For hundreds of years before the arrival of Europeans, Colorado Plateau tribes had sustainable societies which had developed traditional science, achieved knowledge of medicines for healing many ailments, and developed advanced architecture, farming and agricultural techniques. They had sustainable economic systems which everyone contributed to and benefited from. For example, it was vital for someone to know as much as possible about proper harvesting of plants used for a variety of daily purposes. Tribal societies adhered to natural laws that were taught orally to ensure a constant state of balance. Such knowledge was highly valued and was traded. Elders accepted their responsibilities and were highly regarded as part of the knowledge transfer process.
Today, many tribes want to ensure the continuance of the knowledge transfer systems that meant so much to their communities and that achieved cohesion within the tribe. In British Columbia, the Coastal First Nations have made major strides towards this goal by organizing a regional effort entitled the Great Bear Initiative. With agreements–based on tribal knowledge–to protect their resources, they have achieved major protection of both their lands and their neighbors. Through this effort, they will preserve an ecological treasure that contains a quarter of the world’s temperate rainforest and one fifth of its wild salmon.
Like the coast of British Colombia, the Colorado Plateau is one of the most biologically diverse regions in North America and it is also regarded as the most linguistically and agriculturally diverse area in the country. Over a third of the Plateau is Native American lands, and for centuries Plateau tribal ecological knowledge guided the use and management of these lands. Much of this tribal knowledge remains intact today, but is in danger of being lost. The long-term protection of the Colorado Plateau must include the tribes as key stakeholders and it will be lasting only if it also includes the revitalization of their cultural and linguistic heritage.
Tribes once shared teachings, culture, and trade with each other. Over the past year and half, members from eleven different tribes who have attained the wisdom of the land have come together three times to once again share cultural traditions, Native seeds, stories, and strategies to protect their land and culture. At those Gatherings, smiles appeared on the elder’s faces, some gleeful with anticipation, as they sat together sharing their stories.
The participants of the Gatherings have decided to address four critical areas: water, health, sacred sites, and language and culture. Youth are being engaged in the process through projects and seminars designed with input from the elders. Support will be provided for tribal led efforts to record, archive, and share the stories and teachings of the elders. Like our brothers and sisters of the Coastal First Nations, we aspire to determine an effective strategy to use traditional knowledge to protect native lands on the Colorado Plateau that, at its very core, is tribal.