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Les Finno-ougriens et la nature

Linguistic Biodiversity, Natural Biodiversity and Traditional Ecological Knowledge: A Common Extinction

Questioning the Adaptive Capacities of Indigenous Peoples from Arctic and Sub-Arctic Regions
Biodiversités linguistique et naturelle et savoirs écologiques traditionnels : une extinction commune. Interroger les capacités d’adaptation des peuples autochtones des régions arctiques et sub-arctiques
Языковое биоразнообразие, природное биоразнообразие и традиционные экологические знания: общее вымирание. Вопрос об адаптивных возможностях коренных народов арктических и субарктических регионов
Anatole Danto, Léa Pertel, Jules Danto et Kristina Likhacheva
p. 37-62


Cet article s’appuie sur un cadre conceptuel dense, structuré autour des questions de diversité bioculturelle. Il expose les différents changements qui affectent les socio-écosystèmes arctiques et subarctiques et démontrent que l’ensemble des cosmologies autochtones est affecté par ces changements, de différentes natures. Plus que d’autres sociétés, les communautés autochtones de la région subissent en effet des pressions internes et externes, tant d’origines anthropiques que naturelles. Cependant, ces communautés sont aussi souvent les mieux armées pour lutter contre les changements, grâce à des capacités particulières, qu’il convient aujourd’hui d’appréhender. Ainsi, lutter contre l’érosion de la biodiversité naturelle ou enrayer la diminution de la diversité linguistique contribuent in fine à la préservation d’une pluralité de cosmologies, aptes à accompagner les changements à l’œuvre.

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We would like to thank the European Commission, OCTAA and the French Institute ( programme), the Belmont Forum and the French ANR, the Centre for Franco-Russian Studies in Moscow (MEAE/CNRS), the French Institute in Denmark, PIIRESS, NAMMCO, as well as ESC and Arctic lab.


  • 1 Morton et al., 2015.
  • 2 Holling, 1973.
  • 3 Holling, 1996.
  • 4 Hudson, 2019.

1A social-ecological system is a complex subject that requires an integration of different disciplines. A transdisciplinary1 approach when exploring sustainability of social-ecological systems was first proposed by C.S. Holling’s paper “Resilience and stability of ecological systems”.2 In his paper, Holling proposed that ecological systems have two properties: resilience and stability. According to him, resilience can be defined as “the magnitude of disturbance that can be absorbed before the system changes its structure by changing the variables and processes that control behaviour”.3 Stability of a system is an important component as the system is more resilient if it has a capacity to adapt and maintain the same functions over time.4

  • 5 See Fill & Muhlhausler, 2006 or Stibbe, 2015.
  • 6 Haugen, 1972.
  • 7 For example: Maffi, 2001; Maffi et al., 1999; Skutnabb-Kangas et al., 2003.
  • 8 Skutnabb-Kangas, 2003.

2Languages do not play the last role in the debates about the resilience of social-ecological systems. Language ecology (sometimes known as “ecolinguistic”)5 is a concept that can be defined as a study of interactions between any given language and its environment.6 Functions of a given language are strongly related to its users, and to their social and natural environment. Therefore, several scholars7 assume that “biodiversity represented by its ecosystems as well as humans through their language and culture have mutually influenced each other”.8

  • 9 Skutnabb-Kangas et al., 2011.
  • 10 Evans, 2011.
  • 11 Harrison, 2008.
  • 12 Loh & Harmon, 2014.

3Recent statistics demonstrate that language diversity is disappearing much faster than biodiversity.9 Indigenous languages10 are particularly vulnerable in this respect,11 it has been estimated that around 4,000 of approximately 7,000 languages of the world are spoken by a mere two percent of the world’s population. It is predicted that about half of the world’s languages will disappear by the end of the century. It has been argued that there are strong relationships between nature and culture. Both have a capacity to change and evolve over time.12 Loh and Harmond argue that the differences between the two is that nature tends to evolve in very slow dimensions, whereas cultural changes are happening rapidly. 

4Biocultural diversity is another concept that has evolved in the 1990s and was developed by Maffi,13 but also by Roué & Nakashima.14 In the spirit of the Declaration of Belem, the definition of biocultural diversity is the following: “humankind’s accumulated reserve of learned responses to the environment that make co-existence between man and nature and self-recognition possible”.15 Several international initiatives have also emerged in the form of various associations and NGOs. For example, Terralingua16 is an NGO working on protecting biocultural diversity17 around numerous countries.

