Researchers and Indigenous land stewards create story map of Indigenous seaside habitats

The map is an effort to preserve generational knowledge on mariculture

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a person sitting by the seaside
The map covers coastal areas along the Pacific coast (this picture is not part of the project). PHOTO: Lauren Kan / Unsplash

By: Karissa Ketter, News Writer

This year, SFU researchers launched an interactive story map of stewarded sea gardens in the Pacific Ocean. The project consists of Indigenous scholars and knowledge holders, along with academics and artists who wished to “foster learning about sea gardens drawing from traditional and scientific knowledge.”

The story map highlights information about “ancestral mariculture across the Pacific Ocean.” It is rooted in Indigenous stewardship of the oceans, intergenerational knowledge, governance systems, and cultural practices, according to their website. Mariculture is the farming of marine organisms in bodies of water.

The website claims this is not an exhaustive mapping but “represents the start of an effort to document the diversity of sea gardens.”

“This work is the result of a huge collaborative effort involving Indigenous knowledge holders, community practitioners, and university researchers from all over the Pacific,” said Heather Earle in an interview with The Peak.

Earle, a member of the seminar and now-graduated student, worked on the project alongside professor Anne Salomon, Dr. Melissa Poe, and Dr. Dana Lepofsky. Earle co-led the design of the story map and compiled knowledge and Indigenous stories for it.

Salomon first introduced this idea to her graduate seminar class who studied social-ecological resilience. It was the class that created the idea to begin the story map. 

Salomon’s graduate class began the project by traveling to Hawai’i and restoring a fish pond. “There was a deep sense of community and energy that flowed from the revitalization of the fish ponds and the reconnection to that ancestral practice. It was clear how important the ceremonies, rituals, and the act of doing the work together are, when it comes to tending a fish pond and taking care of coastal environments,” said Earle. 

“These sea garden examples show us a different way of relating to our environment at a time when we are so challenged by issues of climate change, ecological degradation, and food security,” she said. 

Earle noted their research “showcases how Pacific coastal ecosystems were sustainably managed for millennia by Indigenous stewards. These practices developed from interactions and relationships with place, over time, and through natural disruptions and changes. [This] is highly relevant today as we are faced with things like more frequent heat waves and storms.”

One contributor to the project is Kii’iljuus Barbara Wilson, an Indigenous scholar from Haida Gwaii. Wilson helped the research team analyze the octopus houses in Haida Gwaii territory and along the Salish Sea.

Wilson has worked with Salomon since 2013 and was the cultural advisor for the story map research. In an interview with The Peak, Wilson stressed the importance of researchers behaving with a level of courtesy and respect when gathering knowledge on Indigenous land. 

“I started back then, showing [Salomon] how you would come into a First Nations country, what you have to do for protocol, and what was the chronological way to do it,” said Wilson. “When you go into somebody’s territory, you don’t just go. You ask permission first: you ask for permission if you want to gather things, you talk to the chief and you negotiate,” said Wilson.

Wilson emphasized the importance of conservation. “It was in absolutely everything. It included intellectual property, how we work, the environmental education, all the creatures that we live with and respect. And so that’s why it’s important — you can’t keep taking, you’ve got to find a reciprocal agreement in your heart that says ‘I have a responsibility to pay forward and to pay back.’” 

She noted the impact of knowledge preservation for later generations, “So much of our knowledge has gone to sleep; it hasn’t disappeared, it’s gone to sleep [ . . . ] When your nation goes from about 30,000 people to about 600, it’s like having your library burn down.

“Unfortunately most of our books of knowledge have passed away [ . . . ] We seem to be the old ones now. That’s quite terrifying when you think about the knowledge we don’t carry.”

“I’m a residential school survivor,” Wilson added. “We were cut off from the main source of history, which is our grandparents.”

The passing down of knowledge is an integral part of this project. “This work is dedicated to the Ancestors who stewarded the ocean, learned from her rhythms, and passed on their knowledge to today’s stewards who are continuing these practices and reasserting their authority to steward their lands and waters,” the story map website states. 

Earle said, “Many of the practices we describe are still in use or are being restored today, and we hope that this synthesis might be a source of momentum and inspiration for those who are interested in doing the same.”

For more information on the story map, visit the Sea Gardens Across the Pacific website.