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Common Ground:

Finding Balance Between the First Nations and Western Land-Ethic


Unlike what was previously thought, First Nations groups maintained extremely high density populations, far in excess of what is possible through a subsistence lifestyle. In fact, these groups could not even be considered subsistent or nomadic, but possessed forms of agriculture and aquaculture that mirror what exists today. A prominent example, the environment of Victoria and the surrounding region, has been tremendously influenced by the Coast Salish people who inhabited the region before European contact and settlement. As such, the argument can be made that First Nations did modify their environments, not unlike Europeans, however the process of modification occurred in a symbiotic context instead of an all-encompassing one. As such, any changes occurred in parallel with the evolution of the environment, and established a sustaining relationship between man and nature, on which both began to rely.

While the adoption of First Nations epistemology is desirable, many features of western society are not conducive with the goals of long-term sustainability, as practiced by the Coast Salish. However, the adoption of a First Nations land ethic does not disregard the ability of individuals to use the resources at hand to fulfill the needs of their communities; in fact, the Coast Salish had many parallels with the developed world, in their understanding of property title, and also in their possession of an agricultural surplus. The way in which these principles were established is clearly different though, having evolved over several millennia; however, in recognizing their similarities we may begin to adopt these ideas to suit our own shared purpose, a truly sustainable humanity.

Subsistence or Affluence?[edit]

Early explorers found such a natural abundance of food sources along the BC coast that it was assumed to be inextinguishable. Yet, even on the naturally food-rich coast, themes of starvation emerge in many folk traditions, and great care had to be taken in managing resources in order to survive winters and natural disruptions in food supply (Turner and Jones, 2000, 18). Furthermore, new studies are supportive of early European accounts, that high density populations existed within the coastal regions of B.C.; a concept which, up until recently, historical geographers considered exaggerated (Turner and Jones, 2000, 19). In 1997, Cole Harris was one of the first to admit that "there may have been many more people in [pre-contact] British Columbia than what seemed possible only a few years ago"; in fact, Harris suggests that the population of coastal B.C. at the time of contact was between 200,000 and 400,000 people (Turner and Jones, 2000, 29-30). These figures suggest that extensive stewardship and management principles existed among coastal First Nations, towards their environment, and especially towards their food resources.

Over the course of nearly 30,000 years, as some scholars suggest (Johansen, 2006, 1), First Nations in British Columbia have developed a number of harvesting methods for key food sources that enabled a perpetuation of these food sources. Wessen (1990) suggests that local cultures existed relatively unchanged for upwards of 2500 years, suggesting that continuity, and therefore sustainability, existed for this period. Through their harvesting techniques for various food items the First Nations have increased the biological potential of the areas they have lived, while simultaneously enriching the number of food sources available. Over the course of such an extended period, the environment on which First Nations communities relied became increasingly diverse, with game animals migrating towards Garry Oak meadows, and enriched aquatic ecosystems due to the maintenance of clam beds. Contrary to what has been believed in the past, First Nations along the Pacific coast were highly adapted to the management of their food resources, to the point which 'subsistence' could not be considered a suitable term. Archeologists Ames and Maschner (1999) emphasize that these people were ‘affluent foragers’ or ‘complex hunter-gatherers’. Their population density, social stratification, artistic development, and economic specialization exceeded agricultural people in North America. Not only did these societies sustain themselves, they did so at high levels of complexity—although not at the levels of the industrial era (Ames and Maschner, 1999). What is especially interesting about the First Nations, according to Trosper (2002), is that because of the tremendous amount of salmon caught for subsistence, trade, and ceremony before contact with Europeans, the aboriginal salmon fishery, with its highly productive technology, was so large that it may have significantly taxed the resource. Although exploited to a high degree, staple foods were never overexploited to the point that they were unsustainable; this is partially due to the management principles employed, and also to the complex social framework which was developed to prevent misuse.

