Towards Restorative Narrative Practices in Salmon Literature
As the region’s keystone species, salmon is widely recognized as one of the most potent cultural symbols of the Pacific Northwest. At the same time, issues related to the preservation and health of the fish are frequently subject of this region’s political controversies and public debates. Indigenous people in particular have long cultivated a reciprocal relationship with salmon, a relationship that is being increasingly threatened by economic policies, commercial practices, and the environmental impact of human activity. As a means of subsistence and a cultural symbol, the place and the future of salmon in the age of the Anthropocene is an uncertain and precarious one; as Davis and Todd note, “these fleshy philosophies and fleshy bodies are precisely the stakes of the Anthropocene” (767). In recent years, the state of the fish has become the focus of much advocacy and preservationist effort, which is also evident in Indigenous writing. The growing body of what I propose to call salmon literature, originating specifically from the Pacific Northwest, arranges its narrative around the cultural and ecological significance of the fish for Indigenous nations, emphasizing interdependencies that make the Anthropocene an all-encompassing threat. In this article, I argue that such literature engages in what may be called restorative narrative practices that highlight salmon as a key inhabitant of the waterscapes and the storyscapes of the region and emphasize relationality between the fish and the people. Whether by narrating a “life with the salmon,” as Diane Jacobson does in her autobiographical My Life with the Salmon, or by issuing a warning about fish death through “a story of the watershed in crisis” (May 1) as does Theresa May and the Klamath Theatre Project’s play Salmon is Everything, salmon literature creates textualities of care aimed not only at criticizing the colonial economies, but at narratively restoring the threatened lifeworlds of both the people and the fish.
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