TWS supports ITEK in federal policymaking

Guided by the Native Peoples’ Wildlife Management Working Group, The Wildlife Society recently provided suggestions to implement Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge in U.S. federal policy making.

Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge or ITEK, refers to information passed down by Indigenous people over thousands of years, gained through direct contact with the environment. Also called Traditional Ecological Knowledge or Indigenous Knowledge, it is specific to each tribe and includes ecology, spirituality, human and animal interaction and more.

Last November, the U.S. administration announced a commitment to incorporate ITEK in federal policymaking. Following the announcement, the government offered a series of opportunities for the public to inform federal guidance on the proposal. TWS’ Native Peoples’ Wildlife Management Working Group worked with policy staff to submit comments supporting the effort and providing suggestions on elevating ITEK.

TWS recommended the administration recognize each tribes’ unique body of knowledge and relationship with the federal government, avoid using the term “best available science” when soliciting broad public input of ecological and cultural significance, train federal employees on new federal guidance and implementing existing agency guidance, and support tribal engagement with the National Climate Assessment development process.

TWS also spoke to the need for funding to recruit the next generation of wildlife professionals. TWS suggested the administration robustly fund programs such as the U.S. Geological Survey’s Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers, which engage the next generation of professionals on climate change adaptation research and strategies. Specifically, the comments highlighted the program’s partnership with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in which CASCs fill Tribal liaison positions with the goal of making Tribal nations equal partners in determining research needs. TWS also noted that increased ITEK training and Tribal representation in federal positions, support for Tribal universities and assistance with Tribal grant applications would decrease barriers to entry and promote equity for the next generation of Tribal wildlife professionals.

“Trust, transparency and reciprocity are imperative to effective collaborations, and as a working group we are seeking ways to continue to build a better network of support on behalf of our Indigenous communities for improved wildlife management, science and policy,” said Celina Gray, chair-elect of the Native Peoples’ Wildlife Management Working Group. “Many of our TWS members work in roles that engage with Tribal communities directly or indirectly. With that in mind, our collaborative message is not just one for the Biden administration. I hope it sets a tone for engagement with our working group, tribal communities at large and increasing understanding for the application of (I)TEK that foundationally supports the mission of TWS to inspire, empower and enable wildlife professionals to sustain wildlife populations and habitats.”

Header Image: Waldo Lake, a natural alpine lake in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. Credit: Bonnie Moreland