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A bitter taste of fish: the temporality of salmon, settler colonialism, and the work of well-being in a Yupiaq fishing village

William Voinot-Baron, University of Wisconsin-Madison


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In southwest Alaska, dominant narratives of subsistence and conservation are concerned predominantly with material relations with fish, with the number of fish that are killed. In Akiak, an Alaska Native (Yupiaq) village located along the Kuskokwim River, people’s relations with Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) extend beyond the material, encompassing also the temporal. In this article, I contend that state and federal fishing regulations enact and extend settler colonial representations of Indigenous disappearance. Framing Yupiaq people’s appeals for “a taste of fish” as a temporal matter, I examine how state and federal fishing regulations rupture the temporality in which Yupiaq people’s relations with Chinook salmon unfold and threaten people’s well-being. By examining the vitality of human-salmon relations through an optic of care, I describe how Yupiaq peoples in Akiak experience the adverse effects of interrupted and postponed relations with Chinook salmon in “confusion” among youth. In turn, I illustrate how people get on with living despite the limits that the present politics of fisheries management place on their ability to take care of each other on their own terms, and in their own time.

Key words

Alaska; Alaska Native; care; fishing regulations; subarctic, subsistence; well-being; Yupiaq

Copyright © 2020 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