Traditional Knowledge Utilizing Ancient Wisdom of Indigenous Communities

Some foundations are promoting indigenous traditional knowledge as an important contribution for human survival. Traditional knowledge refers to technical information, innovations, and practices of indigenous peoples developed from centuries of experience. It tends to be collectively owned, and can be transmitted through stories, songs, folklore, proverbs, rituals, customary laws, languages, agricultural practices, and resource collection.

“To end the climate crisis, to solve global poverty, our indigenous partners are our greatest teachers,” said Rajasvini Bhansali, executive director of the International Development Exchange (IDEX). “More than ever before, the concepts, ways of being, and lessons learned from indigenous experimentations are relevant.” Others see the long experience of indigenous communities, such as their close observation and adaptation to weather changes over millennia, as critical insights to solving the myriad problems facing the world.

The Tamalpais Trust initiated the launch of a collaborative fund dedicated to promoting and harnessing this traditional knowledge, called the Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Learning Fund. The fund, supported also by The Christensen Fund, the Novo Foundation, and the Swift Foundation, disbursed its first round of grants at in early 2015. “Traditional knowledge and native science are being recognized as successful contributors in addressing problems of climate change, food security and sovereignty, protection and care of Mother Earth, and revitalization of indigenous languages and culture,” notes Jaune Evans, executive director of the Tamalpais Trust. 

Ken Wilson, former executive director of The Christensen Fund, sees a trend toward recognition of traditional knowledge in academic disciplines. “We are moving away from linear, mechanistic thinking to systems thinking,” said Ken. “There’s now a great deal more productive connection between indigenous knowledge and environmental science.”

The Christensen Fund’s support to promote the acceptance of traditional knowledge at the highest levels of policymaking includes grants for a Traditional Knowledge Institute at the United Nations University, a global think tank and postgraduate school based in Australia. The university works with leading universities and research institutes in UN Member States, and functions as a bridge between the international academic community and the United Nations system. In addition, both The Christensen Fund and the Ford Foundation have made grants to the Indigenous Peoples’ Biocultural Climate Change Assessment, which documents traditional knowledge of climate change. The highest scientific authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,recognized such indigenous climate observations and adaptation measures as “the way forward” to the world’s thinking on climate change in the future.

Increasingly, organizations are taking note of issues through which indigenous peoples are funded. In 2015, Foundation Center updated its widely-recognized taxonomy to include terms such as traditional knowledge, food sovereignty, and sacred sites, which will improve tracking of funding trends related to indigenous peoples.

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This takeaway was derived from Funding Indigenous Peoples.