Bringing Together Culture, Ecology, and Governance to Support Sustainability of Coastal Communities of the Northwest Coast of North America”By Dana Lepofsky and Anne Salomon
Anthropological archaeologists often have an unique and privileged view of the past and the present, and thus the future. In the same day, we can dig in the ground to uncover the remains of past lives lived, and talk to local and Indigenous knowledge holders who have first-hand experience with those lives. As intellectual dabblers, we have the language and knowledge to talk to experts from diverse communities. As such, we are often among the coordinators of projects that bring together and blend these diverse views and skills to understand how societies worked and how they might work better today.
The Herring School (www.Pacificherring.org) and the Clam Garden Network (www.clamgarden.com) are two such multi-community initiatives. We are collectives of people from Indigenous and academic communities, and a variety of government and non-governmental organizations who are passionate about two of the cultural keystone species (CKS; Garibaldi and Turner 2004) of Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest: Pacific herring and clams. We recognize that such CKS have always played a central role in food security and food sovereignty, and that the ability to sustainably harvest and eat these foods is linked to a range of issues including cultural identity, governance, and emotional and physical health (Figure 1).
Our creation of networks focused on herring and clams arose organically through the information needs of local Indigenous communities on these key foods and convergence of a range of people working on issues related to these CKS. Herring is a foundational food of coastal ecosystems (Menge et al. 2013) and has been the focus of Indigenous management and use for millennia (McKechnie et al. 2014). However, like forage fish across the globe (Pikitch et al. 2012), herring are threatened throughout much of its range and have experienced declining populations trajectories in many areas across the northeastern Pacific (e.g., Siple and Francis 2016;). For decades, First Nations and Native Americans, as well as local non-native fishers, have been calling for better management of herring on the part of the federal and state-level fishery offices. For Indigenous people in Alaska and British Columbia, asserting their right to manage herring in their territories has been a central part of this discussion. Indigenous peoples on both sides of the US-Canada border developed complex systems of marine governance that sustained the consistent use of herring throughout the generations (Thornton et al. 2010; Gauvreau et al. 2017a, 2017b; McKechnie et al. 2014; von derPorten et al. 2016). The close and long-term relationship between Coastal First peoples and herring is reflected in the archaeological record, place names, oral traditions, and memories. A fundamental principle of the Herring School is to bring this knowledge together with that of western scientists’ to better understand the mechanisms driving this social-ecological system and inform the conservation and local management of this culturally and ecologically important forage fish.
Our entry point into the social-ecological study of clams was through interest in one of the clam management features created by coastal Indigenous people from Alaska to Washington state. These features, locally known as clam gardens, consist of rock-walled terraces built in the intertidal to increase clam production through habitat enhancement and expansion (Figure 2; Deur et al. 2015; Groesbeck et al 2014; Jackley et al 2016; Lepofsky et al. 2015). Combined with other ways of managing clams, clam gardens, ensured that clams were a staple food for coastal communities for millennia.
Indigenous communities throughout the Pacific Northwest are fighting today for access to and control of their clam beaches. Pollution and ecosystem degradation, ocean acidification and warming, and privatization of the foreshore are some of the factors that threaten traditional clam harvesting (Pinkerton and Silver 2011). Studies by members of the clam garden team focus on understanding the ecological and social relationships of traditional clam management, as a basis for modern management and assertions of Indigenous rights and title. The importance of clam gardens as places not only to harvest a staple food, but also as fundamental parts of inter-generational knowledge sharing and identity, is reflected in the fact that four coastal First Nations are actively involved in community-run clam garden restoration projects today.
The “School” and the “Network” encompass a range of projects, all of which are grounded in and motivated by the needs and interests of today’s coastal communities. All blend perspectives from the past and present, Indigenous and western, and global and local to get at current social-ecological issues, including culturally and ecological appropriate resource management (Figure 3). A fundamental component of the projects is on-going communication and discussions among researchers and community members; such communication takes place in casual conversations, community presentations, newsletters, and conferences (Figure 4).
Both the Herring School and the Clam Garden Network are examples of what can be achieved when knowledge holders from diverse communities come together to solve problems that have their roots in the complex interactions among social and ecological phenomena. Such efforts require patience, trust, and above all, respect for diverse and sometimes divergent ways of seeing and being in the world.
Anne Salomon, Resource & Environmental Management,
Simon Fraser University: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Smith, N., D. Lepofsky, G. Toniello, C.M. Neudorf, L. Wilson, and C. Roberts. 2017. Dating Clam Gardens on the Northwest Coast of North America. Submitted to PlosOne.
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The Herring School
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