  • 18 Walker & Salt, 2006.
  • 19 See: Hudson, 2019; Daurio, 2011; Haugen, 1972.
  • 20 Haugen, 1972.
  • 21 Hudson, 2019.

5It can be assumed that language resistance to change has an important role in building resilience. Change is an essential component of development and human can control only a small part of the change.18 Different studies have been dedicated to integrating linguistics to the resilience theory.19 Scientific work of Haugen20 has a considerable focus on linking language and ecology. However, language ecology as a concept gained popularity in the 1980s when transdisciplinary research between anthropology and linguistics started to evolve.21 One of the crucial factors towards resilience of the social-ecological systems is a linguistic diversity. 

  • 22 Dorais & Krupnik, 2005.
  • 23 Roué, 2012.
  • 24 Ingold, 2002.
  • 25 Skutnabb-Kangas et al., 2003.

6Indigenous languages have a special role in resilience process as they are becoming linking elements between humans and nature.22 In this respect, it is crucial to introduce such a concept as ecological knowledge (traditional, local, etc.: TEK, LEK and so on, we will use the generic term TEK from now on).23 Indigenous languages are considered to transmit TEK, reflecting a unique understanding by the local communities of the natural environment. TEK24 can be understood as “in-depth knowledge of plant and animal species, their mutual relationships, and local ecosystems held by indigenous, local or traditional communities, developed and handed down by generations”.25

7It has been acknowledged by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that linguistic diversity is an important factor when integrating traditional ecological knowledge. It has been underlined in the article no. 8 of the CBD that “subject to its national legislation, respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, innovations and practices and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilisation of such knowledge, innovations and practices”. At the same time, more and more international organisations are taking an interest in the subject. For example, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has a work program about Indigenous and local knowledge, and UNESCO launched a special unit dedicated to Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS).26

  • 27 Langton et al., 2005.

8A great number of indigenous communities presented today have been subjected to colonisation period in its various forms.27 This process is reflected in the loss of territory, nationalisation of language policies, and, as a result, loss of traditional biodiversity-related traditional knowledge. Indigenous languages are not easily translated to the common languages or lingua franca, therefore, some information concerning TEK can be lost.

  • 28 Krause, 2013.

9TEK can be used when analysing human impacts on the environment. For example, Traditional Ecological Knowledge is broadly used for identifying environmental changes concerning climate change at the local and regional levels. TEK can be transmitted through the vocabulary of indigenous languages.28

  • 29 Khasbagan, 2008.

10Since the 1980s, ethnobotanical studies have been conducted, for example, in Inner Mongolia. They have demonstrated that there is a high correspondence between folk names and scientific names of some desert plants.29 Therefore, indigenous languages can be an important source of information of ecological knowledge, which is an essential factor towards adaptation of local communities to changing environments.

11The present paper is aiming to discuss the current changes that indigenous populations of Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions are facing nowadays. In this context, it is crucial to address the role of indigenous languages in adaptation to the new environment as well as to discuss the role of participatory practices in management of natural resources, giving an example of adaptive co-management. We are living in the so-called era of “Anthropocene”, when indigenous populations of Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions are facing new challenges, such as climate change, globalisation, economic growth, etc. Adaptive co-management30 will be presented as an alternative approach with the aim to integrate traditional ecological knowledge in the decision-making process. This article also wishes to contribute to UNESCO’s International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032.31

Applied methodology

  • 32 Meisch et al., 2022.
  • 33 Geertz, 2008.
  • 34 Blommaert, 2007.
  • 35 Marcus, 1995.
  • 36 Archives of the Service historique de la Défense, Archives Diplomatiques of Foreign Affairs Ministr (...)
  • 37 Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Musée de l’Homme, Muséum national d’histoire naturelle.
  • 38 Национальный музей Республики Карелия, Российский этнографический музей, Музей антропологии и этног (...)
  • 39 Tromsø Universitetsmuseet, Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum, Polarmuseet i Tromsø.
  • 40 Byggðasafn Vestfjarða, Safnahúsið Ísafirði, Þjóðminjasafnið.
  • 41 Narsaq Museet, Qaqortoq Museet, Nunatta Katersugaasivia Allagaateqarfialu in Nuuk.

