UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

When seafood feeds the spirit yet poisons the body : developing health indicators for risk assessment in a Native American fishing community Donatuto, Jamie


Current US government risk assessment and management regulations and policies are based on a position that views risk as an objective measure of a predictable physiological morbidity or mortality outcome that is not otherwise connected to social or cultural beliefs and values. Whereas human health risk assessments are meant to determine the probability of adverse impacts from particular hazards, the conventional risk assessment framework fails to consider Native American definitions of health and so risk. This study was conducted with the Coast Salish Swinomish Indian Tribal Community of Washington State, where contamination of their aquatic natural resources has been found. By conducting two series of interviews with traditional high-use seafood consumers, experts and elders from the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and by averting use of what I describe herein as ‘conventional’ fish consumption survey, the study allowed interviewees to provide a more complex narrative set of details and information that bestowed a much more accurate picture of the reasoning behind seafood consumption habits within the community. Among the more salient points that emerged from the interviews was that seafood represents a symbolic, deeply meaningful food source that is linked to a multi-dimensional ‘Swinomish’ concept of health. Yet drastic changes in access, harvest and consumption have occurred over time, and continue to this day. A health evaluation tool was also devised using simple descriptive scaled rankings to elucidate non-physiological health risks and impacts in relation to contaminated seafood. Findings demonstrate that community cohesion, food security, ceremonial use and knowledge transmission all play primary roles as concerns the Swinomish notions of health, and that these indicators are regarded as equally important when juxtaposed to physical indicators of health. Thus, to eat less seafood—as prescribed by current policy and decision-making procedures when contamination is present—is actually detrimental to the multi-dimensional concept of health as defined by the Swinomish. The evaluation tool may be used in conjunction with the conventional risk assessment framework to more accurately and comprehensively deduce risks and impacts.

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