Profile: Johnathan Clapperton

Jonathan has partnered with the Squaxin Island Tribe on southern Puget Sound in a study reviewing the aquaculture practiced by Indigenous peoples in this area in prior to and after contact with settler-colonists and assessing the benefits the application of Indigenous knowledge may provide for responsible management of coastal ecosystems management. Major components of the project
include: assessing the historical Indigenous maritime ecosystem management and conservation in the region; gaining an understanding of Indigenous aquaculture from pre-contact to the present time; developing a sense of the internal and external pressures that caused the Squaxin Island Tribe’s changing relationships to the marine ecosystem; and, identifying their response to resource scarcity maintenance of their cultural and social connections to it while operating in a settler-colonial structure.

Northwest Coastal people were active managers of their aquatic resources. They enhanced intertidal shellfish beds thought selective harvests, expanded shellfish habitat by cleaning areas of shells and other debris, and aerated the soil. Jonathan suggests because the studies that have been written focus on pre-European contact Indigenous environmental management is considered traditional or pre-modern both state and industry tend to exclude contemporary tribal authorities from environmental management decision-making. However, since both industrial fin and shellfish aquaculture is rapidly expanding in coastal areas situated in Indigenous tribal territories it is imperative to understand how such activities impact these communities and their environment.

This project was developed in response to local needs. The study should improve the Tribe’s capacity to address coastal and resource management. Identified historic aquaculture locations, place names and areas documented in oral histories will be located on maps as well as added to the community’s archives. Information will used in developing exhibits in the Squaxin Island Museum and designing interpretive signage throughout the traditional territory.

Research Finding: Through the research process, I was surprised about the importance not just of shellfish and smaller finfish (e.g., salmon) which I expected to be key, but also larger species of marine life – including whales. The Squaxin Island Tribe’s relationships with whales was, and remains, a key aspect of aquaculture too.

Current Location (2020) Lethbridge
Current Activity: A mixture of teaching, including graduate student supervision, and research. I’m an Associate Faculty member in the College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Royal Roads University where I teach undergraduate and graduate courses, and supervise masters students. I’m an adjunct faculty member in history at the University of Victoria, where I’m also supervising a graduate student. And I’m an adjunct professor in history at the University of Lethbridge, where I’m currently living. I also work as an expert and/or research consultant for Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States.

RRT Value: Collaborating with Indigenous communities is always about building relationships and trust, patience, and ensuring that everyone’s voices are heard; my research with the Squaxin Island Tribe served to reinforce these lessons and, as always, greatly enriched my understanding of their history and culture far beyond what I could have learned from the written record.