Traditional Knowledge is Critical to Conservation Success: 8th World Wilderness Congress can help

Traditional Knowledge is Critical to Conservation Success: 8th World Wilderness Congress can help

By Larry Merculieff

Summary: Merculieff calls on Alaska Natives to attend the 8th World Wilderness Congress, to bring their knowledge and wisdom forward to complement other sources, simultaneously acknowledging there will be many others there to learn from. 2005.


Alaska Natives have a unique opportunity this fall to be a part of important work on a global scale. From Sept. 30 to Oct. 6, Anchorage will host the 8th World Wilderness Congress at the Egan Civic & Convention Center. More than 1,100 delegates from 50 countries will bring the global spotlight on wilderness issues to Alaska. Representatives of Alaska’s Native Corporations, villages and anyone who cares about the survival of Alaskan wildlands, wildlife and traditional ways of life should have the Congress on their calendar.


One part of this international forum will be the review of scientific information. While western science and traditional knowledge and wisdom sometimes don’t seem to mesh, it’s critical that personal experience and traditional ways be represented in partnership with science. One good example of this is the issue of global warming. While science has produced studies and predictions on global warming for years, the fact that traditional subsistence hunts at sea and on land are being affected, and bird and animal populations are shifting or declining are just as important as the facts and figures around global warming studies. Alaska’s Native peoples have the unique ability to put a real face on global warming, which is needed if we are ever to address this issue appropriately. Those at the Congress need to hear the personal stories, to learn about the rich history that has been passed down by our elders and the issues that Alaska Native peoples face on a daily basis.  Western scientists and policy-makers, and the world, can learn a lot from what Alaska Natives know and understand about fish, wildlife, habitat, climate, and weather.


Another reason Alaska Natives need to be at this Congress, is that we have a lot to learn. While we think that the issues we face in the 49th state are unique, there are a lot of indigenous groups from around the world who we can learn from. At the Congress, native leaders from over 25 countries will share their experiences. For example, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) of the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana and the Deh Cho First Nation from Canada will share their best practices and advice in a special session.  The CSKT has a management plan that protects both the ecological integrity and cultural values of their tribal lands, while opening the area for managed, low impact tourism. The Deh Cho First Nation are doing the same thing for an entire watershed, in their native lands.


As we seek to solve the complex issues that threaten the Alaska Native ways of life, we need to find common ground. That’s what this Congress is all about. Those attending the event aren’t expected to agree on most issues, but if we can all find areas in which we do have common goals and ideas, we can work on tackling those together. I have high hopes that this Congress will be the beginning of several positive collaborations, friendships, business opportunities and funding streams.


Founded by The WILD Foundation  in 1977, the World Wilderness Congress is the first international environmental gathering to include indigenous people, and to focus on wilderness and people. Held every three or four years, the 8th Congress is being in held in the U.S. only for the second time, and it probably won’t be held in North America again for many years. How fortunate we are to have the spotlight on Alaska, even for just a short week. What a great opportunity to share the voice of Alaskans with an international audience. Let’s seize this opportunity. More information about 8th World Wilderness Congress can be found at:


Larry Merculieff is Deputy Director of the Alaska Native Science Commission and is a Senior Advisor to the 8th World Wilderness Congress in Anchorage, Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 2005.