Traditional knowledge is science


By Darren Porter

In the case of Nova Scotia’s tidal development, scientists/politicians have ignored the fact traditional knowledge is science. This dismissive condescending mind set has created the situation tidal energy finds itself in today.

Today’s scientists have a tendency to reject the traditional knowledge of First Nations peoples, commercial fishermen and recreational fishermen as anecdotal, non-quantitative, without method and unscientific. From their scientific detached boxes they have ignored basic knowledge available to them, as they prefer to stare at ink on paper, which is far from representative of the ecosystem they wish to develop.

However, it is absolutely necessary they develop a system to provide traditional knowledge with a “scientific” framework that contributes, in a complementary fashion, to this project. Scientists must learn their scientific knowledge and traditional knowledge and experience both have validity; both must be used if the proper objectives of scientific research are to be achieved, if that is the goal, which is very questionable at this point.

Funding seems to be the main goal motivating this tidal power dream the “career tidal power scientist” has pushed/sold in Nova Scotia for many years.  An effective system must be developed to collect and classify First Nations and commercial fisheries knowledge, particularly with respect to the Bay of Fundy and Minas Basin’s ocean resources and its environment. Means must be also found to interpret such knowledge so it will be meaningful without losing its content and value.

For example, Mi’kmaw have known the importance of the Minas passage “the Fundy force turbine site” for thousands of years. Their legends, passed down, have recorded it was the birth place of the massive tides, with the story of Glooscap’s beaver dam.  This knowledge has been since scientifically confirmed.

There are many reasons this site was so sacred and still is. It would enhance the professional career of all scientists working on this Fundy force tidal project, a world of good,  to take the time to learn the many legends, legacies of survival and co-existence in this immediate area as they are stories of life, creation, morals, responsibility and foremost respect of this and all ecosystems.

Currently, commercial fishermen are speaking out against this situation with their combined learned/earned  knowledge that this project has gone wrong! As they know, with the scale of this project and technology in the Minas Passage it will spell disaster, especially with scientists unable to determine the tidal developments’ effects on the ecosystem as they failed to gather sufficient baseline data to do so. Under current stipulations and conditions, there is no limit on what they are allowed to kill.

Scientists say one cannot compare the Annapolis River project to the Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (FORCE) tidal power project, but the scientific process and practices used by government, FORCE and industry to deal with the effects is absolutely comparable. It’s near impossible to expect fishermen to feel comfortable when the precedent has been set with the Annapolis Tidal Power project when government has failed to deal with the adverse effects. One must remember some of the scientists, still involved today, assured everyone the Annapolis Tidal Power Project would not have any far reaching effects on the ecosystem. Now, 30 years later, the entire distinct genetic strain of striped bass has been made extinct. Only if the tidal turbine and dam was removed would the remaining species have a chance to recover. A scientist who worked on the project over 30 years ago, who now works on the FORCE Tidal Power Project recently said on a radio show, “The fishermen don’t know. We do.”

What’s overlooked is the fact the survival of aboriginal peoples and modern fishermen has depended and does depend on our knowledge, our special relationship with the environment, our attachment to the ecosystem and our ways of organizing ourselves and our values.
Traditional knowledge is passed on from one generation to the next and from one fishing community to the next. Today, fishermen and aboriginal peoples are aware we must integrate our traditional knowledge into the institutions that serve us. It is essential to our survival and the ecosystems. As scientists attempt to manage and/or exploit the environment and renewable resources, this is a must.

Traditional knowledge is accumulated knowledge and understanding of the place in which we survive, in relation to the world, in both an ecological and deeply spiritual sense. Scientists must never forget traditional knowledge is science and it’s sound and must not be ignored.
The fact is we, the fishermen, have the documentation to show we have been excluded, unwanted, ignored, our knowledge not being recognized nor applied has deeply affected this project. There will be long lasting effects on this most valuable ecosystem and its existence because of this. We have not been  properly, by any standard, consulted or utilized, with a resource as important as the Bay of Fundy and Minas Basin. This is no less than a crime.
It makes no difference the media has been told we have been dealt with extensively as we have proof this is untrue. The fact is, after many, many years, the main original purpose of the Fundy Tidal project sold to the people of Nova Scotia was to determine its potential effects on the ecosystem. Development was secondary.

Ironically, after so many years, nothing is established to tell species  population effects, no monitoring established to adequately determine the effects on species. If fishermen and First Nations had been invited to play a meaningful part in this process, this would most certainly not be the case today. That has been our focus all along, while others focused on tidal generation goals, securing funding and the green between their fingers.

Industrial colonization of this ocean resource has been aided by tidal power-funded scientists. They have simply mitigated every environmental road block, no matter how damaging. Abusing adaptive management processes towards their goal-orientated path, blindly, negligently bending, twisting every adverse problem to achieve their  wants and needs completely ignoring the precautionary approach required by Canadian law.

With no informed consent, no social licence, insufficient baseline data and insufficient species population data/inadequate monitoring capabilities essential to determine the effects of this new industry, this is nothing short of highly organized environmental crime.

How can public representatives possibly go forward with this project at this point?

Darren Porter, Bramber, NS, a Bay of Fundy weir fisherman, has studied potential tidal power developments for over a decade

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