A multi-case study analysis of indigenous knowledge programs in the United States



The impacts of colonization and modernization have undermined and neglected indigenous knowledge, not only in current day developing countries, but also for select communities in industrialized or developed countries. Over the last decade, however, there has been an increased international interest to revitalize and restore indigenous knowledge. Multilateral development organizations, local and global NGOs, policymakers, education institutions and the private sector, such as pharmaceutical industries, are among the institutions that have shown interest in indigenous knowledge.

For instance, indigenous knowledge has shown to be of great importance in health and development practices. In Southern Africa, the Commercial Products from the Wild (CPWild) project estimates the value of informal herbal remedies to be between $75 million to $150 million per year in the market. Over 1000 indigenous crops and medicinal plants are traded in this informal market system and more than 100,000 people are income earners in this industry.

The international interest shown by these institutions, however, has led to numerous challenges for indigenous knowledge at the global level, and sparked many debates around the nature of indigenous knowledge, who the indigenous knowledge holders are, and whether these knowledge systems are scientifically valid or applicable in conventional knowledge paradigms.

This paper presents findings from a multi-case study analysis of indigenous knowledge programs or initiatives in three institutions - the World Bank, the National Institutes of Health, and Pennsylvania State University. In each case study the identification, collection, and institutionalization processes used for indigenous knowledge were studied to understand how indigenous knowledge is represented alongside conventional knowledge.