"Fleshy Stories": Towards Restorative Narrative Practices in Salmon Literature






"When we say we respect the salmon, we mean respecting everything about them, including keeping the rivers where they live clean, and honouring their spawning time. We need to understand how to help the sockeye survive, as well as the other species of fish and animals. We must all look after one another in this world: fish, animals, and humans, and all the living and non-living beings on this earth."


Dr. Ellen Rice White-Kwulasulwut (Snuneymuxw)[1]



Introduction: "Kincentricity" and Restor(y)ing Salmon

"Indigenous people of Pacific Northwest America are Salmon People and want to continue being Salmon People," writes O'odham/Chicano/Anglo scholar Dennis Martinez in his article "Redefining Sustainability through Kincentric Ecology: Reclaiming Indigenous Lands, Knowledge, and Ethics" (161, emphasis in original). In recent years there has been an upsurge of Indigenous literature that features salmon prominently in its storylines, or focuses on them as protagonists—this includes genres such as poetry, autobiographies, children's literature, or drama, as well as publications based on ancestral stories.[2] This literary trend reflects the profound significance of salmon and the people's relationship to it for many Indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest, as well as the cultural and subsistence crises posed by the ever further dwindling numbers of the fish.

            In many respects, this crisis is already here, and has been for quite some time. Jim Lichatowich and Seth Zuckerman write:

From redwood-covered hills of coastal California through the waterways of metropolitan Portland and Seattle to the arid country east of the Cascades, salmon populations have been listed as "endangered" or "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. For some runs, however, this level of concern has come too late. As least 232 genetically unique groups of Pacific salmon and steelhead are known to have disappeared entirely, losses that have occurred across a startlingly large portion of the salmon's natural range. (18) 

The authors give various reasons for the catastrophic decline in salmon numbers and diversity: the large-scale decimation of beaver populations in the region as a result of fur trade; overfishing and the cannery industry; irrigation practices such as stream diversion and irrigation pumps; commercial logging; dams; and urban growth (20-23). Today, all of these factors are exacerbated by the increasing pressures of climate change. This list alone demonstrates the intricate interdependence of factors in the ecosystem that supports salmon and, in turn, needs it in order to survive. What the list also demonstrates is the profound role that coloniality plays in salmon's decline.

            Prior to the take-over by the colonial industrial complex and its ideology, Indigenous peoples of the region developed not only a deep relationship with salmon, but also a set of practices geared towards upholding the ecosystem as a whole, so that the fish can continue to have a home in the region. Although colonial discursive significations of North America's landscapes historically tended to what Timothy Clark calls "dubious sanctifications of so-called wilderness" (32), in recent years it is increasingly recognized that the reality looked quite different, and that the land and waters of the continent were carefully tended by its Indigenous inhabitants through the application of what has become known collectively as "'Traditional Ecological Knowledge,' or TEK" (Shilling 10). Referring to California in particular, Kat Anderson speaks of "traditional management systems" used by the region's Indigenous peoples:

Traditional management systems have influenced the size, extent, pattern, structure, and composition of the flora and fauna within a multitude of vegetation types throughout the state. When the first Europeans visited California, therefore, they did not find in many places a pristine, virtually uninhabited wilderness but rather a carefully tended 'garden' that was a result of thousands of years of selective harvesting, tiling, burning, pruning, sowing, weeding, and transplanting. (125-26) 

In her book Salmon and Acorns Feed Our People: Colonialism, Nature and Social Action, sociologist Kari Marie Norgaard explains further: "What people have described as 'traditional management' involves a sophisticated non-Western ecology that includes extensive knowledge of particular species and ecological conditions, as well as the knowledge of how to reproduce them. Rather than doing something to the land, ecological systems prosper because humans and nature work together" (11). Norgaard's work is dedicated to the significance of salmon and traditional management practices associated with it for the Karuk people of the Klamath Basin in California—to which I will return later in this article.   

            It is not surprising that salmon in particular plays such a central part for the peoples of the Pacific Northwest: as the region's keystone species, salmon is widely recognized as one of its most defining inhabitants and, consequently, it became one of its most potent cultural symbols. Author and journalist Timothy Egan goes so far as to define the region through the movement patterns of the fish: "The Pacific Northwest is simply this: wherever the salmon can get to" (22). In response, salmon biologist Jim Lichatowich wistfully remarks that "by that definition the region has been shrinking for the last 150 years" (8), the "historical range" of wild Pacific salmon having by now decreased by forty percent (Lichatowich et al. 1). "Rivers without salmon have lost the life source of the area," Egan goes on, pointing towards the effects of the devastation of salmon decline (22). But however severely the loss of salmon may be felt by settler cultures in the Pacific Northwest, its cultural, spiritual, emotional, and health implications are much graver for Indigenous cultures who have cultivated the relationship with salmon for many generations, and who experience a sense of ecological and personal grief in the face of salmon's degradation, to which literary works discussed in this article attest. "Salmon is at the hub of our memory wheel," writes Stó:lō scholar and author Lee Maracle. "The health of salmon is directly connected to the health of Indigenous people" (58). Dennis Martinez, too, points out the connection between the ecological health of salmon and the cultural health of Indigenous communities in the Pacific Northwest:

Western scientists and Native knowledge holders alike consider salmon to be an ecological keystone species as well as a prime indicator of ocean, estuary, river, and watershed health or 'integrity,' i.e., adequate ecological function with all watershed components intact. Since salmon are central to Indigenous cultures of the Pacific North America, they can also be described as a cultural or ecocultural keystone species. (160) 

The link between salmon's role as ecological and cultural kin within Indigenous epistemic frameworks is a powerful example of a particular kind of relationality between humans and the rest of nature that Martinez calls "kincentricity" (140), a term he coined in 1995 and which describes a mindset that underpins an "ethical-economic model" (Martinez 140) of land stewardship practiced by Indigenous communities, as opposed to the extractive model of industrial capitalism privileged by settler-colonial states. Martinez understands kincentricity as "a way of relating respectfully to all life as kin," and "Indigenous cultural land-care practices" as "'kincentric ecology'" (Martinez 140). Apart from representing a mindset and a set of practices, kincentricity is also a storied relationality, not least because it "refers to the reciprocal relationships contained in Indigenous stories of an 'Original Compact' made between animals and humans" (Martinez 140).

