)
Joseph P. Gone (Gros Ventre), University of Michigan
Michael Spittel, OBSSR, Moderator
10:30 a.m.
Rethinking Approaches to Substance Abuse Treatment for Native Youth: Inclusion of Traditional Knowledge (1MB)
Lisa Lefler, Western Carolina University (WCU)
11:00 a.m. TEK and Language: How Knowledge is Shaped by Word Choice
Tom Belt (Cherokee), WCU
11:30 a.m. Lost at Home: The Psychosocial Consequences of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (2MB)
Spero Manson (Pembina), University of Colorado
Jennie Joe, University of Arizona, Moderator
12:00 p.m.
Woman is the First Environment
Katsi Cook (Mohawk Akwesasne), Novo Foundation
12:30 p.m. Inupiat Concerns to Oil and Gas Development and Health, Culture, and Research
Rosemary Ahtuangaruak (Inupiaq)
Dorothy Castille, NIMHD, Moderator
2:30 p.m.
Indoor air quality interventions with American Indian communities: Creating culturally adapted intervention methods and educational tools (1MB)
Annie Belcourt (Blackfeet and Hidatsa), University of Montana
3:00 p.m. Cancer Risk from Exposure to Uranium Among the Navajo (4MB)
Jani Ingram (Navajo), Northern Arizona University
3:30 p.m. Community-based Cumulative Risk Assessment of Exposure to Waterborne Contaminants on the Crow Reservation
Myra Lefthand (Crow), Mari Eggers, and John Doyle (Crow)
4:00 p.m. Tribal Citizen Science: Environmental Health Research in American Indian Communities
Elizabeth Hoover, Brown University
4:30 p.m. Closing Remarks Day 1
Sally Darney, Environmental Health Perspectives Journal
December 4, 2015
8:25 a.m.
Symma Finn, NIEHS
Carl Hill, NIA, Moderator
8:30 a.m.
Climate Change Adaptation: Indigenous Knowledges and Exercises of Indigenuity
Dan Wildcat, Haskell Indian Nation University
9:00 a.m. The Challenges of Cultural and Environmental Health Restoration in a Changing Climate
Mary Arquette (Akwesasne Mohawk), Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force
9:30 a.m. The Value of Traditional Knowledge in Climate Change Planning (751KB)
Michael Durglo, Jr. (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes)
Pam Miller, ACAT, Moderator
10:20 a.m.
Community Health Perspectives: Traditional Knowledge About Health
Vi Waghiyi (St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Native Village of Savoonga Tribal Member), Alaska Community Action Against Toxins
10:50 a.m. Global Migration of Environmental Contaminants and Human Disease (1MB)
David Carpenter, University at Albany - SUNY
11:20 a.m. Jamie Donatuto, Larry Campbell (Swinomish)
Annabelle Allison, CDC, Moderator
1:20 p.m.
Responsibilities towards Indigenous Knowledge in a Global Context
Gwyneira Isaacs, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
1:40 p.m. A Museum of Living Cultures: Appreciating the Survival of Native Culture at the NMAI (7MB)
Jose Barreiro (Taino), Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
2:10 p.m. Tribally Driven Environmental Health Research: Highlights from the Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH) Program (122KB)
Mose Herne (Mohawk), Indian Health Service (IHS)
Mose Herne, IHS, Moderator
2:30 p.m.
Discussion with All Participants
3:40 p.m. TEK and Environmental Health Sciences: Opportunities and Challenges
Gwen Collman, NIEHS, Jennie Joe, University of Arizona
4:10 p.m. Closing Remarks and Acknowledgements
Linda Birnbaum and Symma Finn, NIEHS
4:15 p.m. Closing Benediction
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