Traditional knowledge defended
Bill Erasmus says it's really just science

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 17/97) - Bill Erasmus says aboriginals have to record the traditional knowledge of their elders for their own benefit, not just for governments.

"The responsibility and onus is on us to record them and put it in a form we could use," the national chief of the Dene Nation said at a recent Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Erasmus' comments come at a time when the debate on traditional knowledge used in government policy-making is hotter than ever.

He is the second speaker in as many weeks to address a chamber luncheon on the controversial issue and its place within government.

Albert Howard, who co-wrote a journal article essay about traditional knowledge, spoke the previous week on what he said is its shortcomings as government policy.

Since the publication of their article in November, Howard and Frances Widdowson have become public opponents of traditional knowledge. As a result, Widdowson was suspended without pay for a week from her position as a senior policy analyst with the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development.

According to Erasmus, among the causes of poor public understanding of traditional knowledge is a lack of study in the area.

However, he said the GNWT's policy on TK is a step toward understanding the issue.

"I think the territorial government is on their way to trying to better the situation as they try to understand what it is," he said. "We must continue the dialogue on it so that we all feel comfortable with it."

The important thing, said Erasmus, is not to discard the knowledge of elders whose experience could prove invaluable.

He relayed a story about an elder who had studied, as a hunter, the behavior of moose.

"The man said he knew everything there was to know about a moose, but said he was too old to do anything about it," said Erasmus. "He needed to pass it on to someone who could use it."

By calling it traditional knowledge, he said, "we don't do it justice -- it's really a science."

But it is a science that can be used in conjunction with scientists, Erasmus maintained.