Unlocking Indigenous Knowledge

Burke Museum helping to revive lost traditions


The model Angyaaq, which means ‘open boat’ to the Sugpiat peoples of Alaska. Photo/Micheal Rios
The model Angyaaq, which means ‘open boat’ to the Sugpiat peoples of Alaska.
Photo/Micheal Rios


by Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

The Burke Museum, located on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, is home to more than 16 million historical artifacts and objects. The thing is, only a few thousand are on display on a daily basis. Of those millions and millions of artifacts hidden away in archives and storage rooms, there is no telling how many hold cultural keys that could unlock indigenous knowledge once thought lost or destroyed forever during colonization and European settlement.

Enter Dr. Sven Haakanson, member of the Alutiq people of Kodiak, Alaska. Sven is a world renowned curator of North American ethnology and currently the head of Native American anthropology at the Burke Museum. Sven has joined the Burke team to use the museum’s amazing collection and vast resources to find those keys to indigenous knowledge currently hidden away.

“For me, the real privilege is having access to such an amazing collection because when I look at ethnographic pieces I don’t see an art piece, I see a historic object,” says Sven. “I see something that we can use the museum as a way to bring back a lot of that traditional knowledge, that we thought was lost, and put it back into a living context.”

A prime example of rediscovering indigenous knowledge that was thought lost forever has been the finding of simple model boat. Well, it was thought of as simple and sat away in collections until Sven came across it and realized he had stumbled across long lost knowledge.

What he found was a model Angyaaq, which means ‘open boat’ to the Sugpiat peoples of Alaska. This model Angyaaq is one of only a dozen known to exist and hold secrets to a long ago mode of transportation. It demonstrates a lost building tradition, models the difference pieces needed, and material and engineering techniques used to build a full-size Angyaaq – like marine animal skins to wrap the hull and lashing to tie all the pieces together. This model is key to Sven unlocking and reviving a practice of boat making absent on Kodiak for nearly 200 years.

According to Burke researchers, the Angyaat (plural for Angyaaq) were an essential part of the Sugpiat peoples of Southern Alaska’s livelihood and culture for thousands of years. An open boat used for transportation, hunting, trading, warring and more. Angyaat were a symbol of prosperity and wealth. Remnants of these boats are present in archaeological sites; yet, by the 1820s, roughly twenty years after contact, Russian settlers had either taken or destroyed all Angyaat in an effort to restrict the Native peoples’ ability to move, gather in large numbers, and display their wealth and power. Due to this destruction, very little is known about a type of boat once common on Kodiak Island.

What Sven set out to do was first make successful models of the model, in an effort to teach himself how to build the open boat without the use of modern methods. “No nails, no glue” in order to replicate and then teach the traditional way. After many intricate sketches and even more attempted models later, Sven had taught himself how to replicate the Angyaaq model using the same traditional techniques. The next phase is to use the model to build a full-size, working boat.


Photo/Micheal Rios
Photo/Micheal Rios
Photo/Micheal Rios
Photo/Micheal Rios


“By building this traditional boat in the traditional style, we are taking information that was lost from my community in the 1800s and figuring out innovative ways restore that indigenous knowledge,” explains Sven. “We are not just reverse engineering the model, but we will build a full-size one so we can share that information back into the communities from which it came. This is just one example of thousands that we can do for the next 100 years for our local Native communities both here in Washington and in Alaska.”

“The amazing can happen when you look at these museum objects not just as beautiful art pieces, but think about the history embodied in them. Think about what it means to the indigenous peoples and how they can then take this lost knowledge and re-embrace it while celebrating it. For me, it’s a process of rediscovery, of looking at how innovative, how adaptive, and how scientific my ancestors were. In that, this Angyaaq is just one example of who knows how many others we have and haven’t explored yet. I’m hoping this will be a catalyst for asking even more questions and continue to be innovative as we search through the past.”

Over the summer, Sven will travel to Kodiak Island to work with tribal members on the construction of several model Angyaat, with the goal of training students how to build a full-size, working boat in the future. Practicing this reconstruction with community members is helping share Sugpiat heritage and traditions, restoring knowledge that’s been lost, and providing a research model for others around the world to emulate.