            Martinez's concept of kincentricity and the corresponding land-care practices connect to Jim Lichatowich's insistence that the restoration of salmon depends on a change in cultural mindset at least as much as it does on conservationist management—in other words, the wellbeing of salmon depends on a state of mind: "To confront this loss, we need a different vision, a different story to guide the relationship between salmon and humans. To give the salmon any hope of recovery, we have to break free of the myths that have brought us to the point of crisis" (Lichatowich 8). The cultural assumptions Lichatowich is referring to are grounded in the worldview on which the Euro-American and Euro-Canadian settlement of the Pacific Northwest was built, a worldview that interprets nature as subject to human domination in the name of industrial economy (Lichatowich xiiv). The ultimate result of this approach is not only the decline of salmon and biodiversity in general, but the colossal shift in the dynamic of co-existence between humans and the rest of the natural world that since 2016 has been called the Anthropocene. Arguing in favor of reconsidering the beginning date of the Anthropocene and setting it back to the beginning of colonialism in the so-called New World, Heather Davis and Zoe Todd (Métis/otipemisiw) point out "the failure of the Anthropocene, as a concept, to adequately account for power relations. Instead, all humans are equally implicated under the sign of the 'anthopos' (sic)" (763).  Challenging this normative assumption embedded in current conceptualizations of the Anthropocene, Davis and Todd point out the epistemological exclusion of Indigenous ecological knowledge that is its part and parcel:

Evidence does not, generally, entail the fleshy stories of kohkoms (the word for grandmother in Cree) and the fish they fried up over hot stoves in prairie kitchens to feed their large families... But these fleshy philosophies and fleshy bodies are precisely the stakes of the Anthropocene, as the Anthropocene has exacerbated existing social inequalities and power structures and divided people from the land with which they and their language, laws, and livelihoods are entwined. The stories we will tell about the origins of the Anthropocene implicate how we understand the relations we have with our surrounds. (767)

Although they may be all but absent in academic discussions of the Anthropocene, it is precisely these "fleshy stories," which inspired the title to this article, that are at the center of salmon literature. This can be taken quite literally, because the sheer physicality of these stories is one of their most notable features: they are stories that focus on salmon's bodies, on fish flesh, and thereby they foreground both the storied and the material significance of salmon. As Lichatowich's arguments about the origins of the current predicament of salmon in a destructive and extractive worldview indicate, while restoration through management and direct action is important, restoration through storying the relationship between the people and the fish is equally as vital. Lee Maracle issues such a call when she writes: "The world is in dire need of another point of view. We need to embark on studies that will influence literary authors to create the kind of novels that affect a change of heart" (56)

All this suggests that there is much literature and storytelling can do to restore salmon, for they have the power to contribute in profound ways to restor(y)ing the human-salmon relationship. Salmon literature narratively brings the fish (back) to life in hearts and minds in order to do so in rivers and seas. Part of the restorative narrative practices that this body of literature develops and promotes is an understanding of salmon as an "ecocultural keystone species," in Martinez's terms (160). These artistic works may be read as kincentric narratives aimed at restoring salmon to its position as a lynchpin of ecological as well as cultural relational systems, and showcasing the bond between the enactment of kincentric ecological knowledge and the wellbeing of the fish. While this practice is narrative, it in no way separates the stories from the land and the people—on the contrary, their connection to the land and the waters is at its heart. Kincentric narratives revolve around the dynamic Dennis Martinez describes when he writes: "When lands are lost, the people disrupted, traditional knowledge and hard-won environmental know-how and Western science lose. Ecological understanding by science is diminished. Accurate knowledge of what restoration should be restoring and what conservation should be conserving is lost" (171). By the same token, when separated from the land and the people, stories lose too. 

            At this juncture it is important to note that when speaking about restoration, I do not mean a turn to nostalgic notions of unity with nature projected onto Indigenous peoples by colonial discourses of the "ecological Indian" or "Noble Savage."[3] Rather, I am speaking of a renewal of ecological practices grounded in notions of reciprocal relationships with other-than-human members of the ecosystem that in many cases have been disrupted by settler colonial regimes in North America and elsewhere, but also have been suppressed or given up in Eurowestern cultures themselves. In this I follow thinkers such as Tewa scholar Gregory Cajete, who calls on Euro-Americans and Western cultures in general not only to learn, but also to remember:

There is an important legacy of traditional environmental knowledge that we must again revitalize for ourselves and the generations yet to come. Indigenous people have been entrusted with an important package of memory, feeling, and relationship to the land that forms a kind of sacred covenant. Modern Western peoples are challenged to strive to educate themselves about this knowledge and associated forms of education. This covenant bids modern Western peoples to reclaim their own heritage of living in a harmonious and sustainable relationship to the land, thereby fulfilling a sacred trust to that land. (265-66) 

The salmon stories and salmon scholarship outlined above reflect an understanding that a restoration of this kind of reciprocal relationality is a prerequisite for any success in sustainably revitalizing salmon. It is an understanding that challenges notions of separation between nature and culture that permeate many currents of Western thinking, as Val Plumwood notes: "The ideology of dualism and human apartness can be traced down through Western culture through Christianity and modern science. With the enlightenment, human apartness is consolidated and augmented by a very strong reductionist materialism, whose project, in Descartes' formulation, is 'the empire of men over mere things'" (445). Plumwood calls the hallmark of the mindset that emerges from these processes "hyperseparation," which is "expressed in denying both the mind-like aspects of nature and the nature-like aspects of the human: for example, human immersion in and dependency on an ecological world" (444). In contrast, Deborah Bird Rose recounts the teachings of Aboriginal people in Australia as characterized by an understanding that "the earth itself has culture and power within it. In this line of thought, all of us living beings are culture-creatures... It is a multicultural world from inside the earth right on through the ephemeral life inhabiting water, air and land" (139).

Salmon literature unfolds its power precisely by emphasizing the inseparability of the people, the land, the waters, and the fish, the deep entanglements that cannot be torn asunder without a high cost and a heavy loss. The restoration of salmon, therefore, goes hand-in-hand with the restoration of land and stewardship to Indigenous nations. All this is encapsulated in the assertion that sounds throughout Indigenous salmon stories: "We are Salmon People."         


Restoration Through Writing a Life: My Life with the Salmon

There is a special power that lives in autobiography and memoir—a power to encircle and affirm a life. It is this power that is emphasized in the designation of autobiography and related genres as life-writing. This life-affirming aspect of autobiographical writing becomes all the more profound when it unfolds in a dialogue with a threat of extinction. Given the current state of the salmon throughout the Pacific Northwest, Diane Jacobson's My Life with the Salmon can be read as an example of that.

            Diane Jacobson is a member of the 'Namgis First Nation whose unceded ancestral territory is located on Vancouver Island and an author of two autobiographical books: My Life in a Kwagu'l Big House (2005) and My Life with the Salmon (2011). While My Life in a Kwagu'l Big House is focused on Jacobson's childhood and growing up, My Life with the Salmon documents her adult life, her professional journey and how the work she was doing has led to a more deeply felt personal connection to her homeland and her cultural heritage. As the book's title suggests, the catalyst for this process is salmon. The title points towards a narrative orientation that focuses on a relationship between the narrator and the fish, and can thus be read as a kincentric autobiography.

