Tłı̨chǫ developing traditional knowledge research policy

A file satellite image of Behchoko
A file satellite image of Behchoko.

The Tłı̨chǫ Government is to make public a traditional knowledge research policy designed to better handle dozens of requests from researchers and developers each year.

A policy first drafted in 2011 was never finalized, meaning the Tłı̨chǫ research department must start from scratch each time a request comes in, walking researchers through the process.

When Tyanna Steinwand started last March as manager of research operations and training in Behchokǫ̀, she noticed the lack of a policy was causing issues with researchers studying traditional knowledge.

In October, the research department brought around ten Elders from each Tłı̨chǫ community to Behchokǫ̀ to identify those issues and how a policy could address them.



Their feedback is being incorporated into the existing draft policy, which will eventually become a public document. The policy will offer formal guidelines regarding what is required of researchers and what they should know about traditional knowledge in Tłı̨chǫ communities.

Steinwand said issues raised so far include researchers in communities comparing traditional knowledge with western science and concluding the traditional knowledge doesn’t line up.

“Traditional knowledge can be varied depending on the person’s experiences and observations,” Steinwand told Cabin Radio. “Outside researchers should not be saying that the science disproves traditional knowledge, which I’ve seen happen this year.”

The new guidelines are also intended to guard against last-minute requests for traditional knowledge studies, which Tłı̨chǫ communities don’t have the capacity to handle. (Steinwand has one other traditional knowledge researcher on staff.)



“I just recently got a request and they asked for the work to be done before the end of next month,” she continued, explaining that with such short notice, it’s just not possible.

Other researchers have struggled to understand how best to approach their work in a community.

“Sometimes outside researchers are not asking questions in the right way, or their questions aren’t clear or specific enough to be understood by Elders. It’s also not the Elders’ way to answer questions in a short yes or no,” she explained.

“Doing a traditional knowledge study in a boardroom will get different outcomes and answers than doing the study out on the land. Where possible I think it’s very important that studies be done out on the land where the Elders are more comfortable.”

The revised policy will also address the importance of consistency in translation.

The goal is to have the policy available for researchers online this year.