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  • Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Learning from Indigenous Practices for Environmental Sustainability ed. by Melissa K. Nelson and Dan Shilling
  • Geoff Hamilton (bio)
Melissa K. Nelson and Dan Shilling, eds. Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Learning from Indigenous Practices for Environmental Sustainability. Cambridge UP, 2018. 978-1-108-42856-9. 276 pp.

As its title suggests, this book explores Indigenous peoples' Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and its relevance to conceptions of environmental sustainability. The fourteen essays collected here, the majority of them by Indigenous scholars, focus on North America and cover a range of disciplines and methodologies. The essential philosophical assumptions bound up with TEK, some of its ongoing practical applications, and its profound significance for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, are incisively and compellingly set forth in these chapters. A particularly attractive element of this collection, moreover, is the way it offers distillations by a number of scholars of their own larger bodies of work, making it especially useful as a primer on complex discussions published elsewhere.

The first grouping of essays, "Introduction to Key Concepts and Questions," provides an illuminating orientation to the book's core concerns. Dan Shilling identifies some of the important commonalities that can be discerned in Native American environmental attitudes—most crucially, an ethical emphasis on "restraint and reverence" (12; italics in original) in human relations with the land—and places them in relation to Western counterparts. He rightly notes the prominence and fuzziness of conceptions of "sustainability" in public and scholarly discourse, along with a tendency—now, it would seem, gradually and profitably being overcome—to neglect the significance of such conceptions within Indigenous traditions. Gregory Cajete (Tewa) explains "Native Science," a set of holistic, TEK-informed beliefs and practices which, in contrast to a Western tendency to make sharp distinctions between the human and nonhuman, encourage an appreciation for the reciprocal relations among all creation. Focusing on plant life and Indigenous creation stories, [End Page 231] Robin Wall Kimmerer (Potawatomi) explores how language and worldview shape our environmental relationships. Kyle White examines how TEK might best be used to benefit Indigenous peoples themselves, taking into account how such knowledge might contribute to a particular people's political autonomy and management of its own relations to a specific locale.

The second grouping—"Bedrock: Toward a Kincentric Ethic"—explores the characteristics and significance of Indigenous formulations of environmental communalism and reciprocity. Simon Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo) reflects on the interdependence of land, language, and community as it relates, in particular, to the Pueblo peoples. Jeannette Armstrong (Syilx Okanagan) considers how the environmental ethic of the Syilx, which favors thinking collaboratively with nonhuman presences, models sustainability. Michael Paul Nelson and John A. Vucetich reflect on Indigenous notions of nonhuman personhood in the natural world, and trace out how adopting such a worldview might impact Western lifeways. In an especially rich discussion gauging some of the fundamental ways in which TEK can be distinguished from Western scientific knowledge, Joan McGregor investigates correspondences between TEK and ecofeminism, arguing that both replace a commitment to domination (of nature and women) with egalitarian ideals.

"Extended Web: Land-Care Practices and Plant and Animal Relationships," the third grouping, begins with Dennis Martinez's (O'odham, Chicano) consideration of a "kincentric" approach to salmon harvesting as an example of how TEK might "serve as an ethical-economic model for the world when it most needs it" (151). Priscilla Settee (Cree), in an illuminating discussion of "Indigenous Food Sovereignty," explores how colonialism has impacted food production and consumption, moving it out of a local community's control, and how it might be revitalized with TEK. Linda Hogan's (Chickasaw) personal essay charts an Indigenous appreciation for the interdependence of all creation and argues for the importance of an ethic of restraint and cooperation.

The final grouping, "Global and Legal Implications of Indigenous Sustainability," begins with Rachel Wolfgramm (Ngai Takoto, Te Aupouri, Whakatohea, Tonga), Chellie Spiller (Māori, Pākehā), Carla Houkamau (Ngati Porou), and Manuka Henare's (Te Aupouri, Te Rarawa) consideration of Māori "economies of well-being" (213) and their lessons for sustainability. Rebecca Tsosie's (Yaqui) essay examines [End Page 232] legal questions related to the definition, dissemination, and protection of...


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