12The paper is based on materials from ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Sub-Arctic area (Russia, Scandinavia, Baltic States, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon French Sub-Arctic archipelago, Iceland, Faroe, and Greenland) since 2014 in medium-term immersion at different seasons,32 allowing a thick description,33 in order to better understand the complexity of the issue.34 These surveys are conducted by ethnographic interviews (semi-directive interviews and life stories), as well as participant and floating observation, in a multi-sited ethnography.35 The method also uses archival and library work, with specialised services, particularly in France36 and work on museum collections in France,37 Russia,38 Estonia (Eesti Rahva Muuseum, Tartu Ülikooli Raamatukogu), Finland (Suomen kansallismuseo), Norway,39 Iceland40, Faroe (Tjóðsavnið) and Greenland.41

  • 42 Bodin & Tengö, 2012.
  • 43 Gaemperle, 2013.
  • 44 See Kennedy et al., 2018.

13In addition, this article is based on an important review of the existing literature on the subject, both for the conceptual framework and the literature regarding case studies, concerning the intangible boreal social-ecological systems42 studied in this paper. Finally, the present study was possible with the help of indigenous peoples’ organisation of the North (Arctic Council, Raipon Ассоциация коренных малочисленных народов Севера, Сибири и Дальнего Востока Российской Федерации - АКМНСС и ДВ РФ, Центр содействия коренным малочисленным народам Севера, Yamal – potomkam, Ассоциация Ясавэй, Saami council, etc.) and their positions in the public sphere, but also by numerous exchanges with scientist from different disciplines. This last point made it possible to conduct an analysis of social networks concerning the ethnolinguistic minority subject in relation to the erosion of linguistic biodiversity.43 Part of this work was carried out within the framework of the project ARTisticc “Adaptation Research a Trans-disciplinary Transnational Community and Policy Centred Approach”, a project financed by Belmont Forum that seeks to analyse how knowledge, in all its dimensions, may be mobilised to foster coastal adaptation to climate change, with fieldworks in some Arctic and Sub-Arctic communities: Ummannaq (Greenland), Tiksi (Iakutia, Russia), Cocagne-Grande Digue (New-Brunswick, Canada), Wainwright (Alaska, United States of America).44 Another part has been funded by the Institut Français, the programme dedicated to Intangible Cultural Heritage in European overseas territories, like Greenland and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon Archipelago.

New challenges for indigenous peoples in Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions

  • 45 Toulouze, 1997.
  • 46 Vallikivi, 2012.

14 Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions are impacted by many changes, affecting their social-ecological systems. These changes are provoked by many factors, and are increasingly visible and violent. The most visible and high-profile issue today is climate change, but over the past several centuries, the indigenous peoples of the North have undergone, and are still experiencing, significant changes in the broader socio-economic and political spheres. After undergoing processes of colonisation, eradication, Latinisation45 and forced religious conversions,46 these indigenous peoples have faced numerous problems since the advent of the contemporary period, particularly since the end of the Second World War.

  • 47 Crutzen, 2006.
  • 48 Haraway, 2015.
  • 49 Boike et al., 2016.
  • 50 Heim et al., 2010.

15Indeed, the Arctic and Sub-Arctic zone faces many climatic disturbances, accentuated by human activities. The era of the “Anthropocene”,47 or even “Capitalocene” for some,48 is thus marked by these environmental changes, which affect all social-ecological systems at different scales. The issues related to climate change in the boreal zone are linked to changes in temperature and precipitation, which are at the origin of other changes induced by these first disturbances.49 This global increase in temperature, and changing precipitation patterns, is leading to an increasing melting of permafrost,50 which has a direct impact on the lives of the region’s inhabitants, particularly by disrupting travel, which is made difficult by soft and unstable ground, where people easily get stuck. Transport (goods, passengers, transhumance) is thus largely disrupted by this spongy surface soil, which sometimes remains for several weeks. 

  • 51 Durie, 2004.
  • 52 Revich et al., 2012.
  • 53 Ksenofontov et al., 2018.
  • 54 Ksenofontov et al., 2017.

16The melting of permafrost also results in the release of bacteria and viruses that were previously trapped in the ice. This melting could result in the apparition of new bacterias, that have not existed before in the region and cause drastic consequences. According to the statistics, about 80,000 reindeer have died from starvation between 2006 and 2013 due to the climate change impacts, and the consequences for human health are now being discussed.51 Similarly, zoonoses, particularly those linked to insects, are on the rise, particularly in taiga forest areas (Karelia, Ingria, etc.).52 This increase in temperatures also has an impact on species movements, leading to the disruption of the life cycles of animal and plant species: changes in the migration of highly migratory animals (birds, marine mammals, fish, and terrestrial mammals), but also appearances of exogenous species, sometimes invasive, widely observed by indigenous populations,53 sometimes even disrupting traditional community livelihoods.54 These events can have a direct impact on indigenous peoples, but also have many indirect impacts, particularly as a result of disrupted trophic cascades. 

