Parks Canada Banner
 Franšais Contact Us Help Search Canada Site
 About the Parks Canada Agency National Parks of Canada National Historic Sites of Canada National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada Cultural Heritage
Natural Heritage
Parks Canada Home
Enter a keyword:

An Approach to Aboriginal Cultural Landscapes


Traditional Knowledge

What is traditional knowledge?

In 1991 the Northwest Territories Traditional Knowledge Working Group defined it as "knowledge derived from, or rooted in the traditional way of life of aboriginal people. Traditional knowledge is accumulated knowledge and understanding of the human place in relation to the universe. This encompasses spiritual relationships, relationships with the natural environment and the use of natural resources, relationships between people, and is reflected in language, social organization, values, institutions, and laws."

Two years later the Government of the Northwest Territories, apparently the first jurisdiction to assign traditional knowledge a formal role in policy, stated it to be: "[k]nowledge and values which have been acquired through experience, observation from the land or from spiritual teachings, and handed down from one generation to the next". It derives from Aboriginal peoples' experience in "living for centuries in close harmony" with the land. It means knowing "the natural environment and its resources, the use of natural resources, and the relationship of people to the land and to each other".(cited in Abele, 1997: iii)

Woman kneeling at birch tree.
Woman tapping birch trees, Resolution, Northwest Territories
© National Archives of Canada / PA 42113, no date

Emphasizing the fundamental role of relationship to the environment in the lives of Aboriginal peoples, the Dene Cultural Institute has defined traditional environmental knowledge as "a body of knowledge and beliefs transmitted through oral tradition and first-hand observation. It includes a system of classification, a set of empirical observations about the local environment and a system of self-management that governs resource use. Ecological aspects are closely tied to social and spiritual aspects of the knowledge system...."(cited in Stevenson, 1996: 281).

Unlike the written word, traditional knowledge is not static, but responds to change through absorbing new information and adapting to its implications.


Last Updated: 2008-10-17 To the top
To the top
Important Notices