Rivers, Fish, and the People

Tradition, Science, and Historical Ecology of Fisheries in the American West

America’s western rivers are under assault from development, pollution, invasive species, and climate change. Returning these eco- systems to the time of European contact is often the stated goal for restoration efforts, yet neither the influence of indigenous societ- ies on rivers at the time of contact nor the deeper evolutionary relationships are yet understood by the scientific world. This volume presents a unique synthesis of scientific discoveries and traditional knowledge about the ecology of iconic river species in the American West.

Building from a foundation in fisheries biology and life history data about key species, the book reveals ancient human relationships with those species and describes time-tested Native resource management techniques, drawing from the archaeological record and original ethnographic sources. It evaluates current research trends, summarizes the conceptual foundations for the cultural and evolutionary significance of sustainable use of fish, and seeks pathways for future research. Geographic areas described include the Columbia Plateau, Idaho’s Snake River Plain, the Sacramento River Delta, and the mid-Fraser River of British Columbia. Previously unpublished information is included with the express permission and approval of tribal communities. This approach broadens and deepens the available body of data and establishes a basis for future collaboration between scientists and Native stakeholders toward mutual goals of river ecosystem health. 

Pei-Lin Yu is an ethnoarchaeologist who has worked for the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and National Park Service. She is currently a professor at Boise State University. She is the author of Hungry Lightning: Notes of a Woman Anthropologist and coeditor of The Archaeology and Ethnoarchaeology of Mobility and Lithics in the West. 

Praise and Reviews:

“An engaging and enlightening read, presented with professional rigor.”—Ronald M. Yoshiyama, University of California, Davis, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Biology

“Outstanding. A solid, uniformly treated, set of case studies with a geographical, ecological, and cultural thread that ties them together, but with unique instances of technological, economic, and social adaptation to local conditions. An outstanding example of the diversity and complexity of human/nature interaction in a single region. This is a really important contribution.”
—Maria Nieves Zedeno, University of Arizona, Department of Anthropology

“Environmental historians will benefit from the book’s careful research that connects ethnography and oral histories to ecology and material culture, presents up-to-date information on hunter-gatherer societies, and illustrates how tribal knowledge could aid current management decisions and restoration efforts.”—Environmental History

“[Provides] a better understanding of the wide range of fishing strategies employed through deep time. These perspectives are a critical step in applying the lessons of the past to safeguard the future of western American rivers.”—American Antiquity

“A great contribution to the historical ecology literature. Yu’s volume demands from its readers that they contemplate how the dynamic uses of past river ecosystems by first peoples can be applied to rapidly changing contemporary environments.”—Ethnobiology Letters

Rivers, Fish, and the People provides a useful collection of case studies illustrating the various adaptive relationships that Indigenous peoples in the North American West crafted with rivers and fish.”—Journal of Native American and Indigenous Studies