  • 55 Roturier et al., 2017.

17Changes at the beginning of the food chain can have serious consequences up to the end of the chain, depriving some species of their food.55 These changes also lead to the remobilisation of sediments and pollutants previously stored in inaccessible environments, which lead to pollution (e.g. heavy metals), particularly on the end of chain fish and marine mammals, leading to high morbidity in some communities dependent on these species. On the bright side, some communities are aware of these issues and try to prevent them. For instance, in South Greenland, it is now advised for pregnant women and children to cease eating old and large seals because of the mercury rate held in the animal flesh.

  • 56 Danto et al., 2018.
  • 57 Berkes, 2008.

18Similarly, these remobilised sediments produce solifluxions, and are associated with increased erosion of shorelines and coastlines, which, combined with rising sea levels, force populations to relocate (as in Canada or Alaska, for example), or to degradations of sacred spaces (such as the cemeteries of Bykovskiy, in the Republic of Sakha, the sacred graves of Nuugaarmiunut in Narsaq, Southern Greenland and of the Île aux Marins, in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon archipelago, attacked by the sea, which carries certain supports of faith, or even entire coffins into the ocean).56 A telling example is the coastal village of Shoyna (Шόйна) located in the Nenets Autonomous District. What used to be a thriving village due to an abundance of fishes and sea mammals is now getting increasingly buried in the sand dunes. Indeed, careless fishing destroyed sea life and potentially helped releasing the sand that now covers the house and inhabitants still present. Thus, changes in regional climate and weather conditions therefore have cascading effects on fauna and flora populations and habitats, leading to multiple and multicolour impacts on indigenous communities, sometimes disrupting up to the sacred field.57

  • 58 Pertel & Danto, 2022.
  • 59 Nakhshina & Wahnsiedler, 2015.
  • 60 Niglas, 2000.
  • 61 Leete & Lipin, 2015.
  • 62 Belolyubskaya, 2014.
  • 63 Bielawski, 1995 or Bates, 2006.
  • 64 Toulouze, 2010; Nakhshina, 2013a.
  • 65 Bals et al., 2010; Bals et al., 2011.
  • 66 Cogos et al., 2017.
  • 67 Roué, 2003.
  • 68 Todd, 2016.

19However, these environmental changes are not the only ones. They are also correlated with major political and socio-economic changes throughout the boreal region. First, on the former USSR side, all territories are facing post-socialism, and all that it includes.58 The entry into the market economy has not been smooth for communities. Thus, some kolkhozes still exist today, and are sometimes even profitable,59 especially for fishing (as in Tiksi), or for reindeer husbandry.60 In Scandinavian and North American countries, local populations are also facing substantial changes in economic sectors. There has been a decrease in the primary sector in favour of the secondary and tertiary sectors, in particular because of the ever-increasing development of extractions (forestry, energy, mining, oil, gas, diamonds, etc.), but also, in recent years, because of the emergence of tourism specifically dedicated to polar ecosystems, or even a form of ethnotourism against indigenous communities. The effects of the development of these sectors have a very strong impact on populations, resulting in many impacts that are not anticipated at all or settled afterwards. Thus, some disruptions lead to changes in food practices,61 but also in language practices.62 Because of the arrival of Western sciences (for example in Inuit context),63 but also of exogenous populations in the region,64 parts of internationalisation65 has been accompanied by the loss of entire areas of ethnolinguistic knowledge, particularly on toponymy (such as place names),66 but also on taxonomy (species names),67 replaced by Western terminology. Some even see this phenomenon as a form of colonisation.68 However, socio-economic, and political changes are old in this region of the world, starting with the first scientific explorations, then with the establishment of trading posts, and processes of Christianisation. 

  • 69 Laugrand, 1999.

20For instance, in Greenland, the first step of Christianisation and colonisation can be traced back to the end of the 10th century with the settlement of Erik Thorvaldsson also known as Erik the Red. Garðar, the first Catholic diocese, was established as soon as 1126 in Igaliku (Kujalleq municipality). The second and durable step was taken with the arrival in 1721 of Danish Lutheran missionaries, the most famous of them being Hans Egede. In Canada, it is trickier to date the first contacts between autochthonous people and Christianity. We can mention the contact with those working in the fur trade sector with the Hudson’s Bay Company but also the missionaries coming from Europe. The actual process of Christianisation began during the 19th century with the arrival of the Methodist preachers of the Wesleyan Missionary Society and the Anglicans of the Church Missionary Society.69

  • 70 Danto, 2022.
  • 71 Bailleul, 2021.
  • 72 Forbes, 1999.
  • 73 Dudeck & Ventsel, 1998.
  • 74 Stiegman & Pictou, 2010.
  • 75 Toulouze, 2001.

