The Reciprocity Principle and Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Understanding the Significance of Indigenous Protest on the Presumpscot River

  • Lisa T Brooks
    Harvard University
  • Cassandra Brooks
    Moss Landing Marine Laboratories


In this article we tell the story of a Wabanaki sagamore who travelled from the Presumpscot River (in present-day Maine, United States) to Boston in 1739 to protest the damming of the river that he “belongs to,” and on which his people depended for sustenance. In this account of the first documented dam protest in New England, we explore the notion of belonging and the social and ecological reciprocity embedded in that concept. Working with multiple disciplinary approaches, combining history and ecology within an Indigenous studies framework, we demonstrate that the reciprocal relationships and associated responsibilities between indigenous peoples and their environments are the very foundation of indigenous traditional ecological knowledge (ITEK). We show the complicated process through which Wabanaki communities sought to bring English settlers into this worldview and the conflicts that arose when colonists failed to engage in social and ecological reciprocity. Finally, we consider the implications of this local example within a contemporary, global context, drawing attention to the recently adopted United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In telling this story, we hope to learn from the past and look to a future where reciprocal and responsible relationships between and amongst communities and our environments are realized.

Published: 2010-06-01
Pages:11 to 28
Section: Articles
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How to Cite
Brooks, L. T., & Brooks, C. (2010). The Reciprocity Principle and Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Understanding the Significance of Indigenous Protest on the Presumpscot River. International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies, 3(2), 11-28.