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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Western and Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Ecocultural Restoration

  • Author(s): Zedler, Joy B.;
  • Stevens, Michelle L.
  • et al.

The Delta Plan (DSC 2013) calls for “protecting and enhancing the unique cultural values” of California’s Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, a 2,800-km2 (1,100 mi2) region that was occupied by indigenous peoples for ~5,000 years. The legacies of Native Californians need to be included in the Delta Plan, especially Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of ways to gather, hunt, and fish for food; build shelters; prepare medicines; and perform ceremonies — along with ways to make tools, clothing, baskets, and shelters. Plants were not just collected but also tended, which involved planned burning, digging, planting, weeding, harvesting, and seed dispersal. Populations of plants that have cultural significance and unique values should be enhanced under the Delta Plan. While Western Ecological Knowledge (WEK) offers a strong foundation for restoration of species assemblages and ecosystems, TEK adds culturally-significant species to restoration targets and traditional management practices to achieve ecological resilience. We compare 11 attributes of WEK and TEK that aid ecological restoration; all are complementary or shared by these two ways of knowing. Both WEK and TEK emphasize adaptive approaches for managing natural resources, as mandated in the Delta Plan. We suggest that WEK–TEK restoration sites throughout the Delta can be linked (virtually) to honor cultural integrity and nurture a “Sense of Place” for Native Californians and others. At the same time, such a network could foster ways to achieve sustainability through the TEK ethic of reciprocity, which WEK lacks. A network of WEK–TEK sites could enhance unique cultural values while supporting passive recreation and attracting ecotourists.


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