21However, there is a strong acceleration of these changes on the scale of the 20th century, mainly in the second half. Extractive activities on these peripheries are indeed expanding rapidly, as new resources are discovered or stocks can be exploited on a large scale. Similarly, the arrival of new technologies also allows for a broader development of certain mining practices. Mining, oil, and gas development will have a very significant impact on the overall lifestyles of the region’s indigenous communities and some large projects, conducted on a continental scale (Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines,70 Yamal area, Alaska LNG project, the Kuannersuit mine in Narsaq,71 etc.) have impacts on the social-ecological systems crossed over hundreds of kilometres.72 Within the USSR, other socio-economic changes may have taken place, particularly during the creation of military bases (closed area), but also during the birth of sovkhozes and kolkhozes, resulting in different modalities of practice for the communities. Similarly, advances in northern shipping routes are leading some states and their administrations to consider building certain infrastructures that are harmful to communities. All this has a strong social impact: in many areas, there is a demographic decline, semi-forced sedentary lifestyle, but also significant addiction to alcohol or drugs on the part of certain social groups. At the same time, the state educational and administrative system dedicated to these populations is generally poorly adapted,73 and leads to a significant loss of minority language practice,74 particularly through the loss of orality,75 or linguistic preference in favour of the majority languages (Russian, English, Scandinavian languages, etc.).

  • 76 Donahoe et al., 2008.
  • 77 Nakhshina, 2013b.
  • 78 Nikitina, 2013.
  • 79 Nakhshina, 2014.
  • 80 Tulloch, 2006.
  • 81 Viault, Moskvitcheva et al., 2014.
  • 82 Johnsen et al., 2015.
  • 83 Sellheim, 2019.

22These changes also concern the field of politics. A first movement of political developments is linked to the status of the indigenous population, and/or the status of an indigenous minority language. Indeed, this status, defined in national laws, but also through international texts, is not de facto given to a community. Some states have done a real job of enumerating and protecting indigenous peoples on their land, while others, many in the North, have given these communities a status only after bitter negotiations. Some Aboriginal claims have also not been met. This results in the existence of different statuses according to the indigenous communities of the same territory,76 but also and above all in the existence of heterogeneous rules of protection, both within and outside the country. A first movement took place during the 20th century, notably under international pressure (UNESCO, NGOs, various international organisations), but also under the repeated requests of certain communities77 to identify and categorize certain languages, with some states trying not to take part.78 At the same time, for political reasons, some languages have been excluded from these categories,79 in favour of more vague categories (e.g. patois or dialects),80 much less protective, and much less binding on administrations as regards their preservation,81 sometimes leading to conflicts of interpretation.82 These political changes also directly affect the components of communities, particularly about the question of their representativeness, from the local to the global. In the same way, the 20th century was the trigger for the creation of many associations, particularly after the Second World War. These NGOs, research centres, public and private institutions have made it possible to make the voices of communities better heard and to create frameworks for exchanges and debates,83 even on the international scene. Now, within the political arena, it is not so much the question of the visibility of northern indigenous communities and their languages that arises, but that of their inclusion in public action mechanisms, leading once again to developments in the field of politics, which we detail below, and which also constitute new changes. 

23Indigenous peoples in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic region have experienced and continue to do so, many different types of changes (environmental, socio-economic, political, etc.) that have a significant impact on them. These changes have accelerated over the past century, and the beginning of the 21st century does not suggest a reversal of the trend. However, in parallel with these changes, many adaptive strategies are being put in place, and there is a growing recognition of the specificities of indigenous populations at the global level, sometimes offset by national backward-looking public policies. A rise of identity-based movements among indigenous people have been also observed. Efforts have been made by international organisations and numerous NGOs have been created to protect indigenous people’s rights and give them back a voice. 2019 was considered the year of indigenous languages, and mobilised actions of individuals, associations, countries, etc. for ensuring a sustainable future for the indigenous peoples. 

