Salmon People

I identify with the bear people as revealed in yesterday’s blog: the feeling is woven through my genes but not in my daily life. Every day I think and write about salmon, the focus of my current study about how discourse about salmon and indigenous tribes unfolds.

More and more I find myself identifying with the folks for whom salmon springs from their core.

This summer a group of students and I dug deeply into the meanings that emerge from discourse, asking the question, “How do we know what we know?”

The students struggled over the evidence that discourse—news stories, films, blogs, billboards—inevitably infuses values within words and images.

An example is the photograph selected to illustrate the struggle over salmon and the sea lion populations. The topic is riddled with conflict on multiple fronts: political, ideological, spiritual, legal, emotional—just about every corner of social intercourse.

Sea lions have swum upstream (many from California) to the Columbia River, eating salmon returning to spawn. Salmon populations, which are slowly recovering after being nearly eliminated, become fodder for the sea lions. Fishers, tribes and other local governments hope to rid the area of the invading pinnipeds.

In class we saw how one television station, in a story about the salmon and sea lion issue, adds a snapshot of a sea lion in a rather elegant repose. The profile shows a blue-gray critter sunning itself peacefully. The credit is Associated Press (see

In another story, a sea lion is shown with a headless salmon is its jaws: you see the pink flesh exposed in the sea lion’s mouth (see

Other photos are less interesting: a photo of the dam with no critters whatsoever.

We talked about how the photos are framed and what they seem to suggest. We can’t know how readers and viewers respond to such pictures, however, without actually asking them.

Online responses to the stories tell us a little. Here’s one:

“EVIL. Killing extremily intelligent mammals so we can eat their food. Food we have reduced supply of because of our miss-handling of the resource with improperly constructed dams and over fishing. With hope, the courts will understand that a Sea Lion that’s relocated to California to keep it from eating the fish we want to eat, can swim back to the same location to do what is natural. EVIL.” Writer ss427, August 23, 2011.


“The sea lions aren’t a threat to jack squat. They are doing what sea lions do. EAT. Yeah, that means there will be a few less for you and me. Miraculously, I think I’ll somehow manage. The Fish an Wildlife hit men can stop salivating at the prospect of blowing away helpless mammals while spitting tobacco and high-fiveing each other, and they can just insert their itchy trigger fingers where the sun don’t shine. It’s pathetic that we even consider this.” Writer tuleyo, August 23, 2011.


“Did any of you idiots posting here ever watch the slaughter below the dams? These sea rats grab a salmon and eat the belly only. The salmon do not have a chance escaping because of the dams. There will never be a return of the runs if you tree hugging liberal idiots keep it up. It is way past time to reduce the seal and sea lions population to reasonable levels.” Writer rite2post, August 23, 2011.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in Indian, journalism, Native Science, news bias, salmon, science, science communication and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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