dSpace: Elroy White (Xanius) on Fishtraps

FbTa 59, a possible clam garden on the central coast.

FbTa 59, a possible clam garden on the central coast. Source: Elroy White / Xanius M.A. thesis.

I’ve only met Elroy once or twice but he seems like a sharp guy and I was looking forward to reading his 2006 thesis, which turns out to be an exceptional work – ambitiously trying to implement Eldon Yellowhorn’s “internalist archaeology” in his home territory (Heiltsuk) on the central coast.  This project, which focuses on fishtraps, is exemplary in a couple of ways.  First, as a cutting edge exercise in the practice of archaeology, indeed, practice as theory.  The combination of field archaeology, internalist work with a dozen elders, and extensive videography was a great exercise.  (PS Elroy, post some videos!).   Second, well, fishtraps are exceptionally interesting and need more study.  Essentially, we are just guessing about the specific functions and efficiencies of these features.  Elroy gathers a lot of information from elders, including interesting longitudinal data showing how quickly these features silt up — evidence in some ways for their silt retention qualities and also a suggestion there may be a lot of partially or totally obscured fishtraps out there.  And, as above, Elroy appears to find some “clam gardens” (diagram) in Heiltsuk territory.  Maybe it’s because my doctoral SSHRC project was going to be on fishtraps until I got talked out of that and into a GIStraightjacket, but I love’em.  Anyway, you can get yourself a copy of this high quality MA theses here, at SFU dSpace.

Incidentally, for an earlier, wider scope take on subsistence and settlement and fish traps on the central coast, you can also download John Pomeroy’s 1980 PhD thesis (which doesn’t show up under “archaeology” in their classification or keyword scheme for some reason.)

Elroy White (Xanius) with intertida fishtraps.  Credit: Ecostrust Canada.

Elroy White (Xanius) with intertidal fishtraps. Credit: Ecotrust Canada.

8 responses to “dSpace: Elroy White (Xanius) on Fishtraps

  1. My home community is Rama First Nation, (formerly Mnjinkinging, a Chippewa word for “fish fence”. These were the Huron’s fishing techniques for fish harvesting,and though it isn’t clear in our oral history weather we too used this method when the Huron moved out of their territory it fell to the Chippewas to care for the fences. Located in the narrows of Georgian Bay these fences (through carbon dating )are said to pre-date the pyramids of Egypt.
    From this evidence we can only surmise that the Native peoples here in Canada were environmentalist long before contact and had a reverence for the food supply they managed and used in a prudent manner.


  2. Thanks Debra. The Mnjikaning Fish Weirs are pretty famous in the world of archaeology – I don’t have the full date report handy but they are almost 6,000 years old. http://www.international.icomos.org/risk/2006/15ringer2006an.pdf

    For anyone else reading this, these are also formerly referred to as Atherley Narrows Fish Weirs.

    Here on the Northwest Coast some weirs have been dated to over 5,000 years and since salmon have been on the coast since at least 14,000 years then I would expect weirs to have been used that long as well. Overall, as you say, First Nations were remarkable stewards of natural resources . We don’t even need to make much of an argument that way, I don’t think, since the proof is in the vast abundance of the land when Europeans came, after at least 13,0000 years of First nations stewardship.


  3. Elroy White/Xanius

    Hi Quentin, Thanks for the review of my thesis.

    Pomeroy (1976) was correct when he stated that Bella Bella was stone fish trap central, b/c practically on tidal flats or at mouth of creeks and streams, a stone fish trap can be found. I have found that semi circular shaped stone fish traps are found on tidal flats on either side of a pink/chum salmon river either alone or interconnected with others in the inlets and inner waterways. Variable shaped stone fish traps are commonly found at coho and sockeye creeks along the outer islands. For example, in the picture accompanying your comment of my thesis, I am standing at creek that was once a coho/sockeye creek. At this site, there are funnel shaped traps, and holding pen type traps.


  4. Hi — thanks for the comment. I find it interesting that these traps might be species-diagnostic (I mean, it makes perfect sense but since they’ve always been looked at as sort of a “black box” its good to know more). Up in Haida Gwaii, we’re planning on looking at more weirs and one of the things to do is see if there are weirs on streams not known by DFO to have salmon runs. This could be quite insightful into long term productivity and help in conservation biology and restoration projects by making a real baseline of productivity, not a diminished DFO historical assessment. A similar project could be done across the coast.

    In fact someone with GIS chops could just go //GET IF fish-wizard “has_salmon = N” AND RAAD “has_weir = Y// or whatever it would look like in fluent Nerd and get a first cut at least.


  5. Elroy White/Xanius

    Yau quentin
    in this location where the picture was taken, there is another similar trap complex at a sockeye/coho creek. i took pics of it, will have to find them, there are no pink/chum rivers in this area hence the absence of the semicircular beach stone fish trap types.


  6. Felix arnouse

    How u doin. Long time no chat


  7. Gitla (Elroy White)

    Quentin, since my thesis 10 years later, i still routinely travel along our waterways for both pleasure and work. Recently, wooden stakes along our narrow, shallow salmon creeks were exposed alone meaning not combined with stone formations, i watched my video footage last night, brought me back to the wonderful summer recording these features for the Heiltsuk people, particulary for the elders who rarely travel by boat anymore


  8. Gitla (Elroy White)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQlQO11cT-8 Not my video, but captures part of my thesis though


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