"Ecological restoration is inseparable from cultural and spiritual restoration, and is inseparable from the spiritual responsibilities of care-giving and world-renewal."

-Indigenous Action Network


Many indigenous cultures lived - and still live - with the philosophy of a reciprocal relationship with the earth. Many indigenous cultures believe that humans not only have a place in nature, but they are a necessary part of a wholistic system and as nature provides for us, we care for it in return.  This concept is called “Reciprocity”.

The rules of reciprocity show that all exchanges must be of equal value. Therefore, if you take from the earth, you must make an offering of equal value to what you have received. 


Traditional ecological knowledge (tek)

The concept of reciprocity is part of a larger body of knowledge. It is an indigenous or traditional way of knowing. 

This way of knowing and existing harmoniously is called “Traditional Ecological Knowledge” or “TEK”. TEK encompasses both the philosophy of this holistic system, and the practical knowledge of how to sustain human life in a bioregion. This knowledge was gathered through generations of observation, listening, and practice and then transmitted through oral tradition and apprenticeship. 

Unfortunately, the belief in western culture that we are separate from nature is endangering TEK. A widespread understanding that nature is something to be conquered and manipulated has resulted in much of the environmental degradation that we witness today. When countries and communities are colonized, many of these traditional ways of knowing are seen as inferior and are systematically dismantled in favor of the colonizers preferred system. The new system is typically not based as all in the needs of the particular bioregion and over time species, languages, and traditional practices are lost. 

weaving ways of knowing together

Fortunately, some cultures are still intact and there is opportunity to protect TEK through the simple act of listening and a desire to learn. Almost every where on earth has an indigenous culture and through reconnecting with the culture of your area, we can begin a process of decolonization through rediscovering indigenous ways of knowing. 

Permaculture practices are a way that we are working together with indigenous communities to learn how to best manage land in a particular bioregion. Through partnerships with indigenous community and application of our permaculture knowledge, we are able to recreate regenerative systems based on positive relations with each other and the earth. 

traditional knowledge practices

Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Practices (TEKP) is a way of understanding the world. It is the amalgamation of generations of life experience that forms the basis of the knowledge and perspective of a society. It has been described as experiential and experimental knowledge (Altieri, 2004). TEKP evolves over time as the environment and societies change and new discoveries are made. It is often knowledge that is specific to a place and as a consequence cannot be applied to other places. While TEKP is slowly accumulated and local, it can be very detailed within its bounds (Gadgil et. al., 1993). It is the product of a particular place and culture and, “culture is a social phenomenon and has a major influence on the dissemination or preservation of information” (Laido, 2001). 

The word “traditional” often carries baggage with it, giving the impression of stagnation or antiquity. This is not the case when it comes to TEKP. The knowledge part of TEKP is constantly being edited and augmented as new people in a culture have new experiences. The practices also evolve depending upon social and environmental factors (Laido, 2001). At times, practices may be preserved because they are so deeply integrated into the fabric of the culture as to be essential, though they may bring little material benefit (Laido 2001). They can be found in religious practice, festival ceremonies, typical meals, and many other forms in a society.


challenges faces tek

TEKP is an endangered form of knowing in the modern world and the threats are multifold. The most fundamental is the colonial history of many places where indigenous and traditional groups live (DeLong, 2009). Most of North and South America, Africa, Australia, the Pacific Islands, and southern Asia, were once ruled by a handful of culturally similar powers in Europe. Colonial reign ranged from a benevolent puppet government to genocide (Voeks and Leony, 2004). It has been established that, “indigenous groups throughout the world have been marginalized and targeted by expanding states for hundreds of years, with disastrous consequences that persist for those cultures today” (DeLong, 2009) Researchers are still understanding and uncovering ways the impacts of colonial experience echo in current indigenous cultures.  


The colonizers only saw ownership in the planting of a flag and many groups who had lived on the land for generations found their rights taken away. Colonial authorities typically did not respect TEKP, and local people were often viewed as savage or ignorant. In addition, colonial powers were primarily interested in resource extraction or the development of export crops to serve the mother country and were foreign to the land (DeLong, 2009). The native inhabitants of colonized countries usually managed their land over long time scales and emphasized sustainability to survive. Colonial forces had little reason to manage resources sustainably since it was not their home and such practices would have constrained resource extraction. Over the centuries colonial regimes marginalized or absorbed hundreds of distinct cultures with the loss of countless unique practices and perspectives on the world.