Defining the term life-writing, Zachary Leader asserts that it "describe[s] a range of writing about lives and parts of lives, or which provide materials out of which lives and parts of lives are composed" (1); Jacobson's autobiography writes a life that is constituted by both her own life story and the life story of the salmon, as well as by the ways in which these lives intermingle, relate to, and define each other. Such a narrative gesture asserts the life of the salmon in the face of severe existential challenges that the species faces and describes its life as tied to other lives—the narrator's own as well as other human and non-human people who participate in these conjoined lives. In a certain way, Jacobson's text writes the endangered salmon back to life. She does so by affirming kincentricity of her 'Namgis culture, thereby harnessing the critical potential of Indigenous autobiography theorized by Cree-Métis scholar Deanna Reder: "Indigenous autobiographies, especially, offer theories about the world they describe, drawing on the Indigenous perspectives of their authors and those described within its pages" (Âcimisowin 65)—which, in Reder's words, renders autobiography an "unrecognized Indigenous intellectual tradition" (Âcimisowin 9). Jacobson's life story presents a theory of a world rooted in a kincentric relationship with the fish (and all other-than-human inhabitants of the territory)—a theory of Salmon people.

In this, Jacobson's text goes against starkly traditional Eurowestern iterations of autobiographical writing that affirm a grandiose Cartesian confessional subject in an exceptionalist and clearly anthropocentric manner (Derrida 390). In "The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)," Jacques Derrida wonders:

Is there, and in particular in the history of discourse, indeed of the becoming-literature of discourse, an ancient form of autobiography immune from confession, an account of the self free from any sense of confession? And thus from all redemptive language, within the horizon of salvation as a requiting? Has there been, since so long ago, a place and a meaning for autobiography before original sin and before the religions of the book? Autobiography and memoir before Christianity, especially, before the Christian institution of confession? That has been in doubt for so long now, and a reading of the prodigious Confessions of European history such as have formed our culture of subjectivity from Augustine to Rousseau, would not be about to dispel that doubt. Between Augustine and Rousseau, within the same indisputable filiation, within the evolving history of the ego cogito ergo sum, stands Descartes. He waits for us with his animal-machines. I presume that he won't interrupt the linage that, for so long now, had tied the autobiographical genre to the institution of confession. (390-91)

Here Derrida only considers autobiography as a practice that evolved and continues to resonate within the context of Eurowestern episteme, and that supports what he calls "the anthropo-theomorphic reappropriation" and "domestication" of other-than-human life (387). While critiquing Eurowestern normative discourses (including anthropocentricity) that find their expression and cementation in traditional currents of autobiographical genre, Derrida at the same time presents autobiography as trapped within its own genre history, generic conventions, and Eurowestern canon.[4]  By contrast, Indigenous scholarship in the field of autobiography liberates it both from these kinds of entrapments and from Eurocentric claims to ownership of the genre. Instead, Indigenous critics such as Robert Warrior (Osage) and Deanna Reder read Indigenous autobiographies as texts that "preserve Indigenous knowledge and specific tribal understandings for their descendants and subsequent generations" (Reder, "Indigenous Autobiography" 170), arguing that Indigenous autobiographical texts, rather than "exist[ing] because of the existence of the colonizer," are "legible as examples of their specific tribal/national philosophies" (Reder, "Indigenous Autobiography" 171). Such critical approaches make it possible to read Jacobson's text as a kincentric autobiography without it being a contradiction in terms, as in the context of the Indigenous episteme, intellectual tradition, and autobiographical practice, it clearly is not. Following tenets of Indigenous thought, kincentric autobiography affirms personhood and peoplehood of both human and other-than-human subjects.

            The joint life Jacobson records in her book is concerned quite literally with bringing salmon to life, insofar as it describes the years she spent working at a salmon hatchery where her tasks frequently included the insemination of the salmon eggs and monitoring their development until birth and their subsequent release into the wild. The connections between salmon, the 'Namgis ancestral lands, culture, and the narrator's personal consciousness are emphasized from the very beginning of Jacobson's story:

In the early 1980s, I got my first hatchery work in the Nimpkish Valley working with the 'Namgis crew. Aquaculture taught me humility and great respect for my living Elders today, along with even greater respect for previous generations, those who passed on the oral history. My present position is in treaty research, this gives me insight into how our ancestors lived and how tough their lives were. (5) 

As is the case throughout the book, this passage demonstrates that working with salmon on ancestral land in the company of 'Namgis colleagues is a learning experience that is constitutive of the narrator's self as an individual and as a member of a culture. As the narrative unfolds, all these aspects remain tightly twined together and impossible to separate. The learning and personal growing that takes place during Jacobson's life with the salmon is both ecological and cultural: "When I first started working in the valley, I didn't care about culture—never realizing that I was being taught culture by our Elders who have passed on from this world. They were all around us each and every day that I worked in the valley" (Salmon 162).

That the narrator's work at the hatchery and the textual and cultural work of her autobiography are both geared towards salmon restoration is clearly marked in the text. The centrality of the restorative framework to Jacobson's story becomes obvious early on, when the narrator contextualizes her work—both as a hatchery worker and a writer—by taking stock of the state of the salmon in the Nimpkish River:

Among some key facts one should know is that 'Namgis leaders voluntarily stopped food fishing at the mouth of the river because of declining stocks in 1978 and even though it was part of our traditional fishing territory, we have not fished there with our families since that time. In 1958, the Department of Fisheries wrote that the Nimpkish fishery was second in value only to that of the Fraser River. The Nimpkish River sockeye alone totaled 130,000 the year before and has been in decline ever since. Total salmon escapement has declined by ninety-five percent. There were only 10,000 sockeye in the year 2000. 'Namgis took it upon themselves to have Gwa'ni Hatchery start doing sockeye enhancement in 2001. The hatchery tries its best to bring sockeye and chum stocks back, but it is like trying to plug a dam with your thumb. The salmon numbers continue to dwindle... The chum salmon return dropped to less than one hundred fish in 2003 and this run may be virtually wiped out. (Salmon 6)   

This state-of-the-salmon report outlines the measures taken by the 'Namgis First Nation in order to first preserve, and then restore salmon to the Nimpkish River. Although food fishing is a fundamentally important communal activity for the 'Namgis people, as can be seen in Jacobson's first book, My Life in a Kwagu'l Big House,[5] it is nevertheless suspended by the 'Namgis authorities when the salmon is seriously threatened. This decision is in keeping with what Martinez calls an "Indigenous ethical-economic model" and "responsible community-based resource use" (157) that forms the basis of kincentric ecology and relationships. However, this step on the part of the 'Namgis First Nation is unable to stop the salmon's decline, presumably because no corresponding strategy was implemented by the dominant industrial actors whose activities impact the fish stocks. As noted above, the negative impact of such factors as overfishing and habitat destruction on salmon in the Pacific Northwest is severe. It is notable that logging in particular is omnipresent in My Life with the Salmon: logging roads, bridges, sounds permeate the landscape as the hatchery crew is working to restore salmon. This contrast between the efforts of the hatchery crew to offset the salmon crisis and the on-going industrial business-as-usual is symbolic of one of the largest underlying causes of salmon decline—a failure to "[c]ontrol human behaviors that destroy ecological processes, rather than trying to control nature" (Lichatowich and Zuckerman 31). By the same logic, biologists such as Jim Lichatowich have been arguing for some time that hatcheries themselves are a questionable solution, and in fact are becoming part of the problem because they do not sufficiently consider, or are unable to address, the "subtle connections between elements of the salmon system" (Lichatowich and Zuckerman 29).[6] As the above passage indicates, the narrator, too, notes the lack of efficacy of the hatchery where restoring the salmon stock is concerned—despite the hard work and dedication of the crew, "it is like trying to plug a dam with your thumb" (Salmon 6). But the statistics cited in the passage are so dire that no stone is left unturned in an attempt to restore salmon to the Nimpkish River.

