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Keystone Nations

Indigenous Peoples and Salmon across the North Pacific

Edited by Benedict J. Colombi and James F. Brooks

The histories and futures of Indigenous peoples and salmon are inextricably bound across the vast ocean expanse and rugged coastlines of the North Pacific. Keystone Nations addresses this enmeshment and the marriage of the biological and social sciences that have led to the research discussed in this book. Salmon stocks and Indigenous peoples across the northern Pacific region represent a significance beyond their size in maintaining the viability and legitimacy of ecological and political systems. Both species’ futures are simultaneously a matter of the conservation concerns of natural scientists and the political agenda of Indigenous sovereignty movements that arc across the northern hemisphere. If wild salmon vanish in the North Pacific, as they largely have in the North Atlantic, their absence will herald the cascading failure of a complete marine system. If Indigenous peoples vanish from the North Pacific, as they largely have in the North Atlantic, their absence will sound the failure of the world’s dominant political powers to recognize the human right to cultural expression and survival.

2012. 336 pp., 11 color plates, 15 figures, 5 maps, 4 tables, notes, references, index, 6 x 9

Contributors: James F. Brooks, Courtney Carothers, Benedict J. Colombi, Sibyl Diver, Erich Kasten, David Koester, Marianne Elisabeth Lien, Charles R. Menzies, Katherine Reedy-Maschner, Victoria N. Sharakhmatova, Courtland L. Smith, Emma Wilson

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Keystone Nations examines unique coastal cultures that have managed fisheries for several millennia. The Itelmen, Koryak, Aleut, Sugpiaq, and Nimiipuu peoples have all made their lives from our oceans. This book warns of what can happen if we don’t change how we manage our harvesting of fish from the ocean. Ask yourself, how can we change our fisheries’ policies so they are sustainable for our global community? Do you want your children’s children to have fish to eat too?”
—Sven Haakanson, Executive Director Alutiiq Museum

“Few truly wild species are as closely interwoven with human culture as Pacific salmon. They are the foundation of both sustenance and cultural identity for hundreds of local communities from California to the Korean Peninsula. Salmon are the ultimate keystone species. Keystone Nations describes for the first time the ancient and complex relationship between wild salmon and the human communities that depend on them across the vast North Pacific arc.”
—Guido Rahr, President, Wild Salmon Center

“The contributors represent a rich array of international institutions, and they provide a breadth and depth of theories, methods, and ethnographic examples…. The backgrounds of the authors and their approaches integrate the biological and social sciences, indigenous and non-indigenous perspectives, and historical and contemporary processes in ways that would be informative and enlightening to a broad audience.”
—Daniel Monteith, University of Alaska Southeast, Journal of Anthropological Research, vol. 69, 2013

“The cases [examined in Keystone Nations] illustrate the long and varied biography of salmon-human relations; in the end, the contributors hope that the human partners’ particular bodies of knowledge about salmon can help to sustain the diversity of both human and salmon futures in the region.”
—S. R. Martin, Michigan Technological University, Choice, February 2013, vol. 50, no. 06

“With beautiful color plates and outstanding scholarship, this volume is especially recommended for its emphasis on how the historical relationships between commercial fishing, resource conservation, energy development, and international politics influence indigenous sovereignty issues and impact decision making among Native people today.”
—Gina D. Stuart-Richard, University of Arizona, American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 38(1), 2014


  1. Introduction: Cultivating Capture Fisheries: Lessons from Salmon Culturing and Cultures
    Courtland L. Smith
  2. The Oil Company, the Fish, and the Nivkhi: The Cultural Value of Sakhalin Salmon
    Emma Wilson
  3. Shades of Deep Salmon: Fish, Fishing, and Itelmen Cultural History
    David Koester
  4. Koryak Salmon Fishery: Remembrances of the Past, Perspectives for the Future
    Erich Kasten
  5. Indigenous Peoples’ Traditional Fishing in Kamchatka and Local Community Development Concept Based on Sustainable Use of Fish Resources: Problems and Solutions
    Victoria N. Sharakhmatova
  6. Deprivations amid Abundance: The Role of Salmon and “Other Natural Resources” in Sustaining Indigenous Aleut Communities
    Katherine Reedy-Maschner
  7. Enduring Ties: Salmon and the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Peoples of the Kodiak Archipelago, Alaska
    Courtney Carothers
  8. The Disturbed Environment: The Indigenous Cultivation of Salmon
    Charles R. Menzies
  9. “Salmon and His People”: Encounters with Global Capitalism
    Benedict J. Colombi
  10. Columbia River Tribal Fisheries: Life History Stages of a Co-management Institution
    Sibyl Diver
  11. Conclusion: Salmon Trajectories along the North Pacific Rim: Diversity, Exchange, and Human–Animal Relations
    Marianne Elisabeth Lien

There are no working papers for this book at the present time.