Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledges in Climate Change Initiatives

These guidelines recommend ethical conduct practices for dealing with traditional knowledges (TKs) of indigenous peoples. The guidelines revolve around the two principles of “Cause No Harm” and “Free, Prior, and Informed Consent.” The purpose of the guidelines is to create mutually beneficial interactions between tribes and non-tribal partners that respect the cultural and economic values of indigenous peoples.

The guidelines are organized into eight categories, and are as follows:

  1. Understand key concepts and definitions related to TKs, which asks agencies and researchers to understand that each tribe may use their own knowledge system(s) and that tribes clearly articulate their conceptions of knowledge. 
  2. Recognize that indigenous peoples and holders of TKs have a right NOT to participate in federal interactions around TKs. This guideline asks agencies and researchers to respect the right of indigenous governments to withdraw participation and asks researchers/agencies to provide a non-biased description of the risks and benefits of sharing information. 
  3. Understand and communicate risks for indigenous peoples and holders of TKs. This guideline asks researchers/agencies to determine if TKS involve sensitive information that can be protected from public disclosure and to inform tribes of risks. Tribes should likewise clearly state what risks are acceptable and what risks must be avoided. 
  4. Establish an institutional interface between indigenous peoples, TKs holders, and government for clear, transparent and culturally appropriate terms-of-reference, particularly through the development of formal research agreements.
  5. Provide training for federal agency staff working with indigenous peoples on initiatives involving TKs. 
  6. Provide specific directions to all agency staff, researchers and non-indigenous entities to ensure that protections for TKs requested by tribes and knowledge holders are upheld.
  7. Recognize the role of multiple knowledge systems. 
  8. Develop guidelines for review of grant proposals that recognize the value of TKs, while ensuring protections for TKs, indigenous peoples, and holders of TKs.

The guidelines provide more details on each of these, outline specific actions for federal agencies, researchers, tribes, and TKs holders. 


Publication Date: September 2014

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