In late 2019, Salmon Nation, a new website and organization emerged to explore a new way of thinking around communities, resources, development and government within our shared bioregion. It is based around one core principle – that communities from California up through Alaska and the Yukon have physical connections that transcend arbitrary human borders.
Rather than the geology and watersheds of the Fraser, Snake, and Columbia, and the shared cultures that arise within them, Salmon Nation extends to the historical extent and range of Pacific Salmon, creating a tool and interdependent framework for conservation efforts. More than just one group, they see their work as part of a network of organizers, nations and individuals working to shift our activities and impacts for the bioregional well being of all inhabitants living here.
Salmon Nation is a place. It is home. Salmon Nation is also an idea: it is a nature state, as distinct from a nation state.– Introduction of Salmon Nation Thesis.
Ian Gill, one of four individuals who set out to create the project is a former CEO of EcoTrust and now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. He believes that national systems are failing us, and that it is important to begin to shift and incorporate the principles of bioregionalism: “The systems that currently govern how we live and how we divide and conquer — mostly ourselves — are failing us,” he said. “We’re seeing a failure of policy from Washington DC and from Ottowa — which affects me as someone who lives in Canada. Those systems, especially when it comes to something like climate change our manifestly failing our nations, but it’s especially acute when you get out to the edges on the West Coast here. Almost none of what happens ‘back there’ makes any sense to us ‘here.’”
He see’s Salmon Nation as a step in this direction. “We’re still obsessed with this model of extracting resources and often getting a very low value for them as a way to pay for our essential public services,” Gill said. “And we’re sort of in this broken model that you have to destroy everything around you to hang on to a few human services and everything else — and that way lies ruin, we’re beginning to see that.”
“The most effective point to intervene in a system is the mindset or paradigm out of which the system — its goals, power structure, rules, its culture — arises.”Donella Meadows, early Bioregionalism proponent.
To help promote their shift and layout their vision and plan, they also wrote an incredibly well worded thesis on Salmon Nation, and the watershed based raven network they are building.
Joining them for their start, they had founding members include elders from around the Cascadia & Salmon Nation, including Portland, Napaġiak , Anchorage, Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Pendleton, Prince Rupert, and throughout Alaska and the Yukon. They held their first meeting in Sitka, Alaska.
SALMON NATION IS one of the most beautiful and bountiful natural places ever shared by humans. The very act of defining this region, where people and wild Pacific salmon live, is a homage to our remarkable good fortune to live here. Salmon Nation is a nature state, not a nation state. It is where our collective imagination stirs towards new possibilities, a new myth of people and place, one that is coalescing out of our myriad personal stories. It is from all our lives that this more hopeful story emerges.
Salmon Nation is an area of land and sea etched by 50,000 miles of coastline and constantly washed by the Pacific Ocean. Its estuaries, its coastal plains, rugged mountains, forests, farm lands and grasslands are home to vibrant cities from San Francisco to Anchorage; home to busy rural towns, public and tribal lands; and host a hotbed of creativity and enterprise that adds up to a $1.5+ trillion bioregional economy.
Our home is blessed by the presence of Pacific salmon, our best biological indicator of natural, social and financial health. The rivers of Salmon Nation are where wild salmon have historically spawned, and to which they return.
This bio-cultural region is easily recognized by a verdant fringe of temperate rainforest along the edge of the Pacific Ocean, and watersheds that reach back into the mountains and the headwaters of our rivers.
Salmon and Indigenous people lived together since the end of last ice age thirteen thousand years ago. Our northwestern home has formed around shared ecological, cultural and economic factors that include: mountain and ocean geography, relatively easy coastal travel between areas for humans and non-human animals, cultural and commercial trade routes and patterns, and a sense of wonder and appreciation for nature’s bounty.
All of these commonalities, and more, bind this region together. It is Cascadia, it is the Pacific Northwest, it is the Salish Sea, it is Ecotopia, and it is the Left Coast. But long before that, and still today, it is home to some of the oldest human settlements in North America.
Salmon Nation is where Indigenous people are reclaiming meaningful relationships to their lands and waters on their own terms, and playing an increasingly influential role in their territories’ cultural, economic, scientific and legal evolution. It is also where a symbiosis is emerging between old and new ways of living, of re-interpreting — through art, song, theater, new media, language, and unlikely collaborations in all manner of experiments at the watershed level — how we share wisdom and resources in ways that are more equitable, and ultimately richer and more meaningful for people and place.
If you are an inhabitant of Salmon Nation, you share this place not just with its original inhabitants, but with thirty million or so other human residents, and with the plants and animals and diverse natural life support systems of which you are a part and upon which you and they wholly depend: clean air to breathe, water to drink, productive soil, and a climate moderated by the great ocean that defines us.
In Salmon Nation, we live in watersheds. Watersheds — be they tribal territories, counties, regional districts, river basins, cities or towns — hold pieces of local life, replete with nature, civilization, economy, culture and myth. Salmon Nation’s watersheds have pronounced and distinctive natural, cultural, social and financial capital reserves, which for millennia have attracted and sustained various forms of unusually dense human organization. Our daily lives, our homes, our workplaces, our families are in large measure determined by the boundaries and bounties of our watersheds. They give shape to social organization and to unique ways of seeing and being in the world.
They are the containers where new stories are being written, stories that capture memory and experience, and celebrate and invite new narratives of hope.
Far from the drumbeat of dire, sometimes demoralizing news that emanates from the world’s capitals — especially when it comes to climate change — the watersheds of Salmon Nation are where innovations and opportunities and adaptations to climate change are flourishing. Much of this innovation is local (i.e. at the watershed scale), it is open in the sense that is shared rather than guarded, and it is decentralized in the sense that no single government, corporation or network controls the creativity.
It is here that we see the greatest promise for achieving a new myth for how we live with each other, and how we keep the promises we have made to ourselves, our families, our friends and all our fellow inhabitants of Salmon Nation.