A new resource of tribal interest was just published in the Environmental Health Perspectives Journal. Native American Perspectives on Health and Traditional Ecological Knowledge was largely authored by Native American scholars as “agents at the interface.” The abstract is provided below.
Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is a conceptual framework that highlights Indigenous knowledge (IK) systems. Although scientific literature has noted the relevance of TEK for environmental research since the 1980s, little attention has been given to how Native American (NA) scholars engage with it to shape tribal-based research on health, nor how non-Native scholars can coordinate their approaches with TEK. This coordination is of particular importance for environmental health sciences (EHS) research exploring interdisciplinary approaches and the integration of environmental and human health.
Our perspective on TEK arose from a series of Health and Culture Research Group (HCRG) workshops that identified gaps in existing EHS methodologies that are based on a reliance on Euro-American concepts for assessing environmental exposures in tribal communities. These prior methods neither take into account cultural behavior nor community responses to these. Our objective is to consider NA perspectives on TEK when analyzing relationships between health and the environment and to look at how these may be applied to address this gap.
The authors—the majority of whom are NA scholars—highlight two research areas that consider health from a TEK perspective: food systems and knowledge of medicinal plants. This research has yielded data, methods, and knowledge that have helped Indigenous communities better define and reduce health risks and protect local natural food resources, and this TEK approach may prove of value to EHS research.
NA perspectives on TEK resulting from the HCRG workshops provide an opportunity for developing more accurate Indigenous health indicators (IHI) reflecting the conceptualizations of health maintained in these communities. This approach has the potential to bridge the scientific study of exposure with methods addressing a tribal perspective on the sociocultural determinants of health, identifying potential new areas of inquiry in EHS that afford nuanced evaluations of exposures and outcomes in tribal communities. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP1944