            The problematic relationship to the agencies of the settler-colonial state of Canada shines through in My Life with the Salmon, highlighting the complexities and pitfalls of jurisdictional and financial realities that affect efforts to restore salmon:

As we all caught our breath and had our lunch, I cursed the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) because they only cared about the sporties (sports fishermen). We were chasing coho, a sports salmon, in the Davie River and were not doing anything about our own declining sockeye stocks or our chum salmon. These two salmon are what the Nimpkish people lived on. These two species supplied us our winter grocery store. We may have called the hatchery "ours," but DFO dollars dictated what species of salmon we would enhance. (Salmon 120)   

In passages such as this the settler colonial reality that is the overarching context within which the 'Namgis Nation is attempting to uphold its relationship to salmon as an ecocultural keystone species comes to the fore. The fact that considerations about which species of salmon to restore or "enhance"—the latter concept in itself implies a problematic dynamic—are based not on the needs and ecological status of this particular salmon system but on commercial factors dictated by recreational industries underlines "[t]he industrial ethos to maximize profits" (Martinez 164), a stance without regard for kincentric ties of Indigenous nations affected by those policies. Jacobson's text thus not only highlights the challenges that Indigenous restorative efforts face when confronted with colonial systems, but also the clash between the industrial mindset and considerations of "traditional land-care: Maintaining surplus biodiversity with limits always in mind and with people and resources always in balance" (Martinez 169). Significantly, and in true kincentric-autobiographical fashion, the structural components of the colonial state that threaten salmon are mirrored in structures that bear down on the narrator's own life. My Life with the Salmon is very much a story of Jacobson overcoming colonial discursive constructions of Indigeneity: while she feels like "a ward of the state" (Salmon 7) at the beginning of her narrative, by its end she is working as a treaty researcher in the Treaty National Research Department and has adopted an understanding of herself as a sovereign 'Namgis person: "I no longer feel that I am a ward of the state that the Federal Government should look after. I want equal rights, as any other Canadian citizen has" (Salmon 164). These thematic parallels between colonial threats to salmon's continuance and to Jacobson's sense of personhood further stress the kincentric relationality between the people and the fish, who remain always in focus.           

Even though, as a general practice, hatcheries may not produce the hoped for results, work in such an enterprise allows for a closely intimate contact with the fish, its life cycle, its death and its birth—a kind of close personal relationship that lends itself to becoming a lynchpin of a life story. But, like every personal relationship, the relationship between the narrator and the salmon needs to grow and be nurtured, and undergoes a development. Recalling her days as a student in an aquaculture course at North Island College, Jacobson writes: "The very first time that I babysat the fish, it was a small pool of coho that I did not care for at all" (Salmon 9). She explains this initially dismissive attitude with the fact that she "felt inadequate because of [her] insecurities" (Salmon 9). It seems symbolic that the aquaculture course takes place in an old residential school building; a few lines down Jacobson tells about how those coho were "placed... into three large net-pens right in front of the old residential school at our Native breakwater" (Salmon 9). The narrator's feeling of inadequacy seems to connect to the colonial underpinnings inscribed onto the building where her present learning is taking place. Significantly, it is the salmon who ultimately allow her to overcome these feelings of inadequacy. As she continues studying salmon and begins to understand them, she forges personal connections with the fish and, tellingly, associates them with coming home:

I identified with the salmon I studied who had been imprinted with various river tastes and smells that compelled them to return to the same river after their ocean journey. I did not finish college, but I came back home, much like the salmon. I found my way to the aquaculture course. I did not know it at the time but this was just the first sign of my future life and why I would eventually fall in love with the Nimpkish Valley and come back over and over. (Salmon 10)

Salmon and the territory of the Nimpkish Valley are intimately connected in Jacobson's text, and her relationship to and work with the former eventually forges a stronger connection to the latter, a connection rooted in ancestral culture and intergenerational memories. The concluding chapters of My Life with the Salmon take a retrospective stance vis-à-vis the events and encounters described in the book. These chapters give an impression that writing this autobiography is a way for Jacobson to return and relive her life with the salmon from a different perspective—one of deeper insight, grounded connection, and maturity. The connection to the Valley she describes signifies the connection to 'Nimgis culture, to the ancestral presence on the land: "I feel now that I was in touch with my Elders, ancestors, and my history but did not even know it. I was lucky enough to work with all types of family whom I now know are related to past chiefs that walked the same rivers, lakes, mountains and side streams as we do now. I have been so lucky to walk, float, raft or to be on the same land and waters as they had been in the past" (Salmon 161).

In these concluding chapters Jacobson's story becomes particularly embedded within 'Namgis cultural activity and restorative practices in the Nimpkish Valley—cultural, artistic, ecological, and political. As she observes these processes, familial connections are everywhere. And salmon, too, is a member of the family, an integral part of the 'Namgis ecocultural system: "Local painters and carvers are putting in new pictographs, telling of our origin stories on the Woss and Nimpkish Lake rock bluffs. One new pictograph depicts a salmon swimming upstream because we are the Salmon people" (Salmon 165). Much of the power of Jacobson's story of a joint life unfolds in this interplay between the exploration of the mutual relationship between salmon and the 'Namgis people and the personal component that the autobiographical nature of the text foregrounds. In many ways, My Life with the Salmon is a story of a personal restoration to culture through restorative work for the salmon. Taken together, this relational framework creates a kincentric narrative of individual engagement that is focused on cultural and ecological restorative practices within its diegesis, while simultaneously functioning as a restorative narrative in and of itself.


