Retaining Knowledge Sovereignty


This report is Part II of a two part series produced under the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative Tribal Climate Change initiative on Knowledge Sovereignty. Part I Karuk Traditional Ecological Knowledge and the Need for Knowledge Sovereignty: Social, Cultural and Economic Impacts of Denied Access to Traditional Management situates Karuk traditional knowledge in the practice of cultural management, indicating how Karuk knowledge must remain connected to both the practices that generated the information, and the practices that emerge from it. Part I of this report emphasized two key concepts; first that what we call “traditional ecological knowledge” or “TEK” is not an isolated entity but an enactment of cultural and spiritual practices in the landscape. Karuk and other traditional knowledge is embedded in, and emerges from the practices of traditional management. Second, even it were possible, it is unethical to attempt to remove TEK from Tribal context. Attempts to extract knowledge are a form of cultural appropriation that erodes the very foundations of Tribal life. Knowledge and management are about identity, culture, spiritual practice and subsistence economic activity. This report, Retaining Knowledge Sovereignty: Expanding the Application of Tribal Traditional Knowledge on Forest Lands in the Face of Climate Change draws from the experiences of the Karuk Tribe in combination with a review of Tribal case studies, academic and legal literature and current policy initiatives to outline current cultural and institutional barriers for the sovereignty of traditional ecological knowledge and provide a range of recommendations for their resolution at federal, statewide and regional levels.

Although knowledge cannot be transferred in the manner many non-Native managers presume, there are many ways that the use and application of Karuk traditional knowledge can expanded that will strengthen tribal culture and enhance sovereignty. Part II “Retaining Knowledge Sovereignty: Expanding the Application of Tribal Traditional Knowledge on Forest Lands in the Face of Climate Change” details mechanisms through which knowledge (and culture) have been inappropriately engaged in the past and provides a road map of proactive actions.


Thankfully none of us think, work or exist in isolation.

This report could never have been written without the assistance of a great many people. It has been an honor to listen and learn from William Tripp, Ron Reed, Leaf Hillman, Lisa Hillman and Bob Rhode of the Karuk Tribe, Frank Lake of the U.S. Forest Service, Kyle Powys White of Michigan State University, Sibyl Diver and Daniel Sarna of University of California at Berkeley, and Mary Wood, Kathy Lynn, Julie Bacon, Kirsten Vineyta, Seth Bichler and Amanda Rogerson of the University of Oregon in the course of writing this document.

Many thanks also to all the ongoing efforts of the Intertribal Timber Council, the National Congress of American Indians, the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative (NPLCC) and other organizations whose vision and labors have provided a critical foundation for this report.

The North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative provided generous funding through Award #FI2AP00826

May the Karuk and all Tribal People achieve the full sovereignty over their knowledge, lands and spiritual practices.



  • Traditional Knowledge is Inseparable from Culture
  • Knowledge Sovereignty Requires Traditional Management
  • Knowledge Sovereignty and Overall Tribal Sovereignty are Interconnected
  • Climate Change is Negatively Impacting Tribal Sovereignty
  • Tribal Management of Off-Reservation Lands
  • Report Overview

Chapter One: Traditional Knowledge, Knowledge Sovereignty and Climate Change as Strategic Opportunity

  1. What is at Stake with Knowledge Sovereignty?
  2. Climate Change as Strategic Opportunity
  3. Recent Initiatives Providing a Platform for Knowledge Sovereignty
  • United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy
  • 1994 Tribal Forest Protection Act (TFPA)
  • Intertribal Timber Council 2013 Review of TFPA
  • Executive Order 13175 on Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribes
  • 2009 Omnibus Act
  • Western Regional Air Partnership Joint Forum on Fire Emissions
  • Public and Tribal Trust Litigation
  • 2013 White House Council on Native American Affairs
  • Interdepartmental Memorandum of Understanding on Sacred Sites and Sacred Landscapes
  • Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledge in Climate Change Initiatives
  • Recent National Congress of American Indian Resolutions

Chapter Two: Cultural Barriers Eroding Knowledge Sovereignty

  • Conceptions of the Nature and Use of Knowledge
  • Conceptions of the Relationship Between People and “Nature”
  • Weak or Non-Existent Interpersonal Relationships Between Individuals in Tribes and Federal or other non-Native agencies
  • Lack of Cross Cultural Knowledge, Knowledge of Specific Local Tribal Priorities and Tribal Trust Responsibilities

Chapter Three: Institutional Barriers Eroding Knowledge Sovereignty

  • Inadequate Protection of Tribal Knowledge
  • Failure to Enforce Federal Tribal and Public Trust Responsibilities
  • Changing Political Terrain and Laws of other Sovereigns
  • Organizational Barriers to Conducing Traditional Management on Off-Reservation Lands
  • Barriers to Intergovernmental Project Collaboration
  • Limits in Tribal Capacity
  • Absence of Applicable Data/Non-Tribal Research Agenda

Appendix: Compilation of Strategies to Promote Traditional Knowledge Sovereignty

  • Executive Summary Sheet for National Strategies
  • Executive Summary Sheet for Statewide, Regional and Local Strategies


Copyright © 2016 the Karuk Tribe. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all materials on these pages are copyrighted by the Karuk Tribe. All rights reserved. No part of these pages, either text or image may be used for any purpose other than personal use. Therefore, reproduction, modification, storage in a retrieval system or retransmission, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise, for reasons other than personal use, is strictly prohibited without prior written permission.