Human Ecology

, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 189–199 | Cite as

Cultivation of Salmon and other Marine Resources on the Northwest Coast of North America

  • Thomas ThorntonEmail author
  • Douglas Deur
  • Herman KitkaSr


We present evidence for cultivation of marine resources among aboriginal peoples of the Northwest Coast of North America. While such evidence has been marshalled for plant cultivation, we argue that similar cultivation techniques developed around salmon and other critical marine resources of which they had intimate knowledge, and that such interventions helped regularize supplies, ameliorate disruptions, accommodate shifts, and even reverse declines in species populations by recreating or strengthening conditions for sustaining species in dynamic ecological systems. The plants, fish, and wildlife of the region were resilient, and often pre-adapted to cyclic or stochastic disturbance regimes, but, like the aboriginal populations themselves, also vulnerable to environmental shocks and scarcities. We suggest that Northwest Coast indigenous people observed the effects of both gradual and rapid environmental change on key species over generations, and adjusted their behavior accordingly. The effects of human enhancement, human over-exploitation, or natural perturbations were often rapidly apprehended, allowing for feedback mechanisms that became integral to the technologies and social mechanisms for resource management. These practices are best conceptualized as cultivation techniques rather than restrictive conservation practices, designed to optimise resource supplies and harvest conditions, thus reducing risk and vulnerability and increasing social-ecological resilience.


Resource management Marine environments Salmon Traditional ecological knowledge Hunter-gatherers Pacific Northwest Coast 


  1. Ames, K. M. (2003). The Northwest Coast. Evolutionary Anthropology 12: 19–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ames, K. M., and Maschner, H. D. G. (1999). Peoples of the Northwest Coast: Their Archaeology and Prehistory. Thames and Hudson, London.Google Scholar
  3. Amoss, P. T. (1987). The Fish God Gave Us: The First Salmon Ceremony Revived. Arctic Anthropology 24(1): 56–66.Google Scholar
  4. Anderson, E. N. (1996). Ecologies of the Heart: Emotion, Belief, and the Environment. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  5. Anderson, E. N. (2014). Caring for Place: Ecology, Ideology, and Emotion in Traditional Landscape Management. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek.Google Scholar
  6. Arnold, D. F. (2009). The fishermen’s frontier: people and salmon in Southeast Alaska. University of Washington Press, Seattle.Google Scholar
  7. Balée, W. (2006). The Research Program of Historical Ecology. Annual Review of Anthropology 35: 75–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Barnard, A. (1983). Contemporary Hunter-Gatherers: Current Theoretical Issues in Ecology and Social Organization. Annual Review of Anthropology 12: 193–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Berkes, F. (2012). Sacred Ecology, 3rd ed. Routledge, London.Google Scholar
  10. Berkes, F., Folke, C., and Colding, J. (eds.). (2000). Linking Social and Ecological Systems: Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Borgerhoff Mulder, M., and Coppolillo, P. (2005). Conservation: Ecology, Economics, and Culture. Princeton University Press, Princeton.Google Scholar
  12. Bouchard, R. and Kennedy, D. (1990). Clayoquot Sound Indian Land Use. Unpublished report, prepared for MacMillan Bloedel Limited, Fletcher Challenge Canada, and British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Victoria.Google Scholar
  13. Boyd, R. (1999). Indians, Fire, and the Land in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis.Google Scholar
  14. Braje, T. J., and Rick, T. C. (eds.) (2011). Human Impacts on Seals, Sea Lions, and Sea Otters: Integrating Archaeology and Ecology in the Northeast Pacific. University of California Press, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  15. Brightman, R. (1993). Grateful Prey: Rock Cree Human-Animal Relationships. University of California Press, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  16. Brightman, M., Grotti, V. E., and Ulturgasheva, O. (eds.) (2012). Animism in Rainforest and Tundra: Personhood, Animals, Plants and Things in Contemporary Amazonia and Siberia. Berghahn Books, New York and Oxford.Google Scholar
