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Linking marine conservation and Indigenous cultural revitalization: First Nations free themselves from externally imposed social-ecological traps

Lauren E. Eckert, University of Victoria Department of Geography
Natalie C. Ban, University of Victoria School of Environmental Studies
Snxakila-Clyde Tallio, Ancestral Governance Project, Nuxalk Nation
Nancy Turner, University of Victoria School of Environmental Studies


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Continuity of coastal Indigenous cultures relies on healthy ecosystems and opportunity to fulfill cultural practices. Owing to resource stewardship practice over millennia, Indigenous nations possess Indigenous knowledge that positions them as leaders in contemporary resource management. However, Indigenous peoples possibly face social-ecological traps, situations in which feedbacks between social and ecological systems result in an undesirable state, that are challenging to overcome. Centuries of compounding colonization and environmental degradation have negatively impacted Indigenous knowledge and culturally mediated stewardship practices. Our partnership, comprising academics and four First Nations on the Central Coast of British Columbia, Canada, mobilized information from semistructured interviews with knowledge holders to explore Indigenous knowledge of a culturally important but vulnerable species, yelloweye rockfish (Sebastes ruberrimus). We analyzed interviews and discovered evidence of an extant but transcendable social-ecological trap. The emergent themes represent an exploration beyond our original project goals and research questions. Our study revealed that external forces of colonization, i.e., via forced assimilation, and species declines created a social-ecological trap. However, participants ubiquitously described stewardship principles, and noted ongoing cultural revitalization efforts, active recovery of depleted species, and reassertion of Indigenous management rights as ways they are rebelling against, and overcoming, the trap. Although the framing of a social-ecological trap may be perceived as diminishing the authority of Indigenous governance systems, we found the opposite to be true. Despite external pressures, coastal First Nations are reasserting cultural and management rights and shaping their futures. We suggest that ongoing Indigenous cultural renewal and ecosystem recovery in the face of the historically entrenched trap be supported through recognizing and implementing inherent Indigenous marine management rights. The social-ecological trap described here differs from others in the literature in that the creation of the trap was external; moving beyond it is happening through internal, i.e., led by the First Nations, efforts.

Key words

fisheries; Indigenous knowledge; marine conservation; social-ecological trap; traditional ecological knowledge; yelloweye rockfish

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes 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