Supporting adaptive capacities and plurality of cosmologies in a changing complex Arctic social-ecological system

24As we explained, the Arctic and Sub-Arctic region is particularly vulnerable to changes and constitute a rare complex social-ecological system with several high pressures. In the current situation, indigenous communities are creating adaptive capacities that allow them to sustain not only their livelihoods, but also their natural environment. In this chapter, adaptive capacities of communities from the Arctic regions will be discussed. Indigenous languages that transmit TEK about the local environment are crucial elements for adaptation to new changing conditions. Moreover, some examples of adaptive co-management of natural resources will be presented.

  • 84 Magga et al., 2009.
  • 85 Eira et al., 2010.

25It has been previously argued that there is a link between biological knowledge and local knowledge. It is particularly visible when analysing indigenous communities of reindeer herders in the Arctic sensible regions. According to Magga et al.,84 Traditional Ecological Knowledge is the main element of survival, and it could not be replaced by research-based knowledge. For example, the Sámi indigenous communities use around 300 words to describe “snow” or snow conditions.85

  • 86 Huntington et al., 2004.

26Therefore, transdisciplinary research is needed to observe adaptive strategies of indigenous people to climate change. Several research projects have been launched to analyse this issue. One of them is the ARTisticc project dedicated to adaptation of local coastal communities to climate change. The outcomes of the project have demonstrated a need for an integration of industries, research, local communities, and policy makers. It is crucial to include for example reindeer herders’ traditional knowledge to better understand the ecological conditions.86

  • 87 Olsson et al., 2004.
  • 88 Berkes, 2009.
  • 89 Berthet et al., 2019.

27In this discourse, it is important to mention an adaptive co-management approach for management of natural resources. According to Olsson et al.,87 adaptive co-management “creates an ‘adaptive dance’ between resilience and change with the potential to sustain complex social-ecological systems”. The concept has emerged from the convergence of two independently evolved concepts, adaptive management, and co-management.88 Adaptive co-management is aiming to tie scientists with the resource users, managers, and governors. This approach can contribute to knowledge sharing, conflict resolution, as well as trust-building among different resource users. Therefore, the adaptive co-management can be applied to link nature and culture and build Traditional Ecological Knowledge for appropriate governance and management of natural resources.89 

  • 90 Robinson & Osherenko, 2001; Forbes & Stammler, 2009.

28Successful examples of adaptive co-management initiatives can be observed in the Arctic cultures. The government of Nunavut or Sámi Council are the perfect examples of the initiatives coming from the indigenous communities with the aim to promote their rights and interests as well as to make decisions concerning their future. Power-sharing agreements with the local indigenous communities concerning their lands and natural resources is a common practice in some cases. However, in Russian Arctic, power-sharing agreement are not common regarding resource management.90

29In respect to the TEK, adaptive co-management can integrate indigenous local knowledge about the environment in managing practices. Combining TEK and scientific knowledge can give a new understanding of climate change and other environmental changes. Adaptive co-management is commonly used in Alaska91 and in Canadian Arctic, bringing all actors together and discussing the future of the region. It has already brought some positive outcome, resulting in a legitimacy of the decision-making process. Moreover, numerous projects have been put in place. They aim to create a tight cooperation and knowledge sharing between the indigenous people and scientists.92 

  • 93 Reid, 2019.
  • 94 Gogoberidze et al., 2014.
  • 95 Harakka-Zaitsev, 2006.

30Failure to apply adaptive co-management can also lead, during major development projects, to the rapid disappearance of certain communities,93 posing a serious threat to the intergenerational perpetuation of certain minority languages, whose last native speakers tend to disappear. The example of Ust-Luga in Russian Ingria (Leningrad Oblast) is therefore emblematic of this type of problem. The large-scale port development of the “third port of St Petersburg” (after the complexes of St Petersburg/Kronstadt and Vyborg/Primorsk), decided by the Russian State in the sheltered estuary of the Luga River, protected from the prevailing winds by the Kurgalsky peninsula, initially offered no compensation measures for the local socio-ecosystem, within which two minority Finno-Ugric indigenous communities were operating, engaged in small-scale fisheries (Votic and Ingrian). The increasing importance of port facilities in this area, particularly in view of the doubling of the Nord Stream 2 Baltic gas pipeline, has made it possible to take greater account of local communities and their ecosystems,94 even if this is still insufficient in the eyes of many people.95

  • 96 Koester & Niglas, 2011.
  • 97 Taksami, 2017.
  • 98 Léonard & Djordjević-Léonard, 2014.
  • 99 Toulouze, 2003.
  • 100 Siragusa, 2015.

