Renewing the Circle: Thoughts on Preserving Indigenous Traditional Knowledge


  • Steve Sachs


In the summer of
2015, a tribal culture director told me that most of the older elders with
traditional knowledge had walked on and that there were only a few left. The
younger elders had very little traditional knowledge, and generally were not
interested in the old ways. This is a problem for many tribes across the United
States (and indeed, around the world), especially as two thirds of tribal
members live off reservation, making it often more difficult to impart
traditional ways of seeing and knowledge to them, and often requiring
innovative ways of achieving that. There are essentially two interrelated
aspects of the problem: preserving language and preserving the content of
knowledge carried by the language. The first has received a good deal of
attention, and much work is in progress to rejuvenate a good many Indigenous
languages, so I will only briefly discuss this here. The second, retaining
traditional knowledge, has long been a concern which most nations have been
addressing, but on which I have a few thoughts that may be worth considering.