Knowledge and Power through Pluralisms and Relationality in the Governance of Salmon on the West Coast of Vancouver Island

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There is growing recognition that conventional Western approaches to fisheries governance and management are globally falling short in addressing many social and ecological challenges. Calls to “reinvent” or “reimagine” fisheries institutions through adaptations of ecosystem-based approaches increasingly intersect with interest in the “integration,” “bridging,” or “weaving” of knowledges and values held by Indigenous peoples with Western approaches. Generally, the intent is to improve decision-making processes and management outcomes, and to better recognize Indigenous rights following national and international legislative commitments such as UNDRIP. However, without appropriate strategies these efforts can echo harmful colonial histories, further marginalize Indigenous communities, and fail to restore fisheries of concern. Reimagining fisheries institutions will fundamental systemic changes to dominant worldviews, including how we approach multiple knowledges, conceptualize social and environmental relations, and even the very question of what constitutes “good” fisheries governance.The purpose of the dissertation is to consider what it means to pursue “integration” of Indigenous and Western scientific ways of knowing for improved fisheries governance and management and to meaningfully recognize Indigenous rights and knowledges. I present a case study of salmon in Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island (WCVI). Salmon are highly valued by WCVI coastal communities and are integral to the wellbeing of local Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, but are at risk of extirpation. The federal government, through Fisheries and Oceans Canada, is tasked with recognizing Indigenous knowledges and the recently formalized commercial fishing rights of five Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations into WCVI fisheries. Development of the five Nations’ fisheries within a context of multiple overlapping Indigenous and Canadian actors and authorities presents a particularly entangled challenge for local governance reform and directly confronts colonial legacies and the historical distribution of power between Canadian and Nuu-chah-nulth governance structures. In this dissertation, I present the findings of research built through five years of partnership with Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations and Ha’oom Fisheries Society and based in the Tla-o-qui-aht hahouthli (traditional territory). The methodology includes a combination of archival and place-based methods informed by approaches in critical geographies and Indigenous relational practice. The broader goal of our partnership is to support ongoing efforts to mobilize Nuu-chah-nulth knowledges and values in WCVI salmon governance and management for productive, healthy, and abundant salmon fisheries. In presenting the work, I first review the case study context with attention to colonial histories of BC salmon fisheries. I then present a literature review summarizing primary concerns and recommendations from other efforts to “integrate” or mobilize Indigenous and Western ways of knowing in fisheries. With these recommendations in mind, I detail the case study findings considering the mobilizations of knowledge and governance relations in WCVI salmon governance. I first identify pluralistic approaches to Indigenous and Western ways of knowing in Tla-o-qui-aht’s internal management and governance structures. I then consider how specific relational approaches to knowledge coproduction and institution building support local decision-making and knowledge mobilization in the entangled salmon governance arrangements of Clayoquot Sound. Finally, I consider how the five Nations’ fisheries are impacted by and strategically respond to colonial structures and knowledge hegemonies in State fisheries management, with implications for disrupting feedbacks between colonialism and conventional Western fisheries science. Throughout, I discuss insights regarding strategies for Indigenous rights implementation and knowledge mobilization which transform governance and power relations in small scale, multispecies fisheries. The dissertation chapters collectively contribute to the following findings. First, Nuu-chah-nulth governance structures approach fisheries management through knowledge pluralisms and should be recognized as legitimate and capable governing bodies for self management. Second, relational strategies to partnership building between rightsholders and governance actors support coordinated decision-making, adaptive management actions, increased local capacity, and robust knowledge co-development, especially in when reflecting Nuu-chah-nulth embodied relational practice and with deference to Nuu-chah-nulth governing authority. Finally, strategically utilizing pluralisms and relational partnerships to challenge knowledge hegemonies and the settler state’s authority can disrupt feedbacks between colonialism and conventional Western fisheries science and offers a potential avenue for decolonization in the context of a resistant bureaucratic structure. The findings of this dissertation also contribute insight regarding broadly applicable steps forward through alternate pathways of information, understandings of relation, and arrangements of governance. Pluralistic approaches to knowledge and governance conducted in collaboration with Indigenous scholars and communities should be prioritized in efforts to mobilize multiple knowledges in the management of fisheries. Indigenous leadership and power sharing through co-governance are imperative to these approaches. Broadly, knowledge pluralisms and more-than-capitalist relational reimaginings present promising avenues for meaningful fisheries reform.





Bingham, Julia A (2023). Knowledge and Power through Pluralisms and Relationality in the Governance of Salmon on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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