Weaving traditional and local knowledge into Sea Grant’s work

Alaska Sea Grant, together with the 32 other Sea Grant programs across the country, took part in a visioning exercise in 2017 to improve what we do to support coastal communities and economics. The purpose of the exercise was to look closely at 10 key topic areas and set goals, outcomes and best practices for these areas over the next decade.

Davin Holen unloads herring roe on branches in Sitka Harbor. The herring harvest was a collaborative project with the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, one of Alaska Sea Grant’s partners in its coastal resilience work.

One topic that Alaska Sea Grant focused on was traditional and local knowledge (TLK) and how to incorporate as much of it as possible in Sea Grant’s work.

We led this effort in partnership with Louisiana Sea Grant.  Participating in two workshops, in Alaska and Louisiana, Sea Grant faculty and staff came from programs spanning the network from Micronesia to the Great Lakes to Georgia.

Sea Grant agents attended the workshops with tribal partners they closely work with to ensure that the vision document is a true representation of best practices of working with indigenous communities.

The group learned about how traditional knowledge is being used to restore watersheds in Guam, to conserve wetlands used for harvesting wild rice in Minnesota, to educate youth in Juneau and to map land loss in Louisiana.  The 25-page visioning document defines TLK as a worldview of human-environment relations; a living body of knowledge that includes environmental observations and experiences that occur in places and within an indigenous cultural context. As such, TEK is embedded in culture and cannot be separated from the people and places where it is generated.

“To highlight our ideas behind best practices of fully collaborating with indigenous communities we provide case studies taken from projects across the country. These projects demonstrate how to recognize, understand, value, support and incorporate traditional and local knowledge and indigenous participants into Sea Grant activities.  The document produced contains our key concepts and takeaways from the workshops,” said Davin Holen, Alaska Sea Grant’s coastal community resilience specialist, who helped lead the effort.

The overall vision outlined in the document is that TLK will be woven throughout the Sea Grant network, guiding and informing research, outreach and education, and respect for the producers and stewards of local knowledge is upheld at every level.

“With support provided by the National Sea Grant Office, this was a great opportunity for Sea Grant programs and their local partners to share their work in TLK-based activities to support research, outreach, and education programming from across the national network and learn from each other,” said Matthew Bethel, associate executive director of research, Louisiana Sea Grant.

“Working together we have formed a TLK community of practice to carry the momentum generated during the planning process forward to implement the goals outlined in the plan and help to prioritize areas for Sea Grant investment to achieve the vision,” Bethel said.

Below is a list of the steps and recommendations for the entire Sea Grant network.

  • Raise the visibility of TLK with intentional programming and communication products.
  • Create opportunities for communities to identify and share their research needs, as well as for traditional and local scholars to take an active role in initiating and leading research initiatives within their own communities.
  • Create opportunities for exchange between communities and researchers, policy-makers.
  • Support education projects and programs that incorporate TLK.
  • Fund research that recognizes, values, and incorporates TLK research needs, local knowledge partners, and relevant environmental justice issues in Sea Grant requests for proposals.
  • Develop and fund fellowships to support local knowledge holders in the professional development, and also to better incorporate TLK into Sea Grant and NOAA projects and programs.
  • Invest in recruitment and retention of local knowledge holders as Sea Grant staff (see Diversity and Inclusion visioning plan for potential cross-over goals and action items).
  • Create a TLK program officer or liaison within the National Sea Grant Office.

The full document “Traditional and Local Knowledge: A vision for the Sea Grant Network” is available from National Sea Grant.