Researcher examines human-salmon relational ecologies among Salish communities in Pacific Northwest

Sarah Moritz: “Indigenous Salish stewardship of the environment can offer an alternative approach to how we live in the world.” | Photo by D. Sander

Sarah Moritz, a sociocultural anthropologist, has been awarded a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship at Concordia for 2020.

The international research grant is given annually to 70 postdocs from around the world with the aim of increasing the number of highly qualified research personnel in Canada.

Recipients of the fellowship are given $70,000 per year for two years.

“This prestigious award recognizes that collaborative, respectful research is paramount to Indigenous reconciliation and beneficial to Canadian society as a whole,” says Ali Dolatabadi, associate dean of recruitment and awards at Concordia’s School of Graduate Studies.

Wild salmon in British Columbia’s Indigenous territories

Moritz’s research project, “Honouring Salmon: Relational Ecologies across Salish Worlds in the Pacific Northwest,” examines how Interior and Coast Salish peoples of the Pacific Northwest have traditionally related to and interacted with wild salmon and the continued importance they hold in their culture.

“I want to understand and qualitatively map Salish peoples’ longstanding relations with wild salmon. And I want to learn how this shapes their self-determination, ecological knowledge and stewardship practices – all at a time of colonial, ecological and climate crisis,” she says

Moritz points out that there are two interrelated core objectives to this work.

“The first is to really look at the life histories and salmon narratives of coast and interior Salish fishers, particularly women, to generate a multilingual, interactive, living oral history atlas, in Salishan languages and in English,” she explains.

“And second is to look at how these stories function to support hereditary and matriarchal governance, Indigenous knowledge and inter-community relationships across fresh and saltwater landscapes. These are conventionally fractured, or considered to be separate by colonial governance systems.”

Stewardship practices, self-determination and reconciliation

Moritz completed her PhD on Interior Salish (St’á’timc) fisheries and water governance and associated notions of the “good life.” She will be working with Monica Mulrennan, associate professor of geography, planning and environment in Concordia’s Faculty of Arts and Science and associate vice-president of research, development and outreach.

Moritz hopes that in a general sense her work can contribute to the ongoing discussion around Indigenous reconciliation in its many forms, such as the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action. She would also like it to help inform and reform salmon management and conservation approaches to be firmly anchored in the authority and knowledge of Salish people.

“I think there are many reasons why this work is important locally and globally. Wild salmon stocks are now critically endangered and Salish subsistence livelihoods depend on the availability of healthy wild salmon,” she says.

“Indigenous Salish stewardship of the environment can offer an alternative approach to how we live in the world – one that really privileges respect, responsibility and reciprocity. And this can also potentially help counter the decline in intergenerational knowledge transmission about fishing practices in the region.”

Her methodology will combine ethnographic and Indigenous research methods with archival research and participatory mapping.

“The idea is to create a solid basis of data and then have it be a living document. There are a number of communities that I’ll be working with and individuals who have important stories, contemporary or historical. And there are places, routes and paths created through a reliance on salmon that can be qualitatively mapped and documented for future generations,” she adds.

“The idea is to then have it be collaborative or dialogical with other communities. I believe in the echoing or resonance of this approach – to stimulate other groups or individuals who want to contribute later on.”

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