Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)

Traditional Ecological Knowledge or TEK (also called Environmental Knowledge of Native Peoples ) refers to, "The evolving knowledge acquired by indigenous and local peoples over hundreds or thousands of years through direct contact with the environment. This knowledge is specific to a location and includes the relationships between plants, animals, natural phenomena, landscapes.... It encompasses the world view of indigenous people." (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013)

The Environmental Knowledge (TEK) focus area prepares students for the world of work by providing students with an invaluable set of work place skills, including the ability to think for themselves, the skills to communicate effectively, and the capacity for lifelong learning. As Tribes, States and Federal agencies incorporate Environmental Knowledge (TEK) within their policies and processes, it is essential for Environmental Studies students to understand TEK's role in helping address environmental concerns.

Students in this focus area will explore Environmental Knowledge within the lives of historic and contemporary Native peoples and their communities. Students will work closely with the focus area advisor to select appropriate course work within Environmental Studies and other disciplines.

woman in a field

TEK Courses Offered

Offered Spring, every other year.

This course will examine the land, people and places of Montana viewed through the lens of environmental change. We will be integrating different perspectives in an effort to understand the historical background of contemporary environmental issues in Montana, through a combination of lectures, readings, focused in-class discussions, and writing assignments.

Offered Spring, every other year.

An examination of environmental knowledge of Native Americans and their relationship with nature to provide a foundation for understanding contemporary environmental issues within Native American communities. The course explores how Native peoples found meaning within nature, ethical and religious ideas about nature and how nature helped shape their reality.

Offered Spring.

This course is a graduate readings course that will provide a historical overview of federal attitudes and policies toward Native Americans in North America and the environmental issues engendered from these policies, focusing on specific topics: pre-contact America, land ownership and stewardship, water rights, and natural resource development.

Offered Fall & Spring.

Interns will work on campus learning about Native plants, ethnobotany, invasive species, landscaping and restoring natural areas, in collaboration with UM's Manager of Natural Areas, Marilyn Marler. Students will meet once a week with instructors, plus work 6 hours per week on a project on campus.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge Opportunities

Payne Family Native American Center Native Plant Garden

The Garden outside of the University of Montana's Payne Family Native American Center provides an opportunity for public education and a living laboratory for students. Fittingly, it sits on the site of a historic Salish Indian encampment, and the building is designed to reflect that legacy as well as the heritage and cultures of all Montana tribes. The Garden contains native grasses and bushes connecting eight stone Circles. Each Circle includes plants native and important to an ecoregion of Montana and the tribe or tribes that live within that area.

Natural Areas at UM

The University of Montana has hundreds of acres of natural areas available for education, recreation and research.  This includes 500 acres on the face of the iconic Mount Sentinel, and 100 acres on the banks of the Bitterroot River at Fort Missoula. These places are managed primarily for conservation of native plants and animals, but both areas receive heavy recreational use as well. Students and community groups frequently engage in volunteer stewardship activities including trail maintenance, invasive weed removal, planting native plants, and helping to spread the word about the importance of conservation efforts in UM Natural Areas.


Rosalyn La Pier Associate Professor

Office: Jeannette Rankin Hall 017