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“Letting the leaders pass”: barriers to using traditional ecological knowledge in comanagement as the basis of formal hunting regulations

Elisabeth Padilla, Resilience and Adaptation Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Gary P. Kofinas, Department of Humans and Environment and Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks


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We studied a case of failure in applying traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) in comanagement as the basis for formal hunting regulations. We based the study on the Porcupine Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) Herd “let the leaders pass” policy, established for the Dempster Highway of the Western Canadian Arctic, and identified conditions creating barriers in the successful application of TEK through comanagement. Stated as propositions, identified barriers include: (1) the context-specific nature of TEK limits its application in resource management regulations; (2) changes in traditional authority systems, hunting technology, and the social organization of harvesting caribou affect the effectiveness of TEK approaches in a contemporary social setting; (3) indigenous efforts toward self-government and political autonomy limit regional comanagement consensus in a heterogeneous cultural landscape; (4) the mismatch of agency enforcement of hunting regulations and TEK-based education is problematic. We analyzed the case through four historical phases of caribou management, complementing the study with a literature review of TEK and wildlife comanagement to explain why TEK integration of caribou leaders in regulatory resource management fell short of success. Identifying and understanding the social dynamics related to these barriers make apparent solutions for transforming the comanagement process.

Key words

caribou; comanagement; traditional ecological knowledge; wildlife management

Copyright © 2014 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