Camas Bulbs (Domesticated Landscape/Agriculture)[edit]

Camas (Cammasia quamash) was a staple food for B.C. coastal first nations groups, a main trade item with the nations of the interior, and "as important as salmon and blackberries" within the traditional indigenous diet and economy (Hope, 2002, 255). First Nations groups throughout coastal areas, and even in parts of interior North America, harvested camas bulbs and employed similar methods of land management to encourage camas landscapes. Later viewed as a pretty flower or persistent weed by European settlers, the bright blue camas lily had been carefully cultivated by the first nations of North American coastal regions for millennia, and deliberate, drastic changes were made to the environment to encourage the growth of this plant species. Areas with Garry Oak trees provide the right kind of soil content and solar exposure for camas lilies to flourish; as such, certain areas were selected for camas bulb growth, and brush and shrubs were dug out and removed. The area would then be burned, and camas, a perennial plant, would be transplanted from other areas if it was not already greatly abundant in the chosen area.

The Lekwungen people (also known by the legal name of "Songhees") have occupied the region now known as the City of Victoria for over 4,000 years (Higgs, 2005, 160). In cultivating camas bulbs through yearly harvest and burning practices, the Lekwungen transformed this landscape into a fertile meadow that was covered in blue camas lilies during the spring and fall months. When European settlers arrived, the beauty of the rolling, blue-camas covered hills surrounding Victoria's inner harbour reminded them of the ideal British countryside, and impelled them to start Fort Victoria in that area, and to bring pigs and cattle onto the camas fields. The presence of these new animal herds on the ground, as well as the decimation of the Lekwungen people by diseases such as small pox, and their forced re-settlement into reserves, ensured the destruction and near-extinction of camas harvesting practices.

The Lekwungen Nation has recently received the legal right to (once again) manage their own reserve lands and are in the process of developing their own land management policy. Songhees Lands Management Coordinator Cheryl Bryce is most involved with a Garry Oak restoration project, in which both the Garry Oaks and surrounding ecosystems are being restored. As such, the restoration of the camas plant and the traditional practices surrounding it is occurring. Ancient harvesting sites such as Beacon Hill Park and surrounding the UVic campus are being cultivated according to some of the traditional practices, to the extent that bylaws enable these practices to occur today (Bryce, p.comm, Feb.2008). A portion of Discovery Island, off the coast of downtown Victoria, is reserve land under Lekwungen jurisdiction that is undergoing restoration (Bryce, p.comm, Feb.2008). The first camas harvest and pit cook in over 100 years occurred on Discovery Island in 2000, marking not only a restoration of some of the traditional ecology, but also the revitalization of the Lekwungen culture (Higgs, 2005, 160). Eric Higgs insists that in order for restoration efforts to be successful, they must encompass both scientific and traditional knowledge of the ecosystem; restoration ecology must be a part of a larger ecological restoration practice, that takes not only practical issues into consideration, but also recognizes the important ties between culture and environment (Higgs, 2005, 149).

While the camas bulb is not considered to have been a domesticated crop, recent scholarship is recognizing the kind of practices discussed here as forming the basis for a “domesticated landscape” (Beckwith, 2005, 211). Camas bulbs have not played any significant role in the Coast Salish diet for over 160 years, but the management practices surrounding the camas plant are still considered an important part of cultural identity by the Coast Salish (Beckwith, 2005, 215). As such, restoration work related to the camas plant is dubbed “ethnoecological restoration,” since restoring camas bulbs and the related eco-systems that support their growth is seen to go hand-in-hand with the restoration of aboriginal culture and identity (Beckwith, 2005, 216).

Eulachon (Economy/Trade)[edit]

An important economic good for coastal First Nations, the eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus), or 'candlefish', was widely traded. A relative of the salmon, eulachon were so abundant that they were often harvested simply by plunging woven baskets or fish rakes into a school of passing eulachon fish (Provincial Archives, 1965, 20). In areas with spawning rivers, eulachon was so highly prized, that 'grease trails' connected the interior with the coastal regions as trade routes, and during spawning season large groups of people, numbering as many as 10,000 individuals in the case of the Ness River fishery, would gather on a river to collect this prized fish (Mitchell and Donald, 2001, 26). Eulachon was valued for a number of reasons: it was high in monounsaturated fat which won't spoil, it added flavour and moisture to traditionally dried foods, and was an irreplaceable preservative for fruits and vegetables (Mitchell and Donald, 2001, 26). fat from the fish was such that when dried, if strung with a wick, the fish would burn as a candle. These fish were collected by the millions, then boiled to render the fat from the fish, which was then often used as a type of butter. The Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria depicts various local food sources in the First Peoples' Gallery, and eulachon oil is mentioned in most cases as a relish or dip-sauce, presumably because many foods were dehydrated for storage and the eulachon oil was a flavourful way to add moisture to dry foods (Site Visit, Feb.2008).

