People gather knowledge for a wide range of purposes, including for survival, well-being, and cultural, economic, and technological developments. Indigenous knowledge—or traditional knowledge—refers to information, meanings, purposes, and values that Indigenous peoples have gathered, conceptualized, studied, and passed through generations for thousands of years. Indigenous knowledge offers solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues, from environmental crises and declining biodiversity, to equity, justice, and holistic health systems.
Despite the power of traditional knowledge, throughout history, it has been criticized, banned, erased through cultural assimilation, and purposely destroyed in favor of Western, Eurocentric views. Prior to colonization, Indigenous ways of knowing formed the basis of all aspects of Indigenous life, including language, culture, spirituality, architecture, agriculture, and technology. During colonization, the racist devaluing and destruction of Indigenous knowledge served as a key justification for Native American cultural assimilation and genocide. Over hundreds of years, these colonial practices have created unsustainable development patterns, which now harm all people, but continue to disproportionately harm Indigenous and marginalized peoples.
Through negotiations, battles over stolen lands, the Red Power Movement of the 1960’s, and hundreds of other public and private protests, Indigenous peoples have worked tirelessly to maintain Indigenous ways of knowing and being since the advent of colonization. Today, Native American communities and activists are leading a powerful renewal of Indigenous culture, knowledge, and identity. From language revitalization and the renewal of spiritual practices and ceremonies, to Indigenous leadership in environmental crises, the resurgence of Indigenous food sovereignty, and the reclaiming of Two-Spirit identities, Indigenous knowledge is slowly being recentered. Due to geographic location and lack of resources and funding, renewal efforts are not always accessible to all Indigenous peoples in the United States. Indigenous peoples who live in rural areas—most Native American reservations—often lack the infrastructure and resources for programs to preserve and cultivate Indigenous knowledge. Indigenous peoples living in urban areas often lack cultural centers and gathering spaces to share community, identity, and knowledge.
Centering Indigenous knowledge has the power to advance equity for Indigenous communities and society as a whole. Supporting this change at scale means a significant cultural shift to genuinely valuing traditional knowledge and lived experience as equal to—and sometimes even superior to—knowledge from professionally trained experts or modern scientific sources. This shift requires deeply uprooting racist, colonialist, and Eurocentric assumptions, biases, and values that perpetuate oppression and abuse. Communities and stewards can advance equity and well-being for Indigenous and other marginalized communities by uplifting Indigenous knowledge, centering Indigenous perspectives and people, and funding Indigenous communities and renewal programs.