Watersheds and Marinescapes: Understanding and Maintaining Cultural Diversity Among Southeast Alaska Natives

  • Thomas F. Thornton


Among the Tlingit, Haida, and neighbouring peoples of the northern Northwest Coast of North America, key watersheds not only define regional dwelling spaces but were owned and managed by lineages (matrilineal clans and house groups), which controlled access and enhanced their productivity in a variety of ways to ensure sustainability. These indigenous peoples also derived critical aspects of their identity and livelihoods from the unique features of these waterways, the differences of which were celebrated in a variety of contexts, including naming, visual art, dance, and rituals such as the potlatch ceremony. Among the Tlingit especially, the relationship between watersheds and marinescape explains critical biological and cultural diversity within the region. For example, sockeye or red salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) streams were highly valued, as were fall dog (chum) salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) and coho (silver) salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) runs because of their temporal ‘stretching’ of the salmon harvest season. Similarly, marinescapes invisible from the surface, such as Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) banks might be defined by a set of relational characteristics between observable surface features, as in the name of one fishing bank, Geesh K’ishuwanyee (‘Just on the Edge of the Base of the Kelp’). Such unique and diverse water features, though often not dominant in the physiography, were celebrated as markers of regional identity and culture. The implications of this intracultural diversity are evaluated against current water policy and fisheries management that typically ignores indigenous hydrological units in favour of commercial zoning.


Indigenous People House Group Oncorhynchus Nerka Oncorhynchus Keta Pacific Halibut 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Change Institute, School of Geography and the EnvironmentUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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