What is Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)?

Sources: John Burns and Tom Albert:

Information that is passed on which is important for survival; it is gathered through observation, experience, and recorded orally often as stories – continually tested by one’s own experience.

The North Slope Borough’s Department of Wildlife Management’s Bowhead Research Program has, since its inception, integrated TEK with western science. Below are some details of some of the specific examples of how TEK has helped to shape the NSB research program.

Explore TEK and…

Senior whaling captains David Leavitt and Arnold Brower, Sr., at whaling camp. Photo: Craig George Whaling crew paddling an umiaq during the spring bowhead whale hunt. Photo: Lance Craighead

Block and tackle is anchored into the ice and used to pull up a harvested whale. Photo: Craig George

Tips for Integrating TEK in Scientific Research

Below are some suggestions that may make gathering and integrating TEK in science more successful:

  • Wildlife biology is largely observational science, and local hunters are experts at observation
    • More observations = bigger sample size = more accurate information
  • Get permissions in place at the onset of the planning stages of the project
  • Ask the community what they would like to learn
  • The bottom line is mutual respect
    • Get involved with the community, live in the community
  • Foster good communication
    • Listen, take notes and be patient
    • Learn the indigenous language
  • Identify experts
    • Local experts will have their own specialty similar to western scientists
  • TEK observations are very useful in designing studies, forming hypotheses, etc.
  • When gathering TEK, use a “tried and true” methodology
  • Always review information with the community before releasing or publishing
  • Give something back to the community
    • Plain language reports and flyers
    • Community presentations
    • Useful information like field guides, etc.
    • K-12 Classroom Visits
    • Involve students in research


Articles or reports on the importance of TEK in scientific studies:

More TEK Articles:

Sea Ice Drawing and Iñupiat Terms (from the article and poster above)

Banner photo credit: Craig George

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