Why Study Clam Gardens?

Photo: Marco Hatch.
Photo: Marco Hatch.

There are many reasons to study clam gardens and other aspects of traditional clam management and use.  For instance, our studies show that clam gardens today are 150 – 300% more productive than beaches without gardens. These staggering numbers suggest that management techniques honed over multiple generations have much to teach us about our current use of shellfish. Additionally, the demand for seafood exceeds what is locally available and sustainable in many parts of the world, making traditional methods for managing clams relevant to contemporary concerns about food security.

Clam gardens also challenge commonly held perceptions about how Indigenous people use and govern their territories and resources. Specifically, clam gardens show us that coastal peoples were and are resource managers, stewards and engineers of marine ecosystems. This view contrasts with the commonly held beliefs of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries which held that coastal First Nations relied on wild, untended foods. These beliefs shaped the legal systems in Canada responsible for interpreting Aboriginal rights today. Studies that show the number of clam gardens along the coast, and that synthesize local knowledge about their long-standing use and governance, challenge the concepts and approaches upon which contemporary policies are built and can shed light on more just and sustainable alternatives.

Finally, clam gardens and other culturally important clam beaches have a legacy as important places of learning. These are places for First Nations youth to learn from their elders about clams and marine systems, cultural values, cosmology, economics, and the importance of family. Clam gardens have also captured the interest of the scientific community as well as the broader public thanks largely to the publication of Judith William’s popular book Clam Gardens and the film Ancient Sea Gardens. The film chronicles surveys by John Harper (coastal geomorphologist) and Mary Morris (marine biologist) and their work with local knowledge holders, Clan Chief Adam Dick and Dr. Daisy Sewid-Smith. These accounts, along with emerging research by Network members, continue to excite the public in ways not often realized for other archaeological sites on the Northwest Coast. Clam gardens have much to teach us all about the past, present, and future.

Clamming…was an important part of the year from early on as a young child.

-A.S. Hul’q’umi’num Elder

Our grandmother teaching us all this, showing us, telling us where you go and how you do it, it made us all a strong family.

-J.J. Hul’q’umi’num Elder

You know to us, it [clam harvesting] wasn’t work – it was fun. Once you’re old enough then you get to go on your own but then you never forget that you’re part of a family.

-J.J. Hul’q’umi’num Elder

Photo: Nathan Cardinal
Photo: Nathan Cardinal

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