Another feature of the Eulachon harvest was threefold: 1) It only occurred in a limited number of river estuaries, 2) The harvesting period was extremely short, and 3) The magnitude of the harvest was far in excess of what any individual band was capable of harvesting. This situation led to the allocation of fishing rights for multiple First Nations bands, whether their established territories included the river or not, each of which was provided by the band in whose territory the harvest occurred (Mitchell and Donald, 2001, 32). The local band would usually reserve exclusive rights over different ceremonial duties, such as the right to lay the first nets in the water ahead of the official harvest, and the right to complete various rituals to announce the coming of the first eulachon. In a sense, the eulachon fishery provides an example of a transboundary agreement among often diverse groups, and represented the ownership of a specific title outside of the traditional boundaries of a band; however, this title was limited in its scope, permitting only the fishery and no other activities except for the construction of temporary shelter and the use of firewood.

Both the camas plant and eulachon are examples of goods that were highly traded, and as a consequence, had extensive industries throughout the coast that harvested and processed these goods. Historically, First Peoples of B.C. have traded materials and produce for two main reasons; one being the re-distribution of land resources to provide greater variety and stability in food and materials available, and the other being to engage in social interchange (Tuner, 1997, 30). Scientific and ethnographic records indicate that camas and eulachon resources did not become depleted with use, but were rather increased and encouraged the more First Nations groups used them, due to specific management principles that defined the limits of group participation.

Potlatch (Status/Social Ethics/Property)[edit]

Land claims and social status were substantiated and maintained through the potlatch, a gift-giving ceremony whose principles have surprised and eluded many ethnographers. When Europeans first witnessed the feasts of coastal nations, they named them "potlatch"; however the term itself is not an indigenous term. George Clutesi, a Nootka native who experienced a potlatch first-hand a boy, recounts his experience in the 1969 book entitled "Potlatch". Clutesi points out that the Nootka verb "to give" is "pa-chitle" and noun "gift" is "patchuck," both words that would have been very commonly used during a traditional feast and which Europeans may have mis-heard as "potlatch". The potlatch was usually hosted by a family whose social position was to change in the community, for example through a marriage, the building of a new house, or the taking of a new name. Several different types of traditional feasts were common, varying from smaller feasts limited to those of a certain class within a tribe to large feasts in which all members of neighbouring tribes participated as well (Clutesi, 1969, 9).

For the most open form of the potlatch, or the Tloo-qwuah-nahn in Nootka, guests traveled to attend from neighbouring communities, and dressed in ceremonial attire. The meal was accompanied by speeches and followed by special games, dances, and music. The guests were seen as witnesses to the event, and the increase in social status could only be warranted by generosity on behalf of the host to the guests, almost as a repayment for the important service of witnessing and being able to give an oral account of the event. The more land attributed to a certain family, the more it was expected that they would give away, in a sense to prove that they owned the land and it's fruits. The poorer, in a tangible material sense, the family would be after the potlatch, the more esteemed they would be in the community's social hierarchy. (Provincial Archives, 1965, 48-49). One account notes that after the food was consumed and traditional gift items were distributed, the dishes and utensils themselves would be given to the guests, followed by the very planks of the house they had celebrated in (Rosman and Rubel, 1971, 179).

The potlatch custom shows us that the Coast Salish society valued giving as much if not more than receiving, and that surplus from trade and harvesting was expected to be shared, not kept greedily by individuals. Furthermore, eating together in a manner that was relaxed and uninhibited by time deadlines was an important way of transferring knowledge; Clutesi recounts that "it was believed that one absorbed and received more knowledge when eating and swallowing food" (Clutesi, 1969, 84). By 1884 the potlatch had been outlawed, and severe penalties could be legally imposed for participating in or hosting a potlatch, greatly discouraging the practice and causing it to nearly disappear from practice (Provincial Archives, 1965, 2).

As we have shown by the descriptions of a few traditional resource management practices, anthropogenic, or man-related, disturbance of the natural environment can in fact occur in a positive manner for both humans and ecosystems. Restoring ecosystems to a healthy state must then take the important step of understanding not just the scientific principles of an ecosystem's history, but also the cultural principles that have been used in managing and 'disturbing' it by humans.

