Salmon Nation

by Ian Gill

This piece was originally published in Cascadia Spoke, a community publication dedicated to raising awareness of the Cascadia movement and bioregionalism.

At a time of cascading systems collapse and institutional failures at every turn, is it not time to unshackle ourselves from the visions of our so-called “founding fathers” and think anew about what it means to live well in place? Indeed, in this place, Salmon Nation, where now millions of people share common cause around environmental, social, cultural and economic issues, and yet are witnessing a wholesale unravelling – climate change, the pandemic, partisanship – of the very fabric that makes this part of the world such a marvellous place in which to live and work and play.

So, what is this thing called Salmon Nation?

It is three things:

A Place: The coastal bioregion where wild Pacific salmon spawn (or spawned), ranging from Central California to the North Slope of Alaska. Rich in resources of all types, including extraordinary entrepreneurs, natural wealth beyond measure, and resilient, hard-working communities.

An Idea: A ‘nature state’ with thriving local communities living in deep relationship with the lands and waters they are nourished by, and connected to each other through human networks focused on celebration, storytelling, reciprocity, and the replication and acceleration of what works.

A Shared Mission: To catalyze an ecosystem of initiatives, companies, and people with a shared purpose to improve social, economic, and natural well-being — and unleash regenerative innovation across the bioregion.

Talk of a shared mission inevitably suggests that Salmon Nation is an organization, which it is – but only sort of, and somewhat reluctantly (more on that below).

Salmon Nation, the place, has actually existed for thousands of years. Thriving trading economies, diverse but connected cultures and languages, and sophisticated stewardship practices have been in place for countless generations, guided by natural laws that saw no separation between people and nature. For only a fraction of that time, our segmentation into countries, states and provinces, counties, municipalities, and electoral districts has been largely in service of colonization and the exploitation of natural resources that have feed power imbalances and economic disparities that yawn wider with each passing year – at nature’s expense and our own.

It’s a broken system – indeed many broken systems.

So, in pursuit of systems change at the bioregional level, we decided to follow the advice of famed systems thinker Donella Meadows, who once observed 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.” Or, put another way: change the name, change the narrative, and you change the system.

And, just as important, change the lens – away from centers of power and influence, which seek to consolidate what they’ve got, and towards what we call edge communities, where a huge amount of innovation occurs, often in conditions of scarcity. That’s because edges are seldom seen by capital and networks that cluster in cities, in places that are slower to feel the tangible effects and urgency of climate change and hugely disrupted supply chains.

At the edges, we seek out “souls of fire,” people passionate about people and place, their place. Through human networks we can share stories of what is working – conservation, mitigation, restoration, regeneration, innovation, instigation, imitation, replication – in Salmon Nation. Where we find souls of fire, we try to support their ambitions, and amplify their achievements.

The “we” here is a small group of partners who established a trust comprising a dozen high-profile leaders to guide us and act as custodians of our mission. The Salmon Nation Trust, PBLLC, is a private enterprise for public benefit. It is designed to be simple, adaptable, and scalable. Our work is whole system design and instigation of regenerative initiatives and companies that improve the health and well-being of Salmon Nation.

Having launched our effort just before the pandemic after a seminal meeting in Sitka, AK, we took the echo of what we heard there – that people want to know what works, how to do things, and they are desperate to share with others, to problem solve at the community level – and conceptualized, organized, and hosted two on-line Festivals of What Works. Thousands joined us in celebration and exchanges of insights and ideas that connect us in Salmon Nation, and that promise sometimes radical changes to how we do business in our corner of the world.

The meanwhile Trust incubated, recruited, developed and funded a team to create the Magic Canoe , a new 501(c)3 public charity, that serves as a storytelling and media production vehicle for Salmon Nation. See Salmon Stories for an early taste of what to expect from us. Magic Canoe is also where we offer a broader in invitation for everyone in Salmon Nation to join us in growing the idea of Salmon Nation.

And, since doing business the way we have for a couple of centuries has so dramatically drawn down our reserves of natural capital, and come at such a cost to our social cultural health in the region, we are determined to redirect capital towards promising enterprises that contribute to living local economies. The Trust is in the process of structuring a new initiative to do just that.

All of these modest initiatives are designed to help to lay the foundation for a wholesale reimagining and transition of our bioregional economy and environment towards climate resilience and adaptation. Over time, it is anticipated that many of our instigations will come to be operated independently and remain collaboratively linked by values, friendship, and commitment to open, inclusive approaches.

In other words, we aren’t out to centre Salmon Nation, the Trust, and its growing ecosystem partners and affiliates in a conventional corporate or non-profit structure that demands we grow a big hungry organization that behaves like everyone else. Our role is to be catalytic, to provide more and more ways in which people can enter into a robust flow of other people, resources, ideas and knowhow that is already abundant in Salmon Nation. We offer ways in which, from more and more engagement points, communities can become part of a larger bioregional fabric that continually regenerates, deepens, and surfaces relationships, trust, possibilities and opportunities.

Yes, we’re looking for capital and grants and we welcome them. But mostly what we want is to make real the idea of a nature state in which everyone has a stake, and everyone shares their story. Through shared stories, we believe, comes a shared narrative to work towards – the fibre of the fabric that is Salmon Nation. An nature state, and a nature state of mind.

Ian Gill is a founding partner of Salmon Nation, where he lives.

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