Restoration Through Mourning a Death: Salmon Is Everything  

Salmon Is Everything, a collaborative play created by Theresa May and the Klamath Theatre Project (KTP),[7] begins with a loss and is born out of a sense of loss. The play dramatizes a cataclysmic event that took place in the Klamath Basin in northern California in September 2002—a massive fish kill that cost over 65,000 adult salmon their lives before they had a chance to spawn (Boyles). The causes of the fish kill had to do with a complex confluence of ecological, political, and social factors:

Members of the Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa Valley, and Klamath Indian Tribes protested at the time, claiming that the die-off of chinook and coho salmon was a threat to cultural traditions, food sources, and spiritual life. We demonstrated scientifically that high water temperatures, low water levels, and toxic algae levels caused by the overuse of water by agriculture were the material causes of the fish kill. Warnings had been given in spring 2001 by Native scientists and in reports made to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the National Marine Fisheries Service and other agencies. But when the EPA made its ruling in favor of salmon, farmers and ranchers in the Klamath County agricultural areas staged their own protests, and ultimately, the federal government reversed its position, giving farmers in eastern Oregon the water they claimed they needed to maintain their own economic survival. (Beetles xi)

Gordon Beetles, a member of the Klamath Tribes, identifies these conditions as "a collision of cultures" (xi) which is based on conflicting "creation stories that give rise to two distinct ways of relating to the natural world" (xi), an explanation that is echoed by Jim Lichatowich's argument that the decline of salmon is the result of substituting Indigenous "gift economies" with the industrial economy of the settlers (Lichatowich 34; 41). Like My Life with the Salmon, Salmon Is Everything explores this clash between a kincentric ecocultural mindset and the logics of an industrial economy, and the toll the latter takes on salmon, but in the play this exploration takes place from a vantage point of a tragedy that struck following gradual decline, generating an increased sense of urgency. The differences in ways of relating are stressed throughout the play and foregrounded early on, already in the second scene of the first act during an exchange between the Karuk and Yurok characters as they perform different tasks in the process of harvesting salmon:

ROSE. When we do this work we are giving thanks to the Creator for the Salmon, for the River. Salmon is the center of our world, our heart, our sustenance.

LOUISE. (to one of her children) Salmon is our family.

JULIE. This Anglo student in my class said to me, "How can the Salmon be your relative? You eat them?"

JOHHNY. What an idiot!

JULIE. And I told him, Salmon are our relatives because we have lived in an amazingly bonded way with them since the beginning. The connection goes much deeper than food. It's a relationship created from thousands of years of coexistence.

WILL. Tell him that all the river tribes—the Klamath, Modoc, and our people—the Yurok and Karuk—we all believe the Salmon are the spirits of our ancestors, c'iyals come back to give life to everything.

JOHNNY. The Klamath tribes don't have the right to fish anymore!

JULIE. I don't think he'd get that.

JOHNNY. They'd been cut off from the Salmon.

JULIE. He said if there are no more Salmon, just go to McDonald's! (34)

This exchange is worth quoting at length because it encompasses a number of different points of conflict between the ecocultural perspective of the Yurok and Karuk peoples and the dominant cultural ideologies. The Indigenous characters lay out the basis of their kincentric relationship with the salmon that sees the fish literally as part of the family—as ancestors who return to sustain their people. This relationship is based on principles of reverence and thankfulness and an understanding of salmon as a gift. The settler cultural perspective is represented by the quoted words of Julie's non-Indigenous classmate who is seemingly baffled by notions of relationality between people and their food source, which is all salmon is to him. In accordance with this instrumental worldview, his attitude towards salmon is not only irreverent and profane, but one that interprets them as interchangeable with the kinds of food one can find in a fast food chain. These conflicting perspectives as represented in the play correspond to those described by Beetles and Lichatowich and form the basis of the debate about the future of salmon in the Klamath watershed. In addition, Johnny's comments in the exchange lay bare the asymmetrical power relations as the context in which these debates are taking place and the cost of this asymmetry for the Indigenous communities who feel cut off from their ancestors when they are denied access to the fish by colonial authorities. This conversation, therefore, sets the scene for the subsequent events of the play, and arguably for the understanding of any debates around the fish kill. 

            The kincentric sentiments towards salmon expressed in the above quoted passage also allow the audience to imagine what an extreme devastation the fish kill represents for the Indigenous characters. Taking place early on in the action, the news about the fish kill has not yet been broken, but the sense of loss and pain at the death of thousands of salmon is foreshadowed by the loving attitudes articulated in this scene. In fact, the emotional impact of the fish kill is one of the main themes of Salmon Is Everything as the play shows Indigenous characters and communities mourning the death of the salmon.

The emotional cost of environmental devastation is a topic that has only recently begun receiving scholarly attention, as Kari Marie Norgaard points out (19; 199). In her book Salmon and Acorns Feed Our People, Norgaard, a sociologist whose work focuses, among other areas, on the sociology of emotions and who has worked closely with Karuk communities on this issue, notes that the emotional impact of environmental decline should be recognized much more prominently than is the case today. For "when species such as salmon are considered kin, and when the natural world is a stage for social interactions and identity, the grief, anger, shame, and hopelessness associated with environmental decline may become embodied manifestations of racism and colonial violence, and emotions of outrage, hope, and compassion animate resistance" (Norgaard 19). As the notion of ecological grief and related concepts gain traction, the emotional aspect of the human psyche's response to environmental degradation is becoming more visible.[8] However, even as these ideas gain visibility and become more widely discussed, Stef Craps notes that "we tend to associate grief and mourning with human losses; more-than-human losses are traditionally seen as outside the realm of the grievable" (3). This struggle to include non-human nature into the field of "the grievable" is yet another expression of differences between kincentric ecocultural understandings and instrumental conceptualizations of nature.

            This point is forcefully brought home in Salmon Is Everything, for while Julie's classmate may see salmon as an equivalent of a McDonald's cheeseburger, the play's characters who operate from the place of kincentric relationality are as deeply emotionally affected by the death of the salmon as they would be by the death of any other relative. Because in the Karuk Creation Story everything began as spiritual beings who eventually chose to transform into different manifestations of nature, including humans, this relationality is encoded deeply in the culture and there is no question about the "grievability" of salmon (Norgaard 91; Beetles xi-xiii). Expressions of unbelieving shock, grief, and anger abound in the play. In fact, the entire Scene 9 of the first act, the scene in which the Karuk and Yurok characters in the process of harvesting salmon learn of the disaster, is dedicated to expressions of mourning, as its title—"Lamentation"—suggests. These emotional responses go hand in hand with the almost tangible physicality of the play's dramatization of the horrors of this untimely death. There is also a stark disconnect between the distance which separates authorities and decision-makers who are responsible for the conditions that brought about the fish kill and the visceral physical way in which Indigenous communities partake in the fish death:

ROSE. The fishermen abandoned their nets...

WILL. We counted them. We hacked their tails off...

JULIE. Leaving the bodies open, bellies to the sun...

ROSE. Floating—each its own shipwreck of life...

JULIE. Each not only a meal but a life... Seventy thousand dead in heaving waves of flesh.

ROSE. As if these sweet ones are litter, not corpses of our underwater relatives.

ANDY. Those who would have, in any other year, in any other time, been setting nets in the sun, teaching our children...

WILL. Mostly I left them there. I wanted people to see them, to smell them...

ROSE. Who picked up these dead and dying ones?