31Small indigenous communities are the most vulnerable,96 and sometimes have difficulty coping with change. This is the case, for example, of the Vepsian community in Russian Karelia.97 This community is geographically scattered into different sub-communities, unrelated, of very small size.98 Some of these subgroups may thus sometimes find themselves in a double minority (we can find the same case for forest Nenets99 or between the two islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon). Their very rural and peripheral habitat has enabled part of their TEK to be maintained to this day,100 but some projects, particularly those for the large-scale use of certain forests, may jeopardize their survival.

  • 101 Karjalainen et al., 2004; Rotarangi & Russell, 2009.
  • 102 Mazé et al., 2018.
  • 103 Toivanen & Saarikivi, 2016.

32This raises the question of the impact of these projects. Today, many international standards exist regarding environmental impact (with a series of indicators, established by scientists).101 However, the historical dichotomy between nature and culture has not yet been completely overcome in this type of approach: the “social” part of the social-ecological system affected is currently only rarely concerned by the impact study,102 and even less by compensatory measures (except for Cultural heritage). But more and more scientific (indigenous or non scientist) voices are raising to propose to integrate this “social” sub-category into impact issues. The issue of indigenous languages will obviously have to be an integral part of it.103


  • 104 Tengö et al., 2014.
  • 105 Smylie et al., 2004.
  • 106 Manrique et al., 2018.

33The present article aims to develop some theoretical concepts on human/nature relations. The conclusion is that language diversity and biological diversity are closely interrelated. Indigenous languages conserve and transmit traditional ecological knowledge throughout generations. It has been argued that indigenous languages are necessary elements that are linking traditional knowledge with scientific findings for better understanding and management of natural resources. However, the concepts, such as TEK or co-management are purely Western inventions. In order to protect indigenous languages, it is essential to establish a dialogue with the indigenous communities and promote knowledge sharing,104 support the indigenous language policies as well as promote the rights concerning property rights on land, natural resources, and participation in decision-making. There have been some practices of establishing a benefit-sharing agreement between industrial companies and indigenous people. These agreements include financial support to indigenous communities and provided jobs, but it also aims to support traditional cultures and languages. The article underlines the role of adaptive co-management and proposes that it can be an alternative approach for knowledge sharing105 and participatory practices106 for indigenous populations.

  • 107 Golovnev et al., 2014.
  • 108 Todd, 2015.
  • 109 Muir et al., 2010.
  • 110 Cumming, 2011.

34Numerous changes have been observed that have a significant impact on the livelihoods of the Arctic and Sub-Arctic communities, such as climate change, socio-economic change, and political change. In order to analyse an impact of the anthropogenic effects on local environment, an ethnoexpertise can be proposed as an alternative approach. The results have demonstrated that cooperation between indigenous people, industries, governors, scientists, etc. is essential to propose a resilience of social-ecological systems. Therefore, a very interdisciplinary approach is needed to analyse the global changes and their impacts on nature and on human beings. Some studies have already been done concerning ethnoexpertise. For example, Golovnev et al.107 described various scenarios of relationships between the Nenets from the Yamal Peninsula and gas and oil industries. In the words of Todd:108 we must “Indigeniz[e] the Anthropocene”, but also cross the boundaries of knowledge categorisation,109 as part of broader conceptual perspectives, associated with the sciences of sustainability and resilience.110

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1 Morton et al., 2015.

2 Holling, 1973.

3 Holling, 1996.

4 Hudson, 2019.

5 See Fill & Muhlhausler, 2006 or Stibbe, 2015.

6 Haugen, 1972.

7 For example: Maffi, 2001; Maffi et al., 1999; Skutnabb-Kangas et al., 2003.

8 Skutnabb-Kangas, 2003.

9 Skutnabb-Kangas et al., 2011.

10 Evans, 2011.

11 Harrison, 2008.

12 Loh & Harmon, 2014.

13 Maffi, 2002.

14 Roué & Nakashima, 2005.

15 Unesco, 1992.

16 See Terralingua, URL:

17 Zent, 2009.

18 Walker & Salt, 2006.

19 See: Hudson, 2019; Daurio, 2011; Haugen, 1972.

20 Haugen, 1972.

21 Hudson, 2019.

22 Dorais & Krupnik, 2005.

23 Roué, 2012.

24 Ingold, 2002.

25 Skutnabb-Kangas et al., 2003.

26 Unesco, “Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems”, URL :

27 Langton et al., 2005.

28 Krause, 2013.

29 Khasbagan, 2008.

30 Plummer et al., 2012.

31 International decade of Indigenous Language, URL :

32 Meisch et al., 2022.

33 Geertz, 2008.

34 Blommaert, 2007.

35 Marcus, 1995.

36 Archives of the Service historique de la Défense, Archives Diplomatiques of Foreign Affairs Ministry Representations Abroad, private archives of researchers, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Bibliothèque universitaire des langues et civilisations.