First Nations Transferable Knowledge[edit]

Whatever the case, First Nations clearly exhibited a clear set of management principles over the lands within their territories; various food goods, trade principles, property rights, and reciprocal duties, dictated the majority of interrelationships between different tribal groups. In the examples outlined above, a set of basic rules is outlined; as Trosper (2002) describes:

  • Rights of access and use of valuable lands and fishing sites were recognized as property, meaning that individuals or groups could exclude others.
  • Proprietorship was contingent on proper management of the property.
  • A system of ethics defined proper use; the ethical beliefs defined abuse of land in terms of reduction of its productivity for future generations.
  • Systems of reciprocity defined economic exchange relationships among people, both individually and in groups. Reciprocity provided incentives that supported proper use of lands both by providing insurance against misfortune and by reducing the incentive to harvest too much.
  • Enforcement of reciprocity rules were totally public.
  • And finally, rules about the behavior of chiefs provided a system of governance that could maintain the other five elements and allow modifications as needed.

(Trosper, 2002, 332)

These rules, while similar to western principles, offer several nuances from comparable western examples, as derived from Trosper (2002):

1) Contingent proprietorship[edit]

In the case of salmon and eulachon, title was given over certain sections of river and for a set amount of catch, as long as the river system was not damaged. In certain cases, a portion of the catch would have to be shared with families in the resident tribe.

2) Principles of Environmental Ethics[edit]

In order to enforce the concept of contingent proprietorship with the goal of sustainability, a consistent environmental ethic needs to govern the definition of harm.

  • The Unity of Man and Nature: To see the natural world as intricately connected to humanity, in a religious context or otherwise.
  • Restraint in consumption: The principle by which humans and animals consciously suppress their desire for the benefit of their associates.
  • Long time horizon: First Nations had to establish sustained practices to ensure that food resources were protected over a period of several generations. In some communities reincarnation was considered, such that decision-makers today are directly affecting their own future, after reincarnation.


As epitomized in the Potlatch, the requirement that titleholders share the surplus available from the use of their land's resources with other titleholders.

  • Common pool resources: Where a common resource is distributed equally among band members, sharing the returns from fishing provides a rule that gives individual fishermen incentive not to over-fish or to invest in too much fishing equipment.
  • Production of knowledge: Titleholders in the Pacific Northwest, with their ethic of reciprocity, were able to share ideas about salmon management with each other and to discover ways to improve that management.
  • Moral insurance: Peer monitoring to encourage people to increase their management efforts.

Obstacles to Adoption in Western Culture[edit]

Harpreet: The question to pose here is whether western philosophy has really escaped the entrenched attitudes of colonialism and industrialism. We need to build on this introduction in order to present an argument that accepts modern environmentalism as complimentary to FN approaches, while still recognizing that the principles of property/ownership and self interest are still inherent in modern society.

Over time, the approach to First Nations has changed dramatically in Canada. At this point, noone can say that the principles upon which we built this nation are the same as those with which we currently govern. This is true to the point of increased knowledge towards the environment...

The Western world began to influence the Coast Salish people when they inhabited British Columbia. First the Westerners brought with them colonialist practise, which was very much at odds with the Coast Salish. It justified of seizing of Coast Salish land. Then Westerners adopted industrialism engaging in international trade, mass extraction of raw resources, global geographic mobility, large scale agribusiness, and the concentration of populations into cities. This could be viewed to be environmentally unsustainable and toxic hyper-affluence, from the Coast Salish people’s perspective.

Colonialist Philosophy -> Complete Section By Harpreet[edit]

During the periods of colonial expansion one philosophical approach was particularly prominent, that of John Locke. According to him, property is a natural right and it is derived from labour, believing that ownership of property is created by the application of labour. In this sense, First Nations, or any indigenous population, did not 'own' their land, due to the absence of labour, but were transient collectors of natural bounty. John Lock's view toward property rights, land use, and utilization of nature can be summarized by the following:

"The labour that was mine removing them out of that common state they were fixed in, hath fixed my property in them. (Lock, 2003, 375)

