Ahousaht law and chinook salmon conservation in the Megin River
Clayoquot Sound is a remarkable and rare coastal temperate rainforest ecosystem on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. It is home to the Indigenous Ahousaht Nation and a place where chinook salmon and people are interdependent. The health and well-being of the Ahousaht community have been reliant on the Nation’s relationship to salmon for many generations. The Ahousaht stewarded the chinook salmon in the Megin River successfully and sustainably for generations through their complex traditional Indigenous legal system. Now, the genetically diverse population of chinook salmon in the Megin River is on the verge of extinction as the salmon face several human-caused ecological and socio-political threats. In this paper, I specifically explored the relationship between the decline of Megin River chinook salmon and the decline of Ahousaht traditional law as a wicked problem. I used a qualitative approach that combines Indigenous and Western methodologies, such as: systems thinking; describing the biophysical and socio-cultural attributes of the Megin River; ethnographic interviews with knowledge holders; developing a framework for articulating the traditional Ahousaht legal system; and, making recommendations to address the problem. I concluded that the timeline of replacing the traditional Ahousaht legal system (a legal system of spiritual and natural characteristics derived from the Ahousaht relationship to life-giving forces in the region) with that of Canadian law (a legal system of economic and social policy foreign to the natural cycles of the region) corresponds directly with the decline of the Megin River chinook and should be considered as one of the causes of decline. I recommend that additional research be conducted using a systems thinking approach to identify where systemic interventions are required to build new relationships, structures, and institutions that uphold Indigenous knowledge and legal frameworks to address conservation challenges.