UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Territorial jurisdiction : the cultural and economic significance of eulachon Thaleichthys pacificus in the north-central coast region of British Columbia Ryan, Teresa Loa


Aboriginal people of the Pacific Northwest have extraordinary affinities to fisheries resources. Balanced relationships with their environments facilitated comprehensive understanding of the cycles of renewal and resource abundance to prosper amidst cyclic variability and harsh climates. Traditional Aboriginal law and social institutions were the sentinel guardians that authorized territorial jurisdiction and resource use. The accumulation of Aboriginal Ecological Knowledge (AEK) ensured continuity of sustainable use and effective resource husbandry to increase wealth. Large surplus of products were driving factors for regional trade and exchange further contributing to wealth generation. Examining the use of eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus), in the north-central portion of its range illustrates the linkages between resource use, customary law, and territorial authority. Eulachon are used to produce “Grease” (oil rendered from the fish) in this region only from the Unuk River in the north to the Klinaklini River at the southern terminus. Four coastal Aboriginal groups (Tlingit, Tsimshian, Kwakwaka’wakw, and Nuxalk) produce Grease and are located in or near transportation corridors. An elaborate system of territorial authority was validated through the feasting system, also known as potlatches. Those territorial owners that were effective resource managers achieved higher prestige, and maintained authority by demonstration of resource products’ surplus. Contemporary fisheries management regulation has severely restricted Aboriginal access to limited harvests only, despite those same resources having been in Aboriginal use for thousands of years. Several factors have contributed to profoundly altering Aboriginal practices, their historic traditions, and the spaces on which they depended. These include but are not limited to colonization and its assimilation policies, and myriad restrictive legislation over many decades. The geographic scope of the highest degrees of social complexity exactly matches the eulachon Grease producing region. The wealth and prosperity that existed in this region for thousands of years was due to the integral fit of these social institutions with their unique ecological landscape. Removing this fit has caused damage to the wealth and prosperity of Aboriginal people and also risks the collateral loss of the applying Aboriginal Ecological Knowledge in the stewardship of the Pacific Northwest.

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