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Indigenous peoples and salmon stewardship: a critical relationship

Courtney Carothers, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Jessica Black, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Stephen J Langdon, University of Alaska Anchorage
Rachel Donkersloot, Coastal Cultures Research
Danielle Ringer, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Jesse Coleman, Wildlife Conservation Society Arctic Beringia Program
Erika R Gavenus, University of British Columbia
Wilson Justin, Mt. Sanford Tribal Consortium; Chistochina Enterprises
Mike Williams, Akiak Native Community; Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission
Freddie Christiansen, Old Harbor Native Corporation
Jonathan Samuelson, Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission; Native Village of Georgetown
Carrie Stevens, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Brooke Woods, University of Alaska Fairbanks; Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission
S. Jeanette Clark, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California Santa Barbara
Patricia M. Clay, NOAA Fisheries
Liza Mack, Aleut International Association
Julie Raymond-Yakoubian, Kawerak, Inc.
Andrea Akall'eq Sanders, With Real People, Native Peoples Action
Benjamin L. Stevens, Tanana Chiefs Conference
Alex Whiting, Native Village of Kotzebue


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Indigenous Peoples and salmon in the lands now called Alaska have been closely entwined for at least 12,000 years. Salmon continue to be central to the ways of life of Alaska Natives, contributing to physical, social, economic, cultural, spiritual, psychological, and emotional well-being. Salmon have also become important to Alaskan settlers. Our research and advisory team conducted a synthesis of what is known about these diverse human–salmon relationships, drawing on 865 published scientific studies; Indigenous knowledge; state, federal, and tribal data; archival materials; oral histories; and cross-cultural dialogs at working group meetings. Two important socio-cultural dimensions of salmon–people systems emerged from this synthesis as fundamentally important but largely invisible outside of Indigenous communities and the social science disciplines that work closely with these communities: (1) the deep relationships between Indigenous Peoples and salmon and (2) the pronounced inequities that threaten these relationships and stewardship systems. These deep relationships are evident in the spiritual, cultural, social, and economic centrality of salmon across time and cultures in Alaska. We describe Indigenous salmon stewardship systems for the Tlingit, Ahtna, and Central Yup'ik. The inequities in Alaska's salmon systems are evident in the criminalization and limitation of traditional fishing ways of life and the dramatic alienation of Indigenous fishing rights. The loss of fish camps and legal battles over traditional hunting and fishing rights through time has caused deep hardship and stress. Statewide, the commodification and marketization of commercial fishing rights has dispossessed Indigenous communities from their human and cultural rights to fishing ways of life; as a result, many rural and Indigenous youth struggle to gain access to fishing livelihoods, leaving many fishing communities in a precarious state. These deep relationships and relatively recent fractures have motivated a concerted effort by a group of committed Indigenous and western scholars to better understand the root causes and opportunities for redress, as well as to document the breadth of research that has already been conducted, in an effort to improve the visibility of these often-overlooked dimensions of our salmon systems.

Key words

Alaska; Alaska Native; Indigenous Peoples; salmon; stewardship

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087