Understanding Traditional Knowledge
What is sometimes referred to as Traditional Knowledge includes an immense body of cultural knowledge that can include: mythic stories of the days when animals could talk with people; detailed knowledge of the land and its resources; and practical information about hunting areas, trapping techniques, food preparation, etc. While this term is usually applied to aboriginal cultures, every society possesses a body of traditional knowledge that it passes on in various ways.
This knowledge can be of immense value to scientists, linguists and others. Often these specialists are looking at this information as simply another source of data. Our elders may be better able to look at the big picture, understanding the interconnectedness of all beings and how changes in one small area can have unexpected larger impacts. This is based on close observation and personal experience on the land accumulated over several generations. This is not “data” that can easily be condensed into a two-page report but a great body of familiarity, intuition and knowledge that is difficult to achieve and understand without similar experience. It is important to recognize the wisdom of the elders and their ability to interpret and draw conclusions based on their experiences as well the traditional knowledge they have gained from their ancestors.
Oral Traditions and Learning
In the early days, living in this area required people to move throughout the year travelling as lightly as possible. Their most important skill was the ability to find and make anything they needed. This pre-literate society relied on the memories and stories of their ancestors for everything: how to craft a snare or build a shelter, how to treat and respect the animals that provide you with food, and understanding how the world came to be. The transmission of this knowledge from one generation to the next is referred to as “oral tradition”.
Many of these lessons were shared by stories. Much of their learning, however, came from observation and experience. At fish camp, children watched their parents cut fish then practiced the techniques on smaller fish such as suckers. By watching and helping, they learned the importance of keeping a clean camp so as not to attract bears. They learned that it was important to respect the fish, both through watching and stories.
Our elders remember that, as children, they were told stories repeatedly until they could repeat them word for word. Beyond this more formal learning, were the lessons of everyday life. More recently this valuable information is being preserved by sound recordings. This process is referred to as oral history recording. The ability to memorize and recite a story correctly is still an important skill and a valued cultural tool.
Grandma Mary McLeod is fondly remembered by former children of Moosehide for sharing stories and bush skills.
Grandma McLeod used to tell us a lot of stories. She used to take us out and teach us how to trap, how to snare rabbit and, you know, just picnic stuff for fun. For fun she’d take us out for tea, have tea and bannock and bring along dried fish or dried meat or whatever we had. Whatever season, it could be springtime or fall. She used to take us berry picking. The whole village used to go berry picking. Up back, we go up Moosehide Creek and find berries on the hill.
– Angie Joseph-Rear, 1993