  17. Brosius, J. P. (1999). Analyses and Interventions: Anthropological Engagements with Environmentalism 1. Current Anthropology 40(3): 277–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Buege, D. (1996). The Ecologically Noble Savage Revisited. Environmental Ethics 18: 71–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Burch, E. (2007). Rationality and resource use among hunters: some eskimo examples. In Harkin, M., and Lewis, D. (eds.), Native Americans and the Environment: Perspectives on the Ecological Indian. University Nebraska Press, Lincoln, pp. 123–54.Google Scholar
  20. Caldwell, M., Lepofsky, D., Combes, G., Washington, M., Welch, J. R., and Harper, J. R. (2012). A bird’s eye View of Northern Coast Salish Intertidal Resource Management Features. Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 7(2): 219–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cederholm, C. J., Kunze, M. D., Murota, T., and Sibatani, A. (1999). Pacific Salmon Carcasses: Essential Contributions of Nutrients and Energy for Aquatic and Terrestrial Ecosystems. Fisheries 24: 6–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Chapin, F. S., Carpenter, S. R., Kofinas, G. P., Folke, C., Abel, N., Clark, W. C., and Swanson, F. J. (2010). Ecosystem Stewardship: Sustainability Strategies for a Rapidly Changing Planet. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 25(4): 241–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Curtis, E. S. (1915). The North American Indian, Volume 10: The Kwakiutl. Plimpton Press, Norwood.Google Scholar
  24. Deloria, V. (2000). The Speculations of Krech. Worldviews 4: 283–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Deur, D., and Turner, N. J. (2005). Keeping it Living: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America. University of Washington Press, Seattle.Google Scholar
  26. Deur, D. (2000). A Domesticated Landscape: Native American Plant Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America. Ph.D. diss., Department of Geography and Anthropology, Louisiana State University.Google Scholar
  27. Deur, D. (2005). Community, Place and Persistence: An Introduction to Clatsop-Nehalem History since the Time of Lewis and Clark. Oregon Heritage Commission, Salem.Google Scholar
  28. Deur, D. (2007). The klamath tribes: restoring the land, restoring the culture. In Berg, L. (ed.), The First Oregonians, 2nd ed. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, pp. 146–59.Google Scholar
  29. Deur, D. (2009). A Caretaker Responsibility: Revisiting Klamath and Modoc Traditions of Plant Community Management. Journal of Ethnobiology 29(2): 296–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Deur, D. (2011). Department of the Interior, Secretarial Determination Klamath Hydroelectric Project EIS: The Klamath Tribes, An Ethnographic Assessment of Cultural Resource Impacts. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Portland.Google Scholar
  31. Diamond, J. (1986). The Environmentalist Myth. Nature 324: 19–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Drucker, P. (1955). Indians of the Northwest Coast. American Museum of Natural History, New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ellen, R. F. (1986). What Black Elk Left Unsaid: On the Illusory Images of Green Primitivism. Royal Anthropological Institute News. Anthropology Today 2(6): 8–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ellen, R. F. (2006). The Categorical Impulse. Essays on the Anthropology of Classifying Behavior. Berghahn Books, Oxford.Google Scholar
  35. Ellingson, T. (2001). The Myth of the Noble Savage. University of California Press, Berkeley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Emmons, G. T. (1991). The Tlingit Indians. Edited with Additions by Frederica de Laguna. American Museum of Natural History Anthropological Papers, vol. 70. University of Washington Press and the American Museum of Natural History, Seattle.Google Scholar
  37. Fienup-Riordan, A. (1990). Eskimo Essays. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick.Google Scholar
  38. Fienup-Riordan, A. (1994). Boundaries and Passages: Rule and Ritual in Central Yup’ik Oral Tradition. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.Google Scholar
  39. Groot, C., and Margolis, L. (eds.) (1991). Pacific Salmon Life Histories. UBC Press, Vancouver.Google Scholar
  40. Gunther, E. (1926). An Analysis of the First Salmon Ceremony. American Anthropologist 28(4): 605–617.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Gunther, E. (1928). A further analysis of the first salmon ceremony. PhD. Thesis, Columbia University, NY.Google Scholar
  42. Hallowell, A. I. (1960). Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior, and World View. In Diamond, S. (ed.), Culture in history: essays in honor of Paul Radin, Columbia University Press, New York, pp. 19–52.Google Scholar
