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For many Indigenous Peoples, there is no separation between their lands and ocean. Instead, land and ocean are integrated parts of the whole that makes up traditional territories and peoples' relationships with the ecosystems and beings within. Coastal and ocean spaces are rich with ancestral history and stories, important to ceremonial and economic practices, and central to shared food provision; they are just as integral to territory as are spaces on land! Each Nation has their own placed-based histories that inform unique institutions and rules about acting in good ways in homelands/waters. In this way, harvesting, cultivation, and other management activities are embedded within Indigenous laws and governance.  

Clam gardens demonstrate that Indigenous peoples have undertaken ocean resource harvest and sustainable management throughout the Pacific Northwest for millennia. However, in addition to appropriating lands, settlers asserted sovereignty over ocean spaces and marine resources, claiming them via the imposition of preferred cultural, management, and economic practices. Indigenous access to marine resources and important ocean territory has been impacted as a result. In cases where Nations have won recognition under settler law for particular sets of fishing rights to be exercised within territorial waters (e.g., prioritized food, social, and ceremonial rights to salmon in R. v. Sparrow [1990], limited commercial rights to herring spawn on kelp in R. v. Gladstone [1996], Boldt and Rafeedie decisions upheld the rights codified in the Steven’s treaties for Washington Tribes), implementation often stalls. State-sanctioned fisheries allocations, harvests, and marine enclosures are regularly contested. 

Nations and communities up and down the coast are upholding their laws and re-establishing governance authority in homelands/waters. Clam garden restoration and reconnection is part of this because they bring members together in ancestral coastal and ocean spaces.


Keith Holmes

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