37 Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Musée de l’Homme, Muséum national d’histoire naturelle.

38 Национальный музей Республики Карелия, Российский этнографический музей, Музей антропологии и этнографии им. Петра Великого (Кунсткамера) РАН, Российский государственный музей Арктики и Антарктики, Олонецкий национальный музей карелов-ливвиков им. Н.Г. Прилукина, Государственный исторический музей

39 Tromsø Universitetsmuseet, Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum, Polarmuseet i Tromsø.

40 Byggðasafn Vestfjarða, Safnahúsið Ísafirði, Þjóðminjasafnið.

41 Narsaq Museet, Qaqortoq Museet, Nunatta Katersugaasivia Allagaateqarfialu in Nuuk.

42 Bodin & Tengö, 2012.

43 Gaemperle, 2013.

44 See Kennedy et al., 2018.

45 Toulouze, 1997.

46 Vallikivi, 2012.

47 Crutzen, 2006.

48 Haraway, 2015.

49 Boike et al., 2016.

50 Heim et al., 2010.

51 Durie, 2004.

52 Revich et al., 2012.

53 Ksenofontov et al., 2018.

54 Ksenofontov et al., 2017.

55 Roturier et al., 2017.

56 Danto et al., 2018.

57 Berkes, 2008.

58 Pertel & Danto, 2022.

59 Nakhshina & Wahnsiedler, 2015.

60 Niglas, 2000.

61 Leete & Lipin, 2015.

62 Belolyubskaya, 2014.

63 Bielawski, 1995 or Bates, 2006.

64 Toulouze, 2010; Nakhshina, 2013a.

65 Bals et al., 2010; Bals et al., 2011.

66 Cogos et al., 2017.

67 Roué, 2003.

68 Todd, 2016.

69 Laugrand, 1999.

70 Danto, 2022.

71 Bailleul, 2021.

72 Forbes, 1999.

73 Dudeck & Ventsel, 1998.

74 Stiegman & Pictou, 2010.

75 Toulouze, 2001.

76 Donahoe et al., 2008.

77 Nakhshina, 2013b.

78 Nikitina, 2013.

79 Nakhshina, 2014.

80 Tulloch, 2006.

81 Viault, Moskvitcheva et al., 2014.

82 Johnsen et al., 2015.

83 Sellheim, 2019.

84 Magga et al., 2009.

85 Eira et al., 2010.

86 Huntington et al., 2004.

87 Olsson et al., 2004.

88 Berkes, 2009.

89 Berthet et al., 2019.

90 Robinson & Osherenko, 2001; Forbes & Stammler, 2009.

91 Kofinas, 2009.

92 See for example the Eloka project, Eloka, URL:

93 Reid, 2019.

94 Gogoberidze et al., 2014.

95 Harakka-Zaitsev, 2006.

96 Koester & Niglas, 2011.

97 Taksami, 2017.

98 Léonard & Djordjević-Léonard, 2014.

99 Toulouze, 2003.

100 Siragusa, 2015.

101 Karjalainen et al., 2004; Rotarangi & Russell, 2009.

102 Mazé et al., 2018.

103 Toivanen & Saarikivi, 2016.

104 Tengö et al., 2014.

105 Smylie et al., 2004.

106 Manrique et al., 2018.

107 Golovnev et al., 2014.

108 Todd, 2015.

109 Muir et al., 2010.

110 Cumming, 2011.

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Anatole Danto, Léa Pertel, Jules Danto et Kristina Likhacheva, « Linguistic Biodiversity, Natural Biodiversity and Traditional Ecological Knowledge: A Common Extinction »Études finno-ougriennes, 54 | 2022, 37-62.

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Anatole Danto, Léa Pertel, Jules Danto et Kristina Likhacheva, « Linguistic Biodiversity, Natural Biodiversity and Traditional Ecological Knowledge: A Common Extinction »Études finno-ougriennes [En ligne], 54 | 2022, mis en ligne le 07 décembre 2023, consulté le 19 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Anatole Danto

International research network Apolimer, INSHS, CNRS, LIENSs/UMR 7266, member of the « Enjeux polaires » chair, UBO, IUEM

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Léa Pertel

European Sustainability Center

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Jules Danto

European Sustainability Center

Kristina Likhacheva


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