Methods for Learning IK and TEK

A tribal member identifies plants at Fort Laramie National Historic Site.
A tribal member studies plants at Fort Laramie National Historic Site.


Traditional knowledge and western science both use observations and experiences to answer questions about the physical world.
Dr. Selso Villegas, Tohono O'odham Nation

Below are some of the methods that a professional TEK researcher will use. While a researcher may not use all of these methods, multiple methods should be employed.

For many years, most of the focus has been on western science methods for learning TEK derive from the social sciences, especially Cultural Anthropology. Click on these links for an overview of these methods:

Indigenous peoples have for hundreds and thousands of years shared their knowledges as appropriate for their communities. A researcher may consider applying Indigenous research methodologies for each project and at the behest of the Indigenous community(ies) involved in the project. Each Indigenous people may have unique methodologies to be considered. In the last few decades, English terms have been given to some of Indigenous research methodologies, such as:

Participatory Action (transformative) – research theory, method and action to give back to the community (reciprocity)
Phenomenology and narrative inquiry – meaning from story; more than interviews, includes reflection, story and dialogue
Seventh moment – inclusivity of voices; looking at human behavior, attitudes and conditions using a variety of qualitative methods to enhance understanding
Oral Tradition - history handed down from one generation to another
Storytelling - information and lessons imbedded within a narrative, includes physical actions and vocal tones and modulation for impression and effect
Research Sharing Circles - inclusive of Indigenous protocols, such as ceremonies prior to discussion, use of talking sticks or objects to designate the speaker

See Guides for information about processes, and Research Methodologies and Challenges for information on issues.

As the world moves into a new era of building relationships between peoples and decolonizing research with a goal of better stewardship, more and more researchers are using a combination of western social science and Indigenous methodologies.

Last updated: June 29, 2023