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Ecohealth. 2011 Jun;8(2):199-209. doi: 10.1007/s10393-011-0707-9. Epub 2011 Sep 14.

Promoting wellness in Alaskan villages: integrating traditional knowledge and science of wild berries.

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Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1102 S. Goodwin Ave, S510 Turner Hall, MC 047, Urbana, IL, 61801, USA.


People draw upon multiple forms of environmental knowledge, from scientific to highly contextual local or traditional forms of knowledge, to interpret problems and gauge risks in complex socio-ecological systems. In collaboration with three remote Alaska Native communities, and using an interdisciplinary, participatory, and mixed methods research approach, we explored traditional ecological knowledge and scientific aspects of wild berries and the broader context of community health and environmental change. Combining site visits, key informant interviews, focus groups, survey questionnaires, portable field bioassays, and laboratory follow-up analyses, our research revealed the importance of local subsistence resources for community wellness. Multiple berry species were found to have powerful bioactive health properties for ameliorating metabolic syndrome as well as importance for community wellness. Communities differed in the degree to which they characterized berries as healthy foods and perceived environmental risks including climate change. Findings suggest the importance of incorporating locally available foods and socio-cultural traditions into community wellness programming. This article also discusses challenges and opportunities associated with transdisciplinary, participatory research with indigenous communities.

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