Until then, Sven with continue to hone his Angyaat building skills as he hosts a live exhibit that can be witnessed by all. Witness the revival of a lost practice as part of a special month-long program at the Burke Museum. Visitors can see the finished Angyaaq in the Maker-Market from December 20 – January 3. Check burkemuseum.org/maker for the up-to-date boat construction schedule.


Video: National Climate Assessment Focuses on Natives Bearing the Brunt

NOAA/VimeoNational Climate Change Assessment Focuses partially on Indigenous Peoples and the challenges they face.
NOAA/VimeoNational Climate Change Assessment Focuses partially on Indigenous Peoples and the challenges they face.


As the effects of climate change become more and more pronounced and better understood, the concerns of Indigenous Peoples are coming more and more to the fore. Conventional science is beginning to understand not only that they suffer inordinately from the phenomenon, but also that their traditional knowledge could hold some keys for adaptation, if not mitigation.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Change Assessment in May highlighted the effects on Indigenous Peoples, including those from the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean. In concert with that the authors made a video that lays out some of these challenges and how they are interconnected. Below, an interview with T.M. Bull Bennett, a convening lead author on the National Climate Assessment’s Indigenous Peoples chapter.

RELATED: Obama’s Climate Change Report Lays Out Dire Scenario, Highlights Effects on Natives

“We’re starting to see a change in how we interpret the environment around us,” Bennett says below. Indigenous populations, he adds, are “on the short end of the stick.”


Protecting traditional knowledge: Tulalip participates in U.N. conference on protection of indigenous identities

By Andrew Gobin, Tulalip News

The Tulalip Tribes continues to participate in United Nations discussions about protecting the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples, including oral histories and language, cultural expression, and genetic resources. Ray Fryberg Sr. and Preston Hardison of the Tulalip tribes Natural Resources Department traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, for the 13th conference on traditional knowledge and biodiversity February 3rd-7th.  The meetings potentially will conclude with an international treaty protecting indigenous peoples’ rights to their knowledge and any gains therein. Although the international treaty would protect traditional knowledge on a global scale, the real fight is here at home in the United State who has remained one of the strongest opponents to intellectual property rights on a global scale.

“As Indian tribes across the U.S. enter the national and global markets, the need to protect their traditional knowledge has become more prevalent,” said Hardison. “Especially with casinos, the tribes have brands, logos, and now traditional art that is being put out there.”

This touches on one aspect of the intellectual property debate on traditional knowledge; cultural expression. The use of art to brand Tulalip as a business, as a destination, now is vulnerable to being taken and used in ways other than intended, without the permission of the artist or Tulalip.

“We don’t want to set the rules,” he added, “we want tribes to be recognized as having the right to determine how, where, and why their knowledge is shared. Each culture has its own rules dictating those things, it should be up to those people to determine.”

Tulalip has been involved in this discussion at the U.N. since 2001, represented at 12 of the 14 meetings on indigenous knowledge and biodiversity. What they are working towards is a treaty that protects indigenous people on a global scale, recognizing their inherent rights to resources and traditional knowledge, so that those things may not be exploited. Currently, the exploitation of traditional knowledge and resources jeopardizes the survival of indigenous cultures around the world, essentially stripping them of access to their identities.

Ray Fryberg was selected to co-chair the committee of indigenous leaders that spoke to the issue of intellectual property rights. According to reports from the U.N., he was selected for his vast traditional knowledge and passion for preserving all that is encompassed in traditional knowledge, including genetic and natural resources and cultural expression.

Although Tulalip is sovereign, they are not recognized by the U.N. as a sovereign state. They have no seat, no vote, but they do have a consulting voice. Tulalip has to bid for support from other sovereigns, facing opposition most from the U.S.

“For tribes, pressure for protection has to come from within the U.S., not outside. And Tulalip is just about the only one that is in position to do it,” explained Hardison.

