One plus Five

by George Pletnikoff

July 19, 2007

I guess its time to bring up a subject which has always excited me. I have not spoken about this before because, quite frankly, many others have and I just figured many people would and do understand the concept. It is called Local and Traditional Knowledge or LTK. Basically, and this should be evident, what LTK local people have about their environment, their home, must be taken seriously. A case in point.

We are on a ship, the Esperanza, which is equiped with a lot of electronic gadgets. We have GPS’s, radars, radios, internet and one of just about everything else. As we set out to visit the village of Kipnuk in the Kuskokwim Bay, we began from a distance of about seven miles off shore. This is just about as close as we can get given the depths of the water near this long established and traditional Yupik village. (Makes me wonder about the 20 miles exclusion zone which the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) took into consideration at their last meeting in Sitka, where there would be no hard bottom trawling done around these villages. There is no water to speak of, and sand bars all over the place. This is prime heritage zone real estate) Suffice to say, we had a difficult time finding safe passage into Kipnuk, and after several attempts, had to return to the ship to regroup. Today we will make another effort, but this time with LTK. We may have just assumed a little much, and are also stimied by the lack of accurate charts. None the less, it was interesting, to say the least.

This is where the issue of LTK comes into focus real clearly, and fast. We really don’t know what is happening to the ecosystem or the greater environments in the same manner local people who are intiment with their surrounds. One of the arguements we have been making, western scientific methods versus LTK, is that western science always took a more serious and higher role in decision making than LTK. LTK, it is argued, is anacdotal and not reliable. Well, we proved that theory wrong. LTK says, and said to us yesterday; when you come to the sand bar that has two dead whales on it, follow the sand bar and when you come to the end of it, turn right and you will be home free. Simple enough. Not scientific enough for people who have all the gadgets and methods to prove issues, but very real. Local and Traditional Knowledge.

In the greater debate of the changes happening to our Gulf of Alaska/Bering Sea ecosystems, rather than rely strictly upon the axiom that one plus one equals two, a solution, we need LTK which says, one plus five equals six. The people who live here, who rely upon the environment for their existence and survival have to know. It is not a question of theory or guesstament, it has to be one hundred percent accurate or else, a quick and sudden death, or as we may be seeing, a slow and painful PEST which eventually leads to that death. We must stop the oftimes arrogence of we know better cause we have better toys to play with and that often proves we know better, and begin a relationship with LTK such that  LTK is taken seriously as science, or as the NPFMC likes to say, the best available science. Interestingly, the best available science is failing us in our home. Fisheries are being shut down, or, taking in some cases years to do, but nonetheless, being done. Stocks are not rebounding in numbers that our best available science predicts they would. Damage is being done to the sensitive habitat that our best available science is not telling us, but wait, LTK is telling us. One, the people are making hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly observations, plus five, they are seeing the total picture, all things being connected.

So if there is, was, or would ever be any doubt about the value of LTK, let us consider. We do not depend upon this system, this environment for our survival. We are not here to make these observations and say, turn when you see the two dead whales. We are not dependent upon anything out here for our daily sustenence. We can make things, like our food, to feed us. We can build and plan big gigantic fish farms on the high seas. We can….and do….think our western scientific methods will help save our big beautiful planet we call Earth.


Until Next Time.



 PS..another interesting cultural difference we notice right off the bat. In western culture, when a question is asked, we often expect immediate answers, often thinking that the quicker the answer to the question, the "on top of it" we are or appear. Here in our traditional cultures of Alaska, its quite the opposite. We ask a question, and sometimes the answer comes a lot later. Its not what we expect. Perhaps the person formulating an answer is taking some time because, well, the answer is very thoughtful, not quick. There is no need to rush and show, "on top of itness." Simply, thoughtfulness.


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