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Is Validation of Indigenous Ecological Knowledge a Disrespectful Process? A Case Study of Traditional Fishing Poisons and Invasive Fish Management from the Wet Tropics, Australia

Monica Gratani, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University
James R. A. Butler, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, EcoSciences Precinct
Frank Royee, Malanbarra Yidinji Elder
Peter Valentine, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University
Damien Burrows, Australian Centre for Tropical Freshwater Research, James Cook University
Warren I. Canendo, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems and Sustainable Agriculture Flagship, ATFI
Alex S Anderson, Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change, School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University


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Despite the growing recognition of the contribution that indigenous ecological knowledge (IEK) can make to contemporary ‘western’ science-based natural resource management (NRM), integration of the two knowledge systems has not reached its full potential in Australia. One explanation is that there is an implicit requirement for IEK to be validated by western scientific knowledge (SK), which has stalled its application and perpetuated the primacy of SK over IEK. Consequently, there is little experience of IEK validation, indigenous peoples’ perspectives of the process, and no formal frameworks to achieve mutual and equitable validation of both IEK and SK. In this paper we assess the opportunities and limitations of validation processes using a case study of traditional fishing poisons for invasive fish management in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area of Australia. The study was conducted within a coresearch approach between the Aboriginal holders of the IEK, who are among the paper’s authors, and science-based biologists. We jointly carried out scientific laboratory trials that demonstrated that fishing poisons are effective at immobilizing invasive tilapia. Retrospective interviews with indigenous coresearchers showed that they did not find the experience of validation disrespectful, but instead empowering and necessary for their IEK to be understood and appreciated by scientists and included in NRM. Based on our experiences and knowledge of socialization theory we present a framework for the potential future design of collaborative validation processes to facilitate the integration of IEK into mainstream NRM, and the acceptance of SK within indigenous communities in Australia.

Key words

comanagement; fishing poisons; indigenous ecological knowledge; invasive fish; knowledge socialization; livelihoods; poisonous plants; social-ecological systems: tilapia; traditional ecological knowledge; validation

Copyright © 2011 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087