Hardison, along with Terry Williams who also works for Tulalip Natural Resources, have continued to be instrumental in the progress for protecting traditional knowledge. They have been involved since 2001, working together at 11 conference meetings, and were key players in the passing of the Nagoya Protocol, which protects the exploitation of genetic resources. The U.S. is not a nation signatory to the Nagoya Protocol.

Current laws in the U.S. have no teeth. The Native American Arts and Crafts Act prevents non Indians from marketing things as Native American art, but it doesn’t prevent the use of traditional methods and materials for personal gains. The Native American Graves and Repatriation Act allows for remains and artifacts to come back to tribes if the tribes can prove relationship to or historic connection, putting the burden of proof on the tribes. Tulalip continues to fight on the international stage for these rights, strengthening their position to protect these rights at home in the United States.

Andrew Gobin is a reporter with the See-Yaht-Sub, a publication of the Tulalip Tribes Communications Department.
Email: agobin@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov
Phone: (360) 716.4188

Klamath Youth Program Melding Science and Traditional Knowledge Wins National Award

U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceService biologists provide tribal youth in northern California and southern Oregon with a unique opportunity to combine their cultural knowledge about the local ecology with the high-tech capabilities of NASA, the Service and other federal agencies.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Service biologists provide tribal youth in northern California and southern Oregon with a unique opportunity to combine their cultural knowledge about the local ecology with the high-tech capabilities of NASA, the Service and other federal agencies.

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

A unique collaboration between a Klamath youth leadership development program and U.S. government researchers has won the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Partners in Conservation award for its use of traditional knowledge in conjunction with modern science.

The Klamath Tribal Leadership Development for Integrative Science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge Program, operating in northern California and southern Oregon, was one of just four recipients working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Klamath Tribes said in a media release. The partnership was one of 20 recipients overall out of groups working with various federal agencies on environmental conservation and won for its work in habitat restoration and the implications for fisheries management.

The cornerstone was the Klamath tribal youth program, started last summer to connect scientists and college students to Klamath Basin restoration projects. Juxtaposing traditional knowledge and modern science, youths from the Yurok Tribe, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Karuk Tribe, Quartz Valley Indian Reservation and Klamath Tribes worked with scientists from NASA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Forest Service for 10 weeks in the Klamath Tribal Leadership Development Program for Integrative Science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Together the partners restored habitat, developed models and collected data from two Klamath watershed tributaries, the Sycan River in Oregon and Shasta Big Springs Creek in California, that support tribal fisheries, the Klamath said in the statement.

The U.S. Department of the Interior noted the unique melding of tribal cultural knowledge with today’s technology that got the program chosen out of the 14 partnerships that were nominated for the award by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Students worked first with tribal elders to gather ancestral knowledge of the region’s lands and waterways, then applied that knowledge to programs whose goal is to restore and manage native fish populations in the Klamath Basin. At the same time, the program gave tribal youth job skills, setting them up as future conservation leaders even as they contributed to present-day management of fish species that are important to indigenous culture and the ecology, the Fish and Wildlife Service said in a release.

“This partnership has the promise to result in some of the most advanced approaches to fisheries management in the country and will help prepare tribal youth for future careers in conservation,” the Fish and Wildlife Service said. “To date, these agencies have brought their collective resources and expertise with established and emerging technologies and have applied these to this collaborative effort, including remote sensing and unmanned aircraft systems. These technologies hold promise for improving our knowledge base and conservation effectiveness through energy efficient, cost-effective approaches to data collection with less impact on our ecosystems.”

Other partners involved were the Nature Conservancy, Humboldt State University, Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Institute of Technology, the Klamath statement said.

“The Department of the Interior is proud to recognize the accomplishments of those who are innovating and collaborating in ways that address today’s complex conservation and stewardship challenges,” said Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who handed out the awards on January 16. “These partnerships represent the gold standard for how Interior is doing business across the nation to power our future, strengthen tribal nations, conserve and enhance America’s great outdoors and engage the next generation.”

Proud honorees. (Photo: Courtesy Klamath Tribes)
Proud honorees. (Photo: Courtesy Klamath Tribes)


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/01/27/klamath-youth-program-melding-science-and-traditional-knowledge-wins-national-award