UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Co-creating a biocultural indicator framework for fish and fish habitat with Lower stal̕əw (Fraser River) region First Nations Mussett, Kate


Fish species and habitats globally are increasingly at risk of experiencing population declines and rapid degradation, respectively, due to ongoing and interactive effects of industrial development, infectious diseases, climate change, contaminants, and poor management. In addition, current practices in aquatic management, monitoring, and restoration are often motivated by economic forces above other dimensions and considerations. The effects of these aquatic stressors combined with extractive management approaches have not only led to notable biological impacts, but also deep cultural implications for the people connected to given waters. Biocultural indicators, which reflect both biological and cultural understandings of ecosystem health, present opportunities for addressing these multifaceted issues. In partnership with the First Nations Fisheries Legacy Fund and their six member First Nations — q̓ic̓əy̓ (Katzie), qw'?ntl'en (Kwantlen), kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), and sc̓əwaθən məsteyəxʷ (Tsawwassen) — in the Lower Fraser River (stal̕əw in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm) region of what is now known as British Columbia, Canada, this work weaves together Western and Indigenous sciences to identify critical gaps in current models for aquatic ecosystem health assessment in the Lower Fraser. In co-creating our biocultural indicator framework, our overall aims were three-fold: firstly, to compare the use of both high- and low-cost aquatic monitoring tools; second, to assess the alignment between Western aquatic ecosystem health assessments and community characterizations of aquatic health; and, thirdly, to determine which biocultural indicators held the most explanatory power in understanding community characterizations of aquatic health. This project engaged both aquatic and riparian ecological sampling methods, alongside the hosting of community workshops and surveys (Chapter 2), where results revealed limitations of using ecological tools in isolation versus the benefits of weaving these methods into ecosystem health assessment models alongside Indigenous Knowledge Systems. Qualitative analysis of key informant interviews (Chapter 3) revealed strengths of including biocultural indicators in aquatic ecosystem health assessment frameworks, and how their inclusion can contribute to improved health across social–cultural–ecological systems. This co-created research identifies gaps in our current understandings of and interactions with aquatic ecology, conservation, and governance through the lens of Indigenous water relationality and access, and points to avenues for potentially transformative change.

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