Locke is thought to have set three restrictions on the accumulation of property in the state of nature (MacPherson, 1963, 996-997): 1) One may only appropriate as much as one can use before it spoils (spoilage restriction), 2) One must leave “enough and as good” for others (sufficiency restriction), 3) One may (supposedly) only appropriate property through one's own labour. MacPherson argues that, in practise, all three of these conditions were transcended. The spoilage restriction ceases to be a meaningful restriction as of when money gained popularity as money could store value (MacPherson, 1963, 996-997). The sufficiency restriction no longer applies as increases in productivity due to private property allows those that do not own land to earn more money to fulfill the necessities of life (MacPherson, 1963, 996-997). The “enough and as good” requirement was simply representing the ability to acquire the necessities of life through labour. Other people’s labour, and other people’s time could be used to appropriate property, as land owners employed labourers to help them appropriate land. This was in accordance with old British class divisions where landowners, the only voting members of society, and hired labourers to do work on their behalf (MacPherson, 1963, 996-997). Thus Lock’s theories are criticized and are said to be crafted to justify the claiming of First People’s land. Barbra Arneil stated that Lock’s land claim theory:

“was an attempt to undermine the Indian’s claims to land by creating a new definition of property. Aware that Indians in the New World could claim property through the right of occupancy, Locke developed a theory of agrarian labour which would, through the right of agricultural labour, specifically exclude the American Indian from claiming land.” (Arneil, 1992, 603)

Lock defended First Nation people’s right to claim their property. His view is very uncooperative and inconsiderate. He basically justifies seizing First Nation’s land, and takes the stance that they can fight to have it back later.

“the inhabitants of any country who are descended and derive a title to their estates from those who are subdued and had a government forced upon them against their free consents retain a right to the possession of their ancestors…for the first conqueror never having had a title to the land of that country, the people who are the descendants of, or claim under, those who were forced to submit to the yoke of a government by constraint have always a right to shake it off and free themselves from the usurpation or tyranny which the sword has brought in upon them…Their persons are free by a native right, and their properties, be they more or less, are their own and at their own disposal, and not at his.” (Locke and Cox, 1982, 116)

As a result of the practice of these philosophies, laissez-faire capitalism became the norm. Money allowed people to hold value in things that would normally decay over time, if their value was not held in the form of money. This justified industrialism.

Colonialist Philosophy[edit]

During the periods of colonial expansion one philosophical approach was particularly prominent, that of John Locke. According to him, property is a natural right and it is derived from labor, believing that ownership of property is created by the application of labor. In this sense, First Nations, or any indigenous population, did not 'own' their land, due to the absence of labour, but were transient collectors of natural bounty.

John Lock's view toward property rights, land use, and utilization of nature can be summarized by the following:

"tis the taking any part of what is common and removing it out of the state nature leaves it in...And the taking of this or that part does not depend on the express content of all the commoners. Thus the grass my horse has bit, the turfs my servant has cut, and the ore I have dug in any place where I have a right to then in common with others, become my property without the assignation or consent of anybody. The labour that was mine removing them out of that common state they were fixed in, hath fixed my property in them." (Lock 375)

Locke is thought to have set three restrictions on the accumulation of property in the state of nature(MacPherson 996-997):

  1. One may only appropriate as much as one can use before it spoils
  2. One must leave “enough and as good” for others (the sufficiency restriction), and
  3. One may (supposedly) only appropriate property through one's own labor)

MacPherson argues that all three of these conditions were transcended in practice (MacPherson 996-997):

  1. The spoilage restriction ceases to be a meaningful restriction when money gained popularity as money could store value
  2. The sufficiency restriction no longer applies because increases in productivity caused by private property will allow those that do not own land to earn more money to fulfill the necessities of life. The “enough and as good” requirement was simply representing the ability to aquire the necessities of life through labor.
  3. Locke counted land owners as voting members of society, in accordance with old British class divisions. Thus, labor conducted by a landowner's servant, is credited toward seizing ownership of land.

As a result of the practice of these philosophies, laissez-faire capitalism became the norm. Money allowed people to hold value in things that would normally decay over time, if their value was not held in the form of money. This justified industrialism.


Distinct from colonialism, market economics and the processes of globalization have led to a newly formed system of global trade. While colonialism was initially based on the expansion of national interests, in the service of military and economic strength, the new industrial worldview is without a national argument. This system operates, theoretically, in order to ensure that as much capital as possible is accumulated.

