Culture, Traditions

Once-ignored Indigenous knowledge of nature now shaping science

Mathew Holding Eagle III and Kirsti Marohn

July 27, 2022 4:00 AM

If you come into contact with people working in and around natural resources in Minnesota you may hear the term TEK. It’s a popular buzzword, which, confusingly, has little to do with technology.

It’s the acronym for Traditional Ecological Knowledge, an umbrella term for information about the natural world collected by countless generations of Indigenous people. 

Through observation and life experience, they gained knowledge — what plants were good to make teas to soothe a sore throat, what bark to harvest to bring down a fever, how certain species adapted to changes in climate and how fire can revitalize the forest floor to produce an abundance of berries.

That knowledge was shared, often orally through stories or songs. Once dismissed as unscientific, there’s now increasing interest in incorporating Indigenous knowledge into the policies and practices of Minnesotans working with forestry and wildlife.