ROSE. Who laid them to rest, mixed their flesh with woodchips and ash?...

ROSE. Carried them one at a time, for some were three feet long...

ROSE. Who witnessed, who was not driven back by the smell?...

JULIE. We carried them in our arms, on our backs, in our hearts.

WILL. We counted them...

JULIE. We carry them still. In our arms, on our backs, in our hearts. (51-52)

After each of these lines all characters say in unison "As they return," emphasizing the added tragedy of so many fish dying before they are able to procreate and ensure their continuance. There is also a sense that the trust of the fish has been betrayed, because what is their home place has been rendered uninhabitable and inhospitable to them. In the days that follow this scene, grief for the salmon envelops the community. Children are sent home from school by crying teachers to crying parents (55); Kate describes Julie's emotional state after the fish kill as "[c]razy with grief" (52); Louise cuts off her hair in mourning (56); Rose does not speak for four days (74). Julie's husband Will shows signs of outright trauma: "When I saw his face when he came home the first day when he saw the fish dead, I thought someone in his family had died. He was too upset to express any emotion. He got up at three a.m. one night and just started writing his heart out. He's never done that before," Julie tells Kate (56). In addition to the sheer shock of it, this event is so unprecedented that there is no protocol for it and the community does not know exactly how to mourn: "When you have a funeral there's an event; there's a grieving time. Elders have never heard about anything like this fish kill in our legends or stories" (56). This exacerbates the ominous atmosphere and feelings of helplessness, making people wonder, "[w]hy can't we fix this?" (57).

The fish kill tragedy is almost apocalyptic in its intensity, because, in the words of Bettles, "the fish kill of 2002 was a warning about the real possibility of extinction" (xv). Deborah Bird Rose describes extinction as "a loss that goes beyond balanced relationships between life and death. With extinctions there is no return, and death starts to overtake life. Extinction is unethical killing that is tipping into a black hole of death. The more life disappears, the more life disappears" (144). When Tim, a rancher from the Upper Klamath, comes to Will and Julie's home in order to hear their perspective on what happened, Will confronts him with the sheer grotesque horror of the scenes the fish kill unleashed:

The carnage I've seen over the weeks is so utterly disgusting I can't sleep. I close my eyes and the images of dead, rotting fish—maybe you've seen photographs... but you cannot begin to imagine the smell. The smell of death and decay messes with my mind. I can't eat because food, no matter what it is, reminds me of the smell. Come walk along the banks of the River with me... I dare you... Come and walk with me and cut open the bellies of rotten salmon to detect their sex... Come and walk with me... count with me... hack their tails so they won't be recounted. You can't escape the smell. (75)     

Will's harrowingly evocative descriptions of thousands of rotting salmon lining the banks of the Klamath River are reminiscent of historical descriptions of piles of rotting salmon sitting next to canneries and being shoveled into water by cannery workers because the overfishing at the onset of industrial fishing in the Pacific Northwest was so severe that the canneries were unable to keep up with the catch (Lichatowich 41). These parallels once again stress the link between wasteful attitudes towards other-than-human life, the establishment of colonial systems and industries, and the looming threat of extinction.  

As awful and traumatic as it is, the fish kill generates widespread attention from media, politicians, general public, and the farmers and ranchers in the play—during the lamentation scene, the lines of the Karuk and Yurok characters are interspersed with lines of the reporter explaining to the public what is happening on the Klamath River and why. The fact that it took the loss of other-than-human life on this scale to get the authorities, the public, and the stakeholders not immediately affected by the fish death to listen highlights the depth of the problem. Yet there is hope in the fact that the fish kill has made it impossible to ignore the issue; there is hope in scenes where children of an Upper Klamath rancher and a Lower Klamath Karuk fisherman dance together to Will's performance of the rap he wrote for the salmon (Salmon Is Everything 69); and there is hope in the attention the fish kill has brought upon communities who model kincentric grief for the fish death. As Stef Craps argues, "extending grievability to more-than-human others can galvanize us to take positive action on their behalf" (3). Witnessing the emotional cost of the fish kill for members of the Karuk and Yurok communities leads Tim, one of the Upper Klamath ranchers for whose benefit the water is diverted from the river, to reach respectfully across the aisle and start looking for practical solutions that could restore the balance.

In Act 1, Scene 11 Rose evokes the pre-colonial times when Indigenous communities were the ones who managed the land and how, when the salmon would first come in, the people would mark this time and occasion by ceremony: "During this time there would be the First Salmon Ceremony and a feast that gave thanks to the Salmon for giving their lives for the survival of the people. This was something that has never been done in my lifetime" (57). Rose's words stress the kincentric connections between salmon and culture, which means that the decline of salmon leads to a decline in cultural expressions and ancestral traditions—an ecocultural causality. Lichatowich asserts that the First Salmon Ceremony used to be performed by Indigenous communities "[f]rom central British Columbia to Northern California and inland to the Lemhi River of Idaho" (36). This Ceremony was an important act of communication between the people and the salmon, a seasonal renewal of a compact: "The First Salmon Ceremony renewed and reinforced the belief that the salmon would remain abundant if they were treated with the respect due a gift" (Lichatowich 36). However, as Rose's remarks indicate, the Ceremony has been all but lost due to the decline of salmon which caused the corresponding cultural practices to diminish or to cease altogether. Leaf Hillman, director of the Karuk Department of Natural Resources and one of Norgaard's Karuk interviewees, says:

How do you perform the Spring Salmon Ceremony, how do you perform the First Salmon Ceremony, when the physical act of going out and harvesting that first fish won't happen? You could be out there for a very long time to try and find that first fish and maybe you won't at all and then of course in the process you'd end up going to jail too if anybody caught you. So, will that ceremony ever come back? Well, I don't know. But, once again, it's a link that's broken. And restoring that link is vital. (qtd. in Norgaard 207)

Both Rose's remarks in the play and Hillman's words in the interview express a sense of urgency that the First Salmon Ceremony be revived. Julie's immediate suggestion in the play is: "Why don't we try to bring the First Salmon Ceremony back and use it as healing?" (57). Norgaard explains that "[t]he Karuk are known as 'Fix the World People'" for whom "fixing the world means fixing and restoring the intertwined environmental and social degradation that has profound impact on Karuk people's lives" (9). So even though the fish kill is not of their making, the Indigenous characters in the play feel a sense of responsibility for the world out of balance: "There is a difference between blame and responsibility," says Rose. "We have a relationship that needs tending" (57). Restoring the ceremonial relationship with the salmon, therefore, is a way of fixing the world.

