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The Relationship between Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Evolving Cultures, and Wilderness Protection in the Circumpolar North

Alan Watson, Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute
Lilian Alessa
Brian Glaspell


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There are many unique issues associated with natural resource management in the far north as a result of legislative direction, historic settlement and occupation patterns, northern cultural traditions, ecotourism, economic depression, pressures for energy development, and globalization and modernization effects. Wilderness designation in Canada, the USA, and Finland is aimed at preserving and restoring many human and ecological values, as are the long-established, strictly enforced, nature reserves in Russia. In Alaska and Finland, and in some provinces of Canada, there is a variety of values associated with protecting relatively intact relationships between indigenous people and relatively pristine, vast ecosystems. These values are often described as “traditional means of livelihood,” “traditional means of access,” “traditional relationships with nature,” or “traditional lifestyles.” Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) forms part of these relationships and has been acknowledged as a contributor to understanding the effects of management decisions and human-use impacts on long-term ecological composition, structure, and function. Wilderness protection can help maintain opportunities to continue traditional relationships with nature. As cultures continue to evolve in customs, attitudes, knowledge, and technological uses, values associated with both TEK and relationships with relatively pristine ecosystems will also evolve. Understanding these relationships and how to consider them in wilderness protection and restoration decision making is potentially one of the most contentious, widespread natural resource management issues in the circumpolar north.

Key words

circumpolar north, ecological restoration, relationship with nature, traditional ecological knowledge, traditional lifestyles, traditional means of livelihood, wilderness

Copyright © 2003 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