Institute at Brown for Environment and Society

Taking the stand: IBES professor delivers expert testimony to House of Commons

Bathsheba Demuth, associate professor in IBES and History, discussed the importance of salmon to the lives of Alaska Natives and First Nations in the Yukon watershed, where the currents of history, culture, and environmental stewardship converge.

On Thursday, February 15, Bathsheba Demuth testified before the Canadian House of Commons as an expert witness. The House’s Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans had requested Demuth’s testimony as its members investigate the population sustainability of pacific salmon stocks in the Alsek, Porcupine, and Yukon River drainages. 

Based in the heart of the Yukon watershed, Demuth's research sheds light on salmon’s pivotal role in the lives of Alaska Natives and First Nations. She explained that as these communities settle, they rely heavily on salmon for sustenance and economic stability. U.S. land withdrawals have led to limited mobility, making salmon a crucial resource for indigenous societies, both culturally and economically.


“ Being able to fish is an issue of food security and of environmental justice. ”

Demuth explained that the long history of mineral extraction, rooted in the Yukon gold rush, has threatened salmon habitats. 

”Residents along the river emphasized to me over the last several years how concerned they are that this history is not over,” Demuth said. “Historically, the wealth […] generated from mining projects does not stay in local communities, while the harms do.”

“ The history of environmental injustice is likely to repeat. ”

The Yukon Salmon Treaty aims to regulate salmon fishing to ensure sustainable populations. “When the treaty was signed in 2001, I believed this was a sensible move based on the history of commercial and subsistence fishing for Yukon salmon, both of which occurred in river,” Dembuth stated. “But of course, Yukon salmon spend most of their lives not in the Yukon but in the Bering Sea, which is an ecosystem that is experiencing such a rapid change as the climate warms.” 

Despite these obstacles, indigenous communities continue to draw on their centuries-old relationship with salmon, offering hope for sustainable coexistence amidst evolving environmental pressures. 

Through the lens of Demuth's research, the Yukon watershed emerges as a crucible of resilience and adaptation, where the currents of change intersect with the timeless rhythms of the natural world. As Demuth’s testimony showcased, the fate of salmon is inexorably intertwined with the destiny of those who call the Yukon home.