            But there is one more dimension to this theme in the play, which opens up when Tim contacts Julie with a proposition. After having listened to Julie and Will, in an attempt to "do something" (85), Tim asks Julie to let him know when the first salmon arrive. On that day, he would turn off his irrigation system, and would get his friends, neighbors, colleagues, and associates to do the same, after which "[a] dozen admin folks who work for the City of Klamath Falls are going to fill milk jugs with water from the taps in their house and drive it down to the edge of the Klamath River and dump it in. Don't laugh. I know it's more an act of love than of water. It's holding another place tight, holding other families tight" (86). Inspired by Julie's explanations of the First Salmon Ceremony, Tim effectively devises a ceremony of his own, the purpose of which is to foster a respectful connection with his Indigenous neighbors and to help salmon, in however materially small a way. This gesture signifies the change of mind that scholars and artists whose words are quoted in this article insist is necessary in order to effect a lasting and sustainable restoration of salmon. The fact that Tim's gesture is largely ceremonial does not mean it is empty; although it is understood as "symbolic" (86), conceived as it is as a counterpart to the First Salmon Ceremony and therefore sharing in its cultural significance, the intention is to use it as a catalyst to change other minds, so that together they would be able to bring about a material change for the better in the state of the fish and relationships between the peoples of the region.          

Appealing to senses and emotions is at the very heart of performative arts. As Theresa May puts it:

Theatre is not merely a representational art; it takes place before our eyes, in and with our flesh-and-blood presence; theatre is a living forum. Because it is alive, theatre invites us not only to think about how others might feel, but to feel into those possibilities in real time in the company of others. In this way it lays down new fibers of community in the form of relationships as well as stories. ("The Education of an Artist" 140, emphasis in original)

This emotional and relational power of theatre is perhaps the strongest restorative power of Salmon is Everything: by letting the audience feel what diverse communities of the Klamath watershed, including salmon, are feeling, it opens up doors to understanding and collaborative efforts that have the potential to make salmon restoration a reality, and might change more than a few minds on a number of issues along the way. This possibility is nowhere more evident than in the reaction of a member of the audience at the first special performance of the play staged for a small circle of community members, friends and family described by Suzanne M. Burcell: "Over the mounting sounds of clapping and whistling, a young man's voice rose, shouting, 'Yes, yes! This is what we need! This is a lot better than those fish council meetings with everybody screaming across the table at everybody else! This is what we need! More of this!'" (22, emphasis in original). Burcell, a Karuk Tribe member and cultural adviser for the play, documents her own thoughts in response to this viewer's reaction: "For some of us, it was a life-affirming moment. A way had been found to inform, to facilitate meaningful and mutually respectful dialogue, to bridge cultures, and to begin a long-awaited healing process. I gave thanks" (22). At the end of a play that processes death, mourning, trauma, and conflict, this is a powerful statement and a powerful outcome: affirming life in the face of death, facilitating healing in the face of trauma, and finding respect in the face of conflict might yet fix the world.                



With the advent of environmental humanities, the vital role of literary and artistic work in grappling with environmental challenges of our time becomes increasingly recognized, as does the necessity to reach across academic disciplines in order to establish a productive conversation. As Val Plumwood notes, "[w]riters are among the foremost of those who can help us to think differently" (451)—poetry, literature, and storytelling have a way of "'making room' for understanding the vivid presence of mindful life on earth" (Rose 146). Indigenous literatures and collaborative projects such as the Klamath Theatre Project do crucial critical work in foregrounding not only the need to address issues of environmental inequality and justice as part of this conversation, but also in demonstrating that the current crisis cannot be solved without drawing on epistemological diversity and recognizing the wisdom contained in Traditional Ecological Knowledge and kincentric ways of being in and with the world. This includes acknowledging the harm done by epistemological frameworks that propagate an anthropocentric vision of domination over nature and place humanity outside and above all other parts of the ecosystem. Kincentric narratives that uplift stories of ecocultural relationality with other-than-human kin make a vital contribution to restor(y)ing the operating paradigm that promotes sustainable models of being together in the world. Such narratives are tied to the land, the material environments, and the specificities of particular ecosystems. Kincentric narratives that uphold Indigenous relational ecologies, philosophies, and science demonstrate that the way we act starts with the stories we tell, and that this power of stories can be used for good and for ill. As Thomas King famously said, "[s]tories are wondrous things. And they are dangerous" (9).

Focused as it is on the ecological and "ecocultural keystone species" of the region, salmon literature is becoming increasingly prominent in promoting a kincentric paradigm in the Pacific Northwest (Martinez 160). I have selected the two literary works discussed in this article because they constitute notable examples of kincentric narratives that not only feature salmon as their protagonists, but also arguably function as pieces of cultural criticism, undermining the perceived, artificial boundary between story and theory and strengthening the intellectual tradition of kincentrism. Much insight can be gained by engaging such narratives in a dialogic perspective, as I hope this article was able to demonstrate. The two texts harness the thematic, symbolic, and affective strengths of their respective genres and media in order to enact their vision of ecocultural restoration—one by detailing minute aspects of a life defined by a close personal relationship with the salmon, the other by coming together as a community in the theatre, both on and off stage, in order to grieve together for the dead fish relatives and look for ways of affirming life.

My Life with the Salmon and Salmon Is Everything are very different in their formal composition and the narrative strategies they employ, yet very similar in the kind of foundational story they tell, and in the restorative impulse that animates them. With one rooted in the unceded territory of the 'Namgis First Nation in Canada and the other in ancestral lands of Karuk, Yurok, and other Indigenous nations whose homeland is located in the Klamath River watershed in the United States, they also show that geopolitical divisions are arbitrary constructions whose discursive and material power is called into question by the mobility patters of anadromous, migratory species such as salmon. Ignoring  colonially signified national and regional borders, salmon trace and reinforce ancestral and contemporary Indigenous kinships and international relations that include them in their territory-making.

As part of these objectives, both texts meditate on how strong and simultaneously vulnerable salmon are, and what profound interdependencies exist between the fish and humankind. In the face of decimation caused by extractive cultural and economic models implanted in the land through colonization, Diane Jacobson's My Life with the Salmon and Salmon Is Everything by Theresa May and the Klamath Theatre Project both affirm the peoplehood of the salmon at the same time as they affirm epistemological, cultural, and ecological sovereignty of Indigenous nations. In this way, the people and the fish hold each other up and celebrate each other's resilience. Rose's words in Salmon Is Everything encapsulate this: "Salmon have seen death all around them, but they still fight back. They are strong! Watching them makes my heart glad" (57).   




Works Cited

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Archibald, Jo-ann. "Foreword." Legends and Teachings of Xeel's, The Creator, by Ellen Rice White-Kwulasulwut, Theytus Books, 2018, pp. xiii-xvii.

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Beetles, Gordon. "Foreword. When Cultures Collide," Salmon is Everything: Community-Based Theatre in the Klamath Watershed, by Theresa May at al., Oregon State University Press, 2014, pp. xi-xvi.

Boyles, Kristen. "The Legacy of the Klamath River Fish Kill." Earthjustice, https://earthjustice.org/features/the-legacy-of-the-klamath-river-fish-kill. Accessed 28 Feb. 2021.