When colonialism gave way to industrialism, there was a dramatic shift from importance being placed on property and barter, to the accumulation of money. Money became an all important trade intermediary that brought about the concept of accumulating vast wealth to the masses. Thus, the economic incentives for mass consumerism, consumption, and wealth accumulation were put in place (Berg 1). This lead to globalization in the forms of geographic mobility and trade, extraction of raw resources, and agribusiness.

unindustrialized countries sent raw resources to England, and other industrialized nations, to be processed and manufactured into goods(Wrigley 1-16). This led to the foundations of international import and export trade. Non-essential items gained prominence in industrialized nations(Berg 2), while underdeveloped countries became poorer by exporting their raw goods (Weatherspoon, Dave , and Cacho 723).

Raw resources such as wood, mineral ore, coil, oil, cotton, and other valuable natural resources were imported to industrialized countries (Wrigley 6). With this came travel. People from all around the world traveled more along trade routes. Many individuals in old colonial homelands moved to the territories of their empire, to seize opportunities aligned with extraction of raw resources. An example of this would be the early British settlers on Vancouver Island, that came here to extract natural resources and sell them back to England (Gough 269).

Globalization brought the popularity of large scale resource extraction, and agribusiness companies (Weatherspoon, Dave , and Cacho 723). These companies operated for profit, and made society dependent on international trade. In Canada today, our fruits, vegetables, grains, clothes, electronics, and essentials come from overseas (Logan 185). The world is now interlinked. Things that happen in one nation can now effect other nations dramatically.

Part of the industrialization process was the formation of cities. In industrialized nations, these were places where there were factories, and thus jobs. Workers moved to cities to get jobs, and thus urbanization occurred (Riesman 123). The same urbanization ensued in other nations, where processing and ordering of raw goods took place. People moved to cities to get jobs. Victoria, BC was one such city. People moved here to seize opportunity in lumber mills, and at the port. As a result, the city state concept proliferated throughout the world, wherever industrialization spread.

(Ommitted from Final Paper) Modern Environmentalism[edit]

See Turner and Jones (2000) especially page 21-22 for an important distinction between "perpetuation" in stewardship (what they say is the FN approach) and "conservation" or "sustainability." The distinction seems worth including. It could even make this whole section if you want to use the argument that FN coastal groups had a "perpetuation ethic" that is different from the prevalent "conservation ethic" of today, and then explain why a shift to a "perpetuation ethic" would be beneficial. - MD

  • Sustainability, while idealized in the present environmental movement, was never an end goal for First Nations except where the sustainability of a community could be ensured.
    • This is important, particularly due to the high degree of protection afforded to many resources by different FN bands.

Modern environmentalism is a patchwork of several distinct arguments. Among these, individuals may focus on any number of aspects, including: sustainability, organic food, resource depletion, environmental degradation, pollution, and species extinction, among others. Many of these goals are mutually exclusive, with one aspect (organic food) not necessarily preventing another (species extinction) from occurring; however, it is now the case that 'sustainability' has become an all-encompassing goal for the environmental movement. As noted in a paper by Richard Shearman, the meaning of sustainability depends on its context, lexical (i.e., "Capable of being maintained at a certain rate or level." - Oxford English Dictionary), or implied (R. Shearman, pp2)[1]. The issue at hand is the term sustainable growth, while growth can certainly occur, this process cannot occur independently of the

Another Harpreet Contribution(below): wouldnt want to fail to recognize

The current concept of sustainable agriculture mandates the viability of a twenty-first-century family farm model for U.S. agriculture: (Bird and Ikerd 101)
-the farm is owner operated;
-hired-worker days do not exceed farm-family-worker days;
-the farm is a partnership of,usually, no more than three families;
-the farm is structured as a joint management-labor relationship;
-the farm is diversified;
-there is emphasis on use of on farm resources;
-there is common use of sitespecific and real-time decision making; and
-there is a diverse set of enterprise statements

(Ommitted from Final Paper) Transferring Wisdom[edit]

Indigenous Epistemology: What Can Westerners Learn?[edit]

Each principle below should be derived from the case studies above and provide examples of ways these principles might be incorporated into modern society.

Principle 1[edit]

Eat Locally: Regardless of whether food can be considered indigenous or not. If possible, experiment with indigenous foods where they can be provided in a sustainable fashion.

