Salmon conservation, indigenous education, and knowledge co-production in Kamchatka

By Tatiana Degai of Council of Itelmens “Tkhsanom”

Kamchatka peninsula on the North Pacific coast of Russia is home to twelve species of salmonid fish, including six species of Pacific wild salmon. It is the last region that acts as a global reserve and gene pool for salmon. Salmon form the wealth of Kamchatka and its peoples, and its sustainability determines the economic, spiritual and cultural domains of local life.

From 2004 to 2016, indigenous communities in Kamchatka concerned with salmon and their ecology worked actively on ethno-ecological education, together with the Ethno-Ecological Information Centre, “Lach” (an indigenous NGO).  This involved educational programmes fostering awareness and understanding about contemporary threats to salmon and its environment:

Creative Ethno-Ecological Contests were organised to introduce children and their parents to the ancestral traditions of their ancestors related to respect for the environment. Several literary and art contests for Kamchatka children were organized. In their submissions, participants highlighted the problem of poaching in various regions of the peninsula vividly and referred to traditional subsistence fishing and the rational use of natural resources in their home areas. The organisers sought to ensure that the children collaborated with the elders in writing down traditional stories and legends related to salmon.

Through ethno-ecological youth camps and festivals, we also worked to raise awareness about environmental issues on the peninsula. During the camps, indigenous youth studied the biology and habitat of the salmon, monitored spawning rivers and the state of the environment, also enhancing knowledge-sharing between elders and youth. Salmon Keepers’ Festivals were organized in the villages after the camps, so that camp participants had a chance to share what they had learned with their families and friends.

Several ethno-ecological publications for children and their parents were produced and distributed to schools and libraries in Kamchatka. These publications brought together indigenous and scientific knowledge about salmon in an entertaining, educational way. They included activity books that introduce young readers to the world of salmon, its lifecycle, and its place in indigenous cultures and cultural values.

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