Northwest coast indigenous institutions that supported resilience and sustainability

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84 Scopus citations


Indians of the Northwest Coast of North America had cultural continuity for at least two millennia before contact with people from the old world. This archeological fact suggests that their societies had achieved sustainability and resilience in relationships to their ecosystems and the salmon runs. The governance principles used by Northwest Indians in managing fisheries and other resources provided resilience. In addition to a land ethic, these principles included exchange systems based on public reciprocity. Property rights were clear and trespass was a capital offense. Chiefs and titleholders had to be generous facilitators. Leadership authority over land was contingent upon adherence to ethical and generous behavior as well as good management. These indigenous institutions were quite different from the rules currently governing the management of most ecosystems. In critiquing current institutions, many ideas similar to those in the indigenous systems have been proposed in isolation; the example described in this paper suggests the importance of combining them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)329-344
Number of pages16
JournalEcological Economics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002


  • Collaboration
  • Common property
  • Environmental ethics
  • Externalities
  • Indigenous people
  • Reciprocity
  • Resilience
  • Sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Economics and Econometrics


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