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By Martha Charlton Johnson, Dene Cultural Institute (Yellowknife, N.W.T.), International Development Research Centre (Canada)

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Because it is an oral-based knowledge system, it is often difficult to transmit ideas and concepts to those who do not share the tradition and the experience. For example, aboriginal hunters develop their concepts through their own experience as well as shared and familiar experiences with other members of the community. Any instruction they receive would be oral instruction from another person and rarely from pictures or the written word. Consequently, hunters find it difficult to describe their observations and ideas to someone versed in scientific explanation and unfamiliar with the traditional, cognitive system.

These statements are generalizations. The different modes of thinking, transmitting, and expressing knowledge are not mutually exclusive for either system. Dominance of one mode within a cultural group does not prevent many individuals in that same group from being highly functional in another mode. Social change is occurring within Western society and among aboriginal cultures such that new values and ways of thinking are emerging for both. TEK is recorded and transmitted through oral tradition (often through stories); Western science employs the written word.

Pursuing this idea, DCI and the community of Fort Page 22 Good Hope began to establish a camp along the shores of the Mackenzie River. Their guests, from the far corners of the globe, would sleep in tents on beds of spruce bows, sample fresh fish and caribou, and experience the breathtaking scenery of this majestic river. The biggest challenge of the workshop was to stimulate open discussion and interaction to draw out the common and distinct aspects of each project. With such a disparate group, each participant with different motivations, agendas, and cultural backgrounds, this was not an easy task.

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