  43. Hames, R. (2007). The Ecologically Noble Savage Debate. Annual Reviews of Anthropology 36: 177–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Hardin, G. (1968). The Tragedy of the Commons. Science 162: 1243–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Harkin, M. E. and Lewis, D. R. (Eds.). (2007). Native Americans and the Environment: Perspectives on the Ecological Indian. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press.Google Scholar
  46. Harris, D. R. (1989). Foraging and Farming: The Evolution of Plant Exploitation. Unwin Hyman, London.Google Scholar
  47. Hewes, G. W. (1998). Fishing. In Walker Jr., D. E. (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 12: Plateau. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, pp. 620–40.Google Scholar
  48. Hunn, E. S. (1982). Mobility as a factor limiting resource use in the Columbian Plateau of North America. In Williams, N., and Hunn, E. (eds.), Resource Managers: North American and Australian Foragers. Westview Press, Boulder, CO, pp. 17–43.Google Scholar
  49. Hunn, E. S., Johnson, D., Russell, P., and Thornton, T. F. (2003). Huna Tlingit Traditional Environmental Knowledge, Conservation, of a “Wilderness” Park. Current Anthropology 44: s79–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Ingold, T. (2000). The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. Routledge, London.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Jones, J. T. (2002). “We looked after all the salmon streams”: traditional Heiltsuk cultural stewardship of salmon and salmon streams: a preliminary assessment. M.A. Thesis, University of Victoria.Google Scholar
  52. Kawaky, J (Producer). 1981 [1996]. Haa Shagóon. Presented by the Chilkoot Indian Association. Juneau: Sealaska Heritage Institute.Google Scholar
  53. Kennedy, D., and Bouchard, R. (1983). Sliammon Life, Sliammon Lands. Talonbooks, Vancouver.Google Scholar
  54. Krech, S. (1999). The Ecological Indian: Myth and History. Norton, New York.Google Scholar
  55. Langdon, S. J. (1989). From communal property to common property to limited entry: historical ironies in the management of Southeast Alaska salmon. A sea of small boats. Cultural Survival, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, pp. 304–332Google Scholar
  56. Langdon, S. J. (2006a). Tidal pulse fishing: selective traditional tlingit salmon fishing techniques on the west coast of the prince of wales archipelago. In Menzies, C. R. (ed.), Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Natural Resource Management. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, pp. 21–46.Google Scholar
  57. Langdon, S. J. (2006b). Traditional Knowledge and Harvesting of Salmon by Huna and Hinyaa Tlingit. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Subsistence Management, Fisheries Resource Monitoring Program, Final Report (Project No. 02–104), Anchorage, AK.Google Scholar
  58. Langdon, S. J. (2007). Sustaining a relationship: inquiry into the emergence of a logic of engagement with salmon among the southern tlingits. In Harkin, M. E., and Lewis, D. R. (eds.), Native Americans and the Environment: Perspectives on the Ecological Indian. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, pp. 233–273.Google Scholar
  59. Lepofsky, D., and Caldwell, M. (2013). Indigenous Marine Resource Management on the Northwest Coast of North America. Ecological Processes 2: 12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Lepofsky, D., Hallett, K., Washbrook, A., McHalsie, K., Lertzman, K., and Mathewes, R. (2005). Documenting precontact plant management on the northwest coast: an example of prescribed burning in the central and Upper Fraser Valley, British Columbia. In Deur, D. E., and Turner, N. J. (eds.), Keeping it Living: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast. University of Washington Press, Seattle, pp. 218–239.Google Scholar
  61. Lepofsky, D. K., and Lertzman, K. (2008). Documenting Ancient Plant Management in the Northwest of North America. Botany 86(2): 129–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Losey, R. (2010). Animism as a Means of Exploring Archaeological Fishing Structures on Willapa Bay, Washington, USA. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 20(1): 17–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. MEA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment) (2005). Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Synthesis Report. Island Press, Washington.Google Scholar
  64. Menzies, C. R. (2012). The disturbed environment: the indigenous cultivation of salmon. In Colombi, B. J., and Brooks, J. F. (eds.), Keystone Nations: Indigenous Peoples and Salmon across the North Pacific. School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, pp. 161–182. Advanced Seminar Series.Google Scholar
