Pacific Salmon: Ecology and Management of Western Alaska’s Populations

“We Have to Learn to Work Together:” Current Perspectives on Incorporating Local and Traditional/Indigenous Knowledge into Alaskan Fishery Management

Taylor Brelsford


Abstract.—The Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Sustainable Salmon Initiative (AYK SSI) is a research program in Alaska focused on learning from the knowledge and understanding of local indigenous fishing communities. From the mid-1990s, Alaska Natives have urged that local and traditional/indigenous knowledge be recognized as a serious body of ecological insights and stewardship traditions. This paper provides a survey of milestones in Alaska, from the early definitional debates and the rise of systematic methods for documentation, to the growing body of substantive information. The discussion on local and traditional knowledge at the AYK SSI Symposium in February 2007 provided an opportunity to assess achievements and identify obstacles. Participants underscored the continuing challenges of the diverse cultural context for joint research by biologists and local communities, directing attention to foundational questions of trust and respect. Local residents celebrated the great promise for local and traditional/indigenous knowledge to contribute to our shared scientific understanding of salmon and to promote respectful and effective systems of stewardship, but they were also acutely perceptive of the barriers to improved synthesis and mutual learning. The concluding section of this paper explores implications for the on-going research agenda of the AYK SSI, particularly the need for an on-going consultative process to insure that local communities and researchers are mutually aware of methodologies available and the substantive contributions made by local and traditional knowledge research. In this way, the on-going development of research in this area can draw more fully on the struggles and accomplishments of the preceding decade.