Burcell, Suzanne M. "A Call to Action: We Have to Do Something!" Salmon is Everything: Community-Based Theatre in the Klamath Watershed, by Theresa May at al., Oregon State University Press, 2014, pp. 13-22.

Cajete, Gregory. Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence. Clear Light Publishers, 2000.

Clark, Timothy. The Value of Ecocriticism. Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Craps, Stef. "Introduction: Ecological Grief." American Imago, vol. 77, no.1, 2020, pp. 1-7.

Cunsolo, Ashlee and Karen Landman (eds.). Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss and Grief. McGill-Queens University Press, 2017.

Davis, Heather and Zoe Todd. "On the Importance of a Date, or Decolonizing the Anthropocene." ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, vol. 16, no. 4, 2017, pp. 761-780. https://acme-journal.org/index.php/acme/article/view/1539. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.

Derrida, Jacques. "The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)." Critical Inquiry, vol. 28, no. 2, 2002, pp. 369-418. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1344276. Accessed 15 Dec. 2010.

Dibattista, Maria and Emily O. Wittman. "Introduction." The Cambridge Companion to Autobiography, edited by Maria Dibattista and Emily O. Wittman, Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 1-20.  

Egan, Timothy. The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest. Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

Jacobson, Diane. My Life in a Kwagu'l Big House. Theytus Books, 2007.

---. My Life with the Salmon. Theytus Books, 2011.

Joe, Donna. "Salmon Boy: A Legend of the Sechelt People." Nightwood Editions, 2013.

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Leader, Zachary. "Introduction." On Life-Writing, edited by Zachary Leader, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 1-6.

Lichatowich, Jim. Salmon Without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis. Island Press, 1999.

Lichatowich, Jim and Seth Zuckerman. "Muddied Waters, Muddled Thinking," Salmon Nation: People and Fish at the Edge, edited by Edward C. Wolf and Seth Zuckerman, Ecotrust, 1999, pp. 17-31.

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Madden, Patrick. "The New Memoir." The Cambridge Companion to Autobiography, edited by Maria Dibattista and Emily O. Wittman, Cambridge, 2014, pp. 222-236.

Maracle, Lee. "Salmon Is the Hub of Salish Memory." Memory Serves: Oratories by Lee Maracle, edited by Smaro Kamboureli, NeWest Press, 2015, pp. 51-64.

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May, Theresa. "Introduction." Salmon is Everything: Community-Based Theatre in the Klamath Watershed, by Theresa May at al., Oregon State University Press, 2014, pp. 1-11.

---. "The Education of an Artist." Salmon is Everything: Community-Based Theatre in the Klamath Watershed, by Theresa May at al., Oregon State University Press, 2014, pp. 103-140.

May, Theresa and the Klamath Theatre Project. Salmon Is Everything: A Community-Based Play from the Klamath Watershed. Salmon is Everything: Community-Based Theatre in the Klamath Watershed, by Theresa May at al., Oregon State University Press, 2014, pp. 23-92.

Norgaard, Kari Marie. Salmon and Acorns Feed Our People: Colonialism, Nature and Social Action. Rutgers University Press, 2019.

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Reder, Deanna. Âcimisowin as Theoretical Practice: Autobiography as Indigenous Intellectual Tradition in Canada, 2007. Dissertation. https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/831/items/1.0100677. Accessed 26. Feb. 2021.

Reder, Deanna. "Indigenous Autobiography in Canada: Uncovering Intellectual Traditions." The Oxford Handbook of Canadian Literature, edited by Cynthia Sugars, Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 170-190. 

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White-Kwulasulwut, Ellen Rice, Legends and Teachings of Xeel's, The Creator, Theytus Books, 2018.

---. "The Sockeye that Became a Rainbow." Legends and Teachings of Xeel's, The Creator, Theytus Books, 2018, pp. 62-80.


[1] The passage in the epigraph is taken from Ellen Rice White-Kwulasulwut's, Legends and Teachings of Xeel's, The Creator. Theytus Books, 2018, p. 85. 

[2] Such as "The Sockeye that Became a Rainbow" by Ellen Rice White (Snuneymuxw), which is one of the "traditional stories handed down to her from her grandparents and their ancestors of the Coast Salish peoples of the west coast of British Columbia" (Archibald xiii), or "Salmon Boy: A Legend of the Sechelt People" by Donna Joe (Sechelt).

[3] For a detailed discussion of the notion of "ecoNative" see Mita Banerjee's article "The Myth of the EcoNative? Indigenous Presences in Ecocritical Narratives," in which she argues that such figurations are not only romanticizing, but also necropolitical.

[4] In fact, all different types of texts that develop within the generic space of life-writing continue to constantly morph and reinvent themselves. By presenting a subject in relation while simultaneously theorizing this relation, Jacobson is closer to a more recent development in autobiographical fiction described by Patrick Madden as the "new memoir." According to Madden, this type of life-writing is characterized by "a refusal to self-aggrandize or exaggerate for dramatic effect. The new memoirist is more interested in exploring his past and finding in it connection to others, in writing towards discovery and universality. The non-literary memoirist, on the other hand, seeks to distinguish himself from others and therefore writes about the most exceptional events" (226-27). Interestingly, the objectives of the new memoir intersect with Reder's notion of Indigenous autobiography as a theoretical practice, insofar as "contemporary memoir often theorizes as well as recounts lived experience," which raises the question whether "the genre itself perhaps presages a new era in the classic division between writing and criticism" (Dibattista and Wittman 17). In that sense, the new memoir is exhibiting tendencies similar to Indigenous autobiographical (and critical) practice as Reder describes it.

[5] The communal importance of food finishing is evident on several occasions throughout My Life in a Kwagu'l Big House, but perhaps most notably in a scene describing "canned fish days" (34) when the narrator's family processes the salmon they caught on the previous day: "We took turns washing up and began a new day helping with what came naturally to our family—working on fish that would be our main source of food during the long winter months ahead. Our elders started us at the simplest of jobs as children. No one did anything else other than what he or she was told because we had to be taught the right way to do our fish by the more experienced workers" (28). 

[6] For an in-depth discussion of the negative impact of hatcheries on the wild salmon stocks, see Lichatowich and Zuckerman 28-31. In his book Salmon Without Rivers, too, Lichatowich points out that "[c]urrently, hatcheries remain the primary means of restoring salmon even though such programs have clearly failed to achieve their purpose for more than a century" (8). 

[7] Explaining the process by which the play came into being in her introduction to the printed version of the play, Theresa May, a non-Indigenous playwright, writes: "Over a three-year period, I worked closely with Native faculty, staff, students, and community members throughout the Klamath watershed to research and write a play that told the story of people directly affected by the river's crisis—we called this the Klamath Theatre Project (KTP)" (7).

[8] For in-depth discussions of ecological grief, see, for example, Ashlee Cunsolo and Karen Landman's edited volume Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss and Grief.