Principle 2[edit]

Extend Your Frame of Reference: First Nations had to establish sustained practices to ensure that food resources were protected over a period of several generations. These practices may have involved the manipulation of the natural environment, however, by the time they were established, the environment had adapted to the changes.

Principle 3[edit]

Protect Local Food Sources: The need to ensure stable food resources led to the adoption of First Nation property rights over specific areas. Tribal groups guarded these food resources through secrecy and violence when trespassed. In our society, food is widely traded, however, the value of our own food resources has been greatly understated.

Objections to Transferability[edit]

Objection 1[edit]

Population Density: How can indigenous environmental principles be transferred considering they were developed and practiced in smaller, more dispersed populations? If we all decided to harvest food naturally, then the natural populations of most species would be eradicated, especially in the immediate vicinity of cities.

Objection 2[edit]

Loss of Subsistence Culture/Knowledge: Over the last 100 years, indigenous people have themselves stopped living off the land in their traditional way for various reasons. What are these reasons? If they cannot do it, what makes us think we might find any value in trying to apply these traditional principles?

Objection 3[edit]

Reliance on Market Economies: People in our society are not self sustaining, but maintain specialized professions. The average person can no longer hunt, fish, clothe, and provide for themselves. Furthermore, if we tried to do this as individuals, societal momentum would be against us. How can we overcome this problem

Objection 4[edit]

People in today's society are desensitized from the source of their food and essentials. eg eggs come from the grocery store and milk does too. Many of us never even think about the source of our meat, and how it was obtained. If we all were to witness the killing of an amimal, we would appreciate meat more. Natives pray every time they kill something, and they were not able to engage in the excess consumption that we are capable of engaging in. This mentality is not easily reversed.

Objection 5[edit]

There is ingrained economic, and political momentum to be short sighted towards making dramatic changes toward environmental sustainability. The powers to be are not ready to make dramatic changes readily.

Objection 6[edit]

Despite the growing awareness toward environmental reform and sustainability issues, First People's do not have a mainstream voice with which to make their opinions heard. The press, and industry still hold most of the clout and power in our modern society.


In studying the influence of Coast Salish society, on the surrounding environment and within the social and economic spheres, there is tremendous value in the lessons which may be derived. As the various citations suggest, management principles are adaptable to various changes in the environment, and if enacted appropriately will permit a more robust ecosystem with the capability to survive through any difficult environmental challenge. What is not flexible, or at least less so, are our culture and technology, which continue to act independent of any individual choices we make. What might be considered the greatest aspect of First Nations practices, may well become the role that a leader or chief plays in the management of the resources on which their community relies; in virtually every way, the chief is considered an expert in the management of resources, and commands strict punishment for the misuse and inappropriate acquisition of said resources. Unfortunately, our leaders are not expected to maintain any deeper knowledge of the environment, maintaining only an anthropocentric view which disconnects humanity from its environment. The emphasis must shift, for ecological management is not a luddite activity, however, but a “…process of reassessing the appropriate social and ecological relationships within a landscape given historical and projected environmental parameters" (Beckwith, 2005, 219). As such, we must begin to identify with the environment that is so important to our survival, or we will be forced to adapt to the changes that will engulf us.


  1. ^ Shearman, R. (1990). The Meaning and Ethics of Sustainability. Environmental Management. Vol. 14, No. 1. pp. 1-8.

Ames and Maschner, 1999. K.M. Ames and H.D.G. Maschner In: People of the Northwest Coast: Their Archeology and Prehistory, Thames and Hudson, London (1999).

Beckwith, Brenda Raye. The queen root of this clime": Ethnoecological investigations of blue camas (Camassia leichtlinii (Baker) Wats., C. quamash (Pursh) Greene; Liliaceae) and its landscapes on southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Diss. University of Victoria (Canada), 2005. ProQuest Digital Dissertations. ProQuest. University of Victoria Libraries, Victoria, B.C. 12 Mar. 2008.

Berg, Maxine . "From Imitation to Invention: Creating Commodities in Eighteenth-Century Britain." The Economic History Review 55(2002): 1-30.

Bird, G. W., John Ikerd, "Sustainable Agriculture: A Twenty-First-Century System." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 529(1993): 92-102.

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