  65. Milton, K. (1996). Environmentalism and Cultural Theory: Exploring the Role of Anthropology in Environmental Discourse. Routledge, London.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Mitchell, D., and Donald, L. (2001). Sharing Resources on the North Pacific Coast of North America: The Case of the Eulachon Fishery. Anthropologica 43(1): 19–35.Google Scholar
  67. Moss, M. (1993). Shellfish, Gender, and Status on the Northwest Coast of North America: Reconciling Archaeological, Ethnographic and Ethnohistorical Records of the Tlingit. American Anthropologist 95(3): 631–652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Moss, M. L., and Cannon, A. (eds.) (2011). The Archaeology of North Pacific Fisheries. University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks.Google Scholar
  69. Nadasdy, P. (2005). Transcending the Debate Over the Ecologically Noble Indian: Indigenous Peoples and Environmentalism. Ethnohistory 52: 291–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Piddocke, S. (1965). The Potlatch System of the Southern Kwakiutl: A New Perspective. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 21(3): 244–64.Google Scholar
  71. Posey, D. (1998). Diachronic ecotones and anthropogenic landscapes in amazonia: contesting the consciousness of conservation. In Balée, W. (ed.), Advances in Historical Ecology. Columbia University Press, New York, pp. 104–18.Google Scholar
  72. Resilience Alliance. (2010). Assessing resilience in social-ecological systems: Workbook for practitioners. Version 2.0. Online:
  73. Richardson, A. (1982). The control of productive resources on the Northwest Coast of North America. In Williams, N. M., and Hunn, E. S. (eds.), Resource Managers: North American and Australian Hunter-Gatherers, pp. 93–112. (AAAS Selected Symposia 67.). Westview Press, Boulder CO.Google Scholar
  74. Roberts, H. H. (1935). The First Salmon Ceremony of the Karuk Indians. American Anthropologist 34(3): 426–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Rogers, L. A., Schindler, D. E., Lisi, P. J., Holtgrieve, G. W., Leavitt, P. R., Bunting, L., and Walsh, P. B. (2013). Centennial-Scale Fluctuations and Regional Complexity Characterize Pacific Salmon Population Dynamics Over the Past Five Centuries. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110(5): 1750–1755 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1212858110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Ross, A., Sherman, K. P., Snodgrass, J. G., Delacore, H. D., and Sherman, R. (2011). Indigenous Peoples and the Collaborative Stewardship of Nature: Knowledge Binds and Institutional Conflicts. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek.Google Scholar
  77. Schalk, R. (1997). The Structure of an Anadromous Fish Resource. In Binford, L. R. (ed.), For Theory Building in Archaeology. Academic Press, New York, pp. 207–249.Google Scholar
  78. Scott, C. (1989). Ideology of Reciprocity between the James Bay Cree and the Whiteman State. In Skalnik, P. (ed.), Outwitting the State. Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, pp. 81–108.Google Scholar
  79. Smith, B. D. (2001). Low-Level Food Production. Journal of Archaeological Research 9(1): 1–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Smith, B. D. (2005). Low level food production and the Northwest Coast. Keeping it living: traditions of plant use and cultivation on the northwest coast of North America. Edited by D. Deur and NJ Turner, University of Washington Press, Seattle, Wash, pp. 37–66.Google Scholar
  81. Smith, B. D. (2011). General Patterns of Niche Construction and the Management of ‘wild’ Plant and Animal Resources by Small-Scale pre-Industrial Societies. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 366: 836–848 doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Smith, E. A., and Wishnie, M. (2000). Conservation and Subsistence in Small-Scale Societies. Annual Review of Anthropology 29: 493–524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Sproat, G. (1868). Scenes and Studies of Savage Life. Smith, Elder and Co., London.Google Scholar
  84. Suttles, W. (1951). Economic Life of the Coast Salish of Haro and Rosario Straits. Ph.D. dis., University of Washington Department of Anthropology.Google Scholar
  85. Suttles, W. (1960). Affinal Ties, Subsistence, and Prestige among the Coast Salish. American Anthropologist 67: 296–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Suttles, W. (1968). Coping with abundance: subsistence on the Northwest Coast. In Lee, R. B., and deVore, I. (eds.), Man the Hunter. Aldine, Chicago, pp. 56–68.Google Scholar
  87. Suttles, W. (1974). Variation in habitat and culture on the Northwest Coast. In Yehudi, C. (ed.), Man and Adaptation: The Cultural Present. Aldine Press, Chicago, pp. 93–106.Google Scholar
  88. Suttles, W. (1990). Handbook of North American Indians. Vol 7, Northwest Coast. Smithsonian Institution, Washington.Google Scholar
