The ISE arose from the first International Congress of Ethnobiology in Belem, Brazil in 1988. More than 600 people from 35 countries and 16 indigenous organizations gathered in Belem to address rapid deterioration of the planet’s biological and cultural diversity, and the concerns of communities who faced exploitation of their cultural knowledge and resources.

At this congress, Dr. Darrell Posey and other experts and activists in ethnobiology, drafted the Declaration of Belem. The declaration recognizes that native peoples have been stewards of most of the earth’s genetic resources and remain authorities on how their knowledge and resources should, or should not, be used. The declaration also sets broad research guidelines for ethnobiologists to ensure their work promotes the conservation of biological and cultural diversity, and the appropriate use of traditional knowledge. The ISE was founded to implement and expand upon the principles set out in the Declaration of Belem.

At the 10th ISE Congress in 2006, the society adopted a ground-breaking Code of Ethics to guide the discipline of ethnobiology toward conservation of the earth’s diversity through respectful relationships with traditional, local, and indigenous peoples.

In 2008, twenty years after its formation, the ISE initiated a “re-envisioning” process. The Society assessed its past and current work in light of the original Declaration of Belem and escalating threats to biological and cultural diversity. Part of this process was captured in the video, Paddling On.

To guide its future work, the ISE drafted the Cusco Declaration at the 11th ISE Congress in Cusco, Peru. This declaration was adopted by the society at the 12th ISE Congress in Tofino, Canada in 2010.

Read more about the ISE’s history here.