Preserving Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Greenland

Simone Whitecloud, PhD student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Simone Whitecloud documents plant names and uses in order to preserve traditional knowledge. Plant ranges are changing in response to a changing climate, and her data will preserve knowledge that would otherwise be lost as plant ranges shift and practitioners lose access to the same plants.

During the summer of 2011, Simone worked with her collaborator, Lenore Grenoble from the University of Chicago, to document plant uses in southern Greenland (Qassiarsuk and Nanortalik) by interviewing community-recognized plant experts. She used fresh and dry plant samples, as well as photos, to speak via an interpreter with nine women and one man about names, uses, and to document pronunciation.

Interviews were recorded and are archived at the University of Chicago. Simone's research demonstrates that people are using both traditional knowledge about plants, most often handed down from elders, and also contemporary knowledge, including Anne Sophie Hardenberg's cookbook of Greenlandic cuisine. Although medicinal uses account for the largest amount (~27%), the combination of the food, beverage, and spice/condiment categories make up nearly half of all uses.

Read about Simone's work combining linguists and ecology on The Graduate Forum.

YouTube: Simone Whitecloud talks about plant interactions