Storytelling unites all sciences, according to IJC Canadian Commissioner Henry Lickers, who delivered the keynote address at a plenary session of this year’s International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) virtual conference.
Lickers’ talk on May 18, titled “Bridging Knowledges,” explained how Traditional Ecological Knowledge, or TEK, and Western science both use scientific methods like observation, experimentation and validation.
One approach is to store data in databases and use scientific journal publications to convey the story of the science. The TEK approach is to store results “in jellyware – in our heads” and then orally convey the story of that science, Lickers said. The key is that scientific knowledge is communicated and translated into policy and action.
Lickers is a member of the Seneca Nation, Turtle Clan, a scientist, and served as the environmental science officer for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne – all parts of his background that he tied into his presentation. He was appointed to the IJC in 2019.
Traditional Ecological Knowledge comes from living off the land for a lifetime or for generations. One myth is that TEK is exclusive to Indigenous communities. But a farmer in France may be just as familiar with what their crops need and when it’s time to plant, which is also an example of TEK.
“If you live on the land and care for it, over time you gain knowledge about it,” Lickers said. “Everybody has traditional knowledge about some place, about something they do.”
This TEK is accrued, shared, refined and updated among communities over time. In this way, Lickers said, it’s much like Western science, though there are differences in how these are told and retained. Often, these are communicated and passed around orally in the form of stories, which in previous decades has often caused them to be dismissed by Western scientists. But this is changing, Lickers noted, as Western science has caught up to – and validated – the stories that have been passed around going back for millennia.
It is also a myth that TEK is all anecdotal, “but science is all stories,” Lickers said. “TEK is objective because it has to be, but it does have a mystical side to it, which reflects different tools we have to work with the spiritual world but enhances our understanding of this world.”
While there may be differences in culture and worldview, he said that there is a great deal of common ground between the two ways of viewing the world – a complementary process known as two-eyed seeing.
What’s key is that we learn from what we find, and that’s why stories are important to all sciences. How we share science through stories is how the knowledge becomes integrated into our decisions and actions. Lickers emphasized the need for communication.
The last part of his presentation focused on the three factors needed to communicate and integrate naturalized knowledge systems into action. What Lickers coined “the Zeal to Deal” is based on the Haudenosaunee Great Way of Peace, and requires a balance of respect, equity and empowerment.
As interest in two-eyed seeing and the integration of TEK into decision-making spaces increases, the zeal to deal “becomes a way in which you can build relationships,” Lickers said.
“As you add respect, you put equity on the table and you’re willing to empower your collective selves to do even more.”
Kevin Bunch is a writer-communications specialist at the IJC’s US Section office in Washington, D.C.
Allison Voglesong Zejnati is public affairs specialist at the IJC’s Great Lakes Regional Office in Windsor, Ontario.