  89. Suttles, W. (2005). Coast salish resource management: incipient agriculture? In Douglas, D., and Turner, N. J. (eds.), “Keeping it Living”: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America. University of Washington Press, Seattle, pp. 181–193.Google Scholar
  90. Swezey, S., and Heizer, R. (1977). Ritual Management of Salmonid Fish Resources in California. Journal of California Anthropology 4(1): 6–29.Google Scholar
  91. Tanner, A. (1979). Bringing Home the Animals: Religious Ideology and Mode of Production of the Mistassini Cree Hunters. St. Martin Press, New York.Google Scholar
  92. Thornton, T. F. (1999). Tleikw Aaní, the “Berried” Landscape: The Structure of Tlingit Edible Fruit Resources at Glacier Bay, Alaska. Journal of Ethnobiology 19(1): 27–48.Google Scholar
  93. Thornton, T. F. (2008). Being and Place Among the Tlingit. University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.Google Scholar
  94. Thornton, T. F., and Kitka Sr., H. (2010). The Tlingit way of conservation: a matter of respect. In Walker Painemilla, K., Rylands, A. B., Woofter, A., and Hughes, C. (eds.), Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management. Conservation International, Arlington, VA, pp. 211–218.Google Scholar
  95. Thornton, T. F., & Kitka, H. (2015). An Indigenous Model of a Contested Pacific Herring Fishery in Sitka, Alaska. International Journal of Applied Geospatial Research (IJAGR), 6(1): 94–117.Google Scholar
  96. Thornton, T. F., Butler, V. L., Funk, F. Moss, M. L., Hebert, and Elder, T. (2010). Herring synthesis: documenting and modelling herring spawning areas within socio-ecological systems over time in the southeastern Gulf of Alaska. North Pacific Research Board Project #728. Accessed December2014,
  97. Thornton, T. F., and Manasfi, N. (2010). Adaptation - Genuine and Spurious: Demystifying Adaptation Processes in Relation to Climate Change. Environment and Society: Advances in Research 1(1): 132–155.Google Scholar
  98. Thornton, T. F., Moss, M. L., Butler, V. L., Hebert, J., and Funk, F. (2010b). Local and Traditional Knowledge and the Historical Ecology of Pacific Herring in Alaska. Journal of Ecological Anthropology 14(1): 81–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Treide, D. (1965). Die Organisierung des Indianischen Lachsfangs im Westlichen Nordamerika. Veröffenlichungen des Museums für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig 14. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin.Google Scholar
  100. Trosper, R. (2009). Resilience, reciprocity and ecological economics: Northwest Coast sustainability, New York.Google Scholar
  101. Turner, N. J., and Berkes, F. (2006). Coming to Understanding: Developing Conservation Through Incremental Learning in the Pacific Northwest. Human Ecology 34: 495–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Turner, N. J., and Clifton, H. (2006). The forest and the seaweed. gitga’at seaweed, traditional ecological knowledge, and community survival. In Menzies, C. R. (ed.), Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Natural Resource Management. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, pp. 65–86.Google Scholar
  103. Turner, N. J., Deur, D. E. and Lepofsky, D. (2013). Plant Management Systems of British Columbia First Peoples, In. Ethnobotany in British Columbia, edited by N. Turner and D. Lepofsky. BC Studies 179: 107–133.Google Scholar
  104. Williams, J. (2006). Clam Gardens: Aboriginal Mariculture on Canada’s West Coast. New Star Books, Vancouver.Google Scholar
  105. Williams, N. M., and Hunn, E. S. (eds.) (1982). Resource Managers: North American and Australian Hunter-Gatherers. AAAS Selected Symposia 67. Westview Press, Boulder CO.Google Scholar
  106. Winterhalder, B., and Kennett, D. (2006). Behavioral ecology and the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. In Kennett, D., and Winterhalder, B. (eds.), Behavioral Ecology and the Transition to Agriculture. U. of California Press, Berkeley, pp. 1–21.Google Scholar
  107. Wipfli, M. S., Hudson, J., and Caouette, J. (1998). Influence of Salmon Carcasses on Stream Productivity: Response of Biofilm and Benthic Macroinvertebrates in Southeastern Alaska, U.S.A. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 66: 1503–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  108. Wipfli, M. S., Hudson, J. P., Caouette, J. P., and Chaloner, D. T. (2003). Marine Subsidies in Freshwater Ecosystems: Salmon Carcasses Increase the Growth Rates of Stream-Resident Salmonids. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 132(2): 371–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Portland State UniversityPortlandUnited States
  3. 3.Kaagwaantaan Clan, Sitka Tribe of AlaskaSitkaUnited States

Personalised recommendations