Well grounded: Indigenous Peoples' knowledge, ethnobiology and sustainability




Turner, Nancy
Cuerrier, Alain
Joseph, Leigh

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People and Nature


The biological knowledge and associated values and beliefs of Indigenous and other long-resident Peoples are often overlooked and underrepresented in governance, planning and decision-making at local, regional, national and international levels. Ethnobiology—the study of the dynamic relationships among peoples, biota and environments—is a field that places Indigenous Peoples' ecological knowledge and ways of knowing at the forefront of research interests, particularly in relation to the importance of biocultural diversity in sustaining the Earth's Ecosystems. In this paper, we examine the nature and significance of Indigenous Peoples' knowledge systems concerning environmental sustainability, as documented in collaborative ethnobiological research. We emphasize the diverse aspects of Indigenous knowledge in conservation, and the role played by ethnobiologists in respectfully highlighting this knowledge, and link these to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Global Assessment's key levers and leverage points for enabling the transformative change required for achieving more sustainable lifeways. Drawing on diverse ways of knowing—respectfully, collaboratively, ethically and reciprocally—can help provide more detailed knowledge of local ecosystems, and guide all humans towards greater sustainability. From environmental monitoring, to building relationships with plants and the land, to ecological restoration, there are many lessons and ways in which the intersections between Indigenous knowledge and ethnobiology can inform and contribute to the future of humanity and other life on earth.


Thank you to Indigenous Community knowledge holders everywhere, and to all those who have participated in respectful documentation and recognition of their valued knowledge and perspectives. We are especially indebted to our Indigenous teachers, and to our friends and colleagues in the Society of Ethnobiology, International Society of Ethnobiology, Society for Economic Botany, Society for Ecological Restoration and others. We are indebted to Kai M.A. Chan for his work towards global sustainability, and for his encouragement and helpful editing suggestions, and to Rachelle Gould (Associate Editor, People and Nature), Kevin Gaston, Emilie Aimé, Chris Darimont and Noa Kekuewa Lincoln for their help and advice.


climate change, ethnobiology, ethnobotany, Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous Peoples, reciprocity, relational values, sustainability


Turner, N. J., Cuerrier, A. & Joseph, L. (2022). Well grounded: Indigenous Peoples' knowledge, ethnobiology and sustainability. People and Nature, 4(3), 627– 651. https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10321