Linking Traditional Knowledge And Environmental Policy In The Cherokee Nation Of Oklahoma

EPA Grant Number: F5C30541
Title: Linking Traditional Knowledge And Environmental Policy In The Cherokee Nation Of Oklahoma
Investigators: Carroll, Clinton R.
Institution: University of California - Berkeley
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: September 1, 2005 through August 31, 2007
Project Amount: $106,722
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2005) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships


This project is designed to study Cherokee traditional ecological knowledge and practices in northeastern Oklahoma with the goal of developing culturally-based decision-making frameworks pertaining to tribally-controlled environmental policy. Through ethnographic analysis, I hope this study to provide a better understanding of the contradiction between tribal economic development and environmental protection. The study aims to present policy approaches for the maintenance of a healthy tribal land base for spiritual well-being and political sovereignty in the face of tribal development projects that nevertheless aim to increase tribal economic capacity and self-sovereignty.

While development has benefited the tribe by allowing it to exercise greater sovereignty, increase economic growth, and improve local quality of life, it has created a major contradiction between the traditional land ethic and the need for economic development. In analyzing this contradiction, I am interested in the gap between Cherokee traditional resource management and current tribal development, the realities and importance of both sides, and how they could intersect in the realm of environmental policy. I hypothesize that in-depth analysis of this problem at historical, political, and practical angles could result in effective methods for integrating tradition with policy. As such, my research aims to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the history of Cherokee traditional resource management practices in northeastern Oklahoma and how have these practices adapted through time? In what ways has traditional ecological knowledge been used (or not used) for making policy decisions throughout different eras of development?
  2. In what ways has traditional ecological knowledge been incorporated into tribal environmental policy in other parts of North America? What have been the outcomes of these efforts?
  3. What is the relationship between the traditional preference to keep sacred knowledge secret (such as the traditional medicinal uses of plants) and the desire to use this knowledge in tribal environmental policy?


I will use a political ecology approach to analyze the contradiction between tribal development and traditional values toward natural resources. This approach views the problem outside of a vacuum and recognizes the plentitude of factors that interplay in the political, historical and economic arenas. It avoids the essentialization of tribal development, and accounts for the need for self-determination and economic development in current times. My methodology will include ethnographic and historical research.

Expected Results:

This research will contribute new approaches to:

  1. community-based, sustainable resource management initiatives,
  2. ecologically- and culturally-sensitive tribal development,
  3. the perpetuation of traditional knowledge systems and
  4. tribal autonomy in the context of local resource management.

Supplemental Keywords:

Traditional ecological knowledge, Native Americans, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, natural resource management, American Indian economic development,, RFA, Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, State, decision-making, Ecology and Ecosystems, Social Science, Economics & Decision Making, policy making, resource management, natural resource management, decision analysis, environmental decision making, decision making, American Indians, Cherokee Nation, environmental values, environmental attitudes, community based environmental planning, environmental policy, culture and social practices, environmental protection, native americans, Oklahoma (OK), political ecology, conserving ecosystem integrity, environmental history

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2006
  • Final