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The Promise and Politics of the Salish Sea: Exploring Transboundary Dynamics

April 30, 2009

Barbara-Bennett 2009

Symposium co-chairs Joyce LeCompte-Mastenbrook (front, left) and Barbara Bennett with student presenters. From left (back row) Teresa Mongillo, Aquatic and Fishery Sciences; Brian Schefke, History; Morna McEachern, Social Work; Quentin Red Eagle Smith, Social Work; Rob Williams, Fulbright Chair. Photo by Lynne Barre.

This year’s graduate student symposium celebrated and reflected upon the cultural, political and ecological significance of transboundary dynamics as seen in and around the Salish Sea, a body of water that includes both Canadian and U.S. waters. The symposium attracted students from across the UW in all stages of research to discuss their work and receive feedback from faculty and Dr. Rob Williams, 2009–2010 Canada-US Visiting Fulbright Chair.

Dr. Williams opened the symposium with a presentation on his research on killer whales and other marine mammals. Demonstrating his own bold approach to fill census gaps in our understanding of abundance of whales, dolphins and porpoises, Williams encouraged students to likewise think boldly on practical and academic levels. For students formulating their research questions, he encouraged them to follow the full scope and implications of the issues they study, not allowing governmental boundaries to impose artificial limitations on important research questions. For students who have completed their work, Dr. Williams strongly encouraged them to submit their findings for publication to assure valuable dispersal of emerging information.

Master’s student Barbara Bennett and recent UW graduate Teresa Mongillo also presented research related to the status and protection of killer whales. Both Northern and Southern resident killer whales are endangered, and the critical habitat of the Southern resident is the Salish Sea. Research and recovery planning for these iconic marine mammals provides a strong example of a transboundary topic.

Doctoral students Morna McEachern and Quentin Red Eagle Smith of the School of Social Work presented their research examining social services delivery to Indigenous and immigrant communities on both sides of the border. Brian Schefke, doctoral candidate in the Department of History, described Joseph Banks’ role in developing a network of naturalists, many of whom were responsible for the early collection and description of Pacific Northwest flora and fauna. Joyce LeCompte-Mastenbrook, doctoral student in Environmental Anthropology, presented a paper comparing early naturalists’ and Coast Salish understandings of the mountain goat.

New points of convergence emerged with each presentation: the explorations of naturalists of the 1700s are implicated in the status of marine mammal populations in the northwest today; Indigenous peoples and new immigrants on both sides of the Canada-US border face issues related to human services delivery that are in some cases a result of the border; and indigenous stories and relationships with the natural world affirm the remarkable dimensions of the wild places and animals shared by both countries. Crossing boundaries to solve environmental problems includes crossing not only political boundaries but cultural ones as well. The evening was a celebration of transboundary and multidisciplinary studies and many in attendance noted that the gathering was a unique opportunity to think broadly about the larger context in which specialized research is conducted.

This project was supported, in part, by funding from the Center’s Program Enhancement Grant, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Government of Canada.

Barbara Bennett and Joyce LeCompte-Mastenbrook served as co-chairs for this year’s Canadian Studies graduate student symposium. Barbara is a master’s student in Marine Affairs and Joyce is pursuing her doctorate in Anthropology; both are Canadian Studies 2009–2010 Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellows, Barbara in French and Joyce in Musqueam-Salish. LeCompte-Mastenbrook is the nation’s first FLAS Fellow in Musqueam-Salish. She is studying at the First Nations Languages Program at the University of British Columbia.