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Dr. Alan J. Thomson
Pacific Forestry Centre

Modern forest management aims at inclusion of social, cultural and spiritual values. At the same time, First Nations groups wish not only to preserve their heritage, but also to see that heritage given its proper place in decisions that affect the land. A recent article by Brian Savage in the Western Native News (July 1997), in an article titled "Wendy Grant-John, candidate for AFN grand Chief" describes some of the difficulties encountered in this process: "A central problem for government officials is the incredible diversity of problems and concerns that each Native band faces across the country ... You can't put in place one thing across the country and think you're going to get success and support because each community is so unique, their needs so different from the other."

Forest management is based to a great extent on analysis of information stored in computers, but the anecdotal nature of traditional knowledge makes it difficult to represent in the computer, in a way that helps the needs of communities to be individually addressed. For example, studies of traditional knowledge among the Dene of the Northwest Territories are described in the reports of the Dene Cultural Institute, which indicate that "Most traditional knowledge information is presented in anecdotal form and is therefore difficult to classify and analyze. Often people will discuss several different subjects in answer to one question. Because the information is often difficult to separate without taking it out of context it is necessary to develop some system of cross-referencing for any system of data classification. At the time of writing this document no computerized system of data management was in use for our Ft. Good Hope project."

Elicitation, representation and use of knowledge is a major of area of research in the field of Artificial Intelligence, leading to development of knowledge bases and expert systems. I have worked for many years in development of forest management Decision Support Systems. In recent years I have used a range of Artificial Intelligence (AI) approaches, and have proposed possible ways of representing the interaction of community and environment in a manner that can be used to show the differences among communities. I also proposed methods for representing different codes of environmental ethics, and for storage and analysis of anecdotal information.

In the summer of 1997, I initiated a project on elicitation, representation and use of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in relation to resource management, to bring modern AI approaches to bear on this issue. The project was in collaboration with the Nicola Tribal Association (contacts: Harold Aljam, Mandy Jimmie) in Merritt, BC, and with the involvement of the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) (a First Nations College - contact: Sharon McIvor). Members of five bands in the area were involved: Coldwater, Upper Nicola, Lower Nicola, Nooaitch and Shackan. Interviews were conducted by Holly Meuse.

The aim of the project is to show the flow of knowledge from :

a) The reasoning behind each question; why the question was asked and what we expected to find out.
b) The questions themselves; their categorization and interconnectedness.
c) The range of responses to each question.
d) The inferences that can be drawn from the responses, and
e) The link between the inferences and resource management (such as aspects of the BC Forest Practices Code)
 

A database

of the literature background, questions, responses, inferences and links has been created. We would like to use the database as the focus of a discussion of Traditional Knowledge in Resource Management.

Wendy Cocksedge of the University of Victoria assisted in providing synopses of the literature and in making inferences from the responses.

Curran Crawford and Robert Banfield provided programming assistance.


Copyright (c) Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada 1998