Indigenous Peoples and Salmon in the Northern Pacific

Advanced Seminar

May 15–21, 2010

Indigenous Peoples and Salmon in the Northern PacificIndigenous Peoples and Salmon in the Northern PacificAdvanced Seminar Co-chaired by Dr. James F. Brooks, President, School for Advanced Research and Dr. Benedict Colombi, Assistant Professor, American Indian Studies, University of Arizona.Indigenous Peoples and Salmon in the Northern PacificAdvanced Seminar Co-chaired by Dr. James F. Brooks, President, School for Advanced Research and Dr. Benedict Colombi, Assistant Professor, American Indian Studies, University of Arizona.

SAR president James Brooks and Benedict Colombi co-chaired this innovative seminar in partnership with the Wild Salmon Center and Pacific Environment. Two years in the making, the seminar explored how indigenous societies across the northern Pacific Rim—from Sakhalin Island through Alaska and south to the Columbia River—built their distinctive cultures around wild salmon. More specifically, it examined the way salmon husbandry, fishing, consumption, and commercialization influenced the negotiation of local identities across time, from settler colonialism and national integration to the era of indigenous sovereignty movements.

Ten scholars from Germany, Alaska, Norway, Idaho, New Mexico, Canada, Arizona, and Russia convened to study the social and historical transformations surrounding salmon use and industrialization that link the Russian Far East and northwestern North America. “The study team explored historical and cultural processes to investigate how salmon have served as important subsistence and trade commodities for northern peoples since the end of the last Ice Age,” said the co-chairs.

Several themes emerged during the seminar discussions, including indigenous knowledge about salmon, fishing policies, the issue of water and fishing rights, the tradition of treaties, and the preservation of salmon. For the Nez Perce tribe, the subject of Colombi’s paper, Siloah Falls in the Columbia River basin, the first falls encountered by returning salmon, is not only a place to fish but also a meeting place where people trade, marry, and hunt game. “It’s very important for tribes to retain rights to hunt and fish,” he said.

The “husbandry” of salmon combines traditional and contemporary methods in the well-managed coastal watersheds of northwestern British Columbia. In the Kodiak region, around the Aleutian Islands, the indigenous tribes are known as “people of the sea” and have been sustained by salmon for more than 7,500 years. Some 80 to 90 percent of their subsistence food comes from this relationship.

Salmon are regarded as “keystone species,” acting as transport vectors bringing nutrients from the ocean to the freshwater environment. Seminar co-chair Benedict Colombi pointed out that 137 other species depend on salmon, and “the entire ecosystem relies on the returning salmon.” Obviously, the rise of salmon farming has had an effect on indigenous cultures—some are involved in this agricultural approach and others are not. Another critical issue revolves around oil and gas development, which is just now becoming a concern in parts of the northern Pacific Rim.

Dr. James F. Brooks, Chair President, School for Advanced Research Discussant
Dr. Benedict Colombi, Chair Assistant Professor, American Indian Studies, University of Arizona Nation Building through Salmon: The Nez Perce Tribe and Indigenous People as World Citizens
Courtney Carothers Assistant Professor, Fisheries Academic Program, University of Alaska, Fairbanks Enduring Ties: Salmon and the Alutiit of the Kodiak Archipelago, Alaska
Sibyl Diver Doctoral Candidate, Department of Environmental, Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley Columbia River Tribal Fisheries: Life History Stages of a Co-management Institution
Erich Kasten Independent Scholar, Fuerstenberg, Germany Koryak Salmon Fishery: Remembrances of the Past, Perspectives for the Future
David Koester Visiting Professor, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan Shades of Deep Salmon: Fish, Fishing, and Itelmen Cultural History
Marianne Lien Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo Discussant
Charles R. Menzies Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia The Disturbed Environment: The Indigenous Cultivation of Salmon
Katherine L. Reedy-Maschner Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Idaho State University Development to Preserve Tradition? The Role of Salmon and “Other Natural Resources” in Sustaining Indigenous Alaskan Communities
Victoria Sharakhmatova Research Officer, Russian Association for Indigenous Peoples of the North (Kamchatky), Russia Indigenous Peoples’ Traditional Fishing and Local Community Development Concept Based on Sustainable Use of Fish Resources: Problems and Solutions
Courtland Smith Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, Oregon State University Discussant

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