By Alain Cuerrier, Nancy Turner, and Leigh Joseph.
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Our paper addresses the contributions and potential future role of the interdisciplinary field of Ethnobiology, the study of human knowledge of and human relationships with other lifeforms and their environments.
We argue that our society’s largely economically-driven approach in resource use and environmental management worldwide is not a sustainable way to work towards a healthy environment.
We highlight the importance of integrating and learning from the knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities to provide alternative ways of knowing and being that are often less impactful on the environment and more sustainable than the practices and values reflected in mainstream industrial societies. For example, it is a central teaching within diverse Indigenous Peoples’ philosophies to take only what they need and to leave some for other human and non-human life. Many of our extractive behaviors as humans have raised concerns within Indigenous communities regarding overharvesting and the general lack of respect and reciprocity shown to the natural world.
Ethnobiologists have a long history of collaborative research with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. Increasingly there are Indigenous ethnobiologists carrying out this work with their own and other Indigenous communities. Lessons learned through lived experience by land-based peoples worldwide, and passed down over multiple generations cannot be discounted by our leaders and policy makers in the context of sustainability.
Ethnobiologists can help support society’s efforts towards greater sustainability through respectful and meaningful collaboration with Indigenous Peoples. This highlighting effective restoration or environmental management practices embodied within Indigenous knowledge.
In conclusion, ethnobiologists—in collaboration with Indigenous voices— can help in society’s efforts towards greater sustainability by integrating Indigenous practices and perspectives relating to the understanding of Nature and adding a vision that enriches the scientific discourse.