First Advisor

Jan Haaken

Term of Graduation

Spring 2008

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Systems Science: Psychology


Systems Science: Psychology




Traditional ecological knowledge, Indigenous peoples -- Ecology -- Northwest Coast of North America, Environmentalism -- Psychological aspects, Northwest Coast of North America -- Social life and customs



Physical Description

1 online resource (159 pages)


Extensive research suggests that the collective behavior of humanity is on an unsustainable path. As the evidence mounts and more people awaken to this reality, increased attention is being dedicated to the pursuit of answers for a just and sustainable future. This dissertation grew from the premise that effectively moving towards sustainability requires change at all levels of the dominant Western culture, including deeply held worldviews. The worldviews of many indigenous cultures offer alternative values and beliefs that can contribute to addressing the root causes of problems related to sustainability. In the bioregion defined by the Pacific Salmon runs of North America there is a rich heritage and modern day presence of diverse indigenous cultures. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 13 indigenous leaders from within this bioregion to explore their mental models of sustainability. These interviews followed a general structure that covered: (a) the personal background and community affiliation of each interviewee; (b) the meaning of the concept of sustainability from their perspective; (c) visions of a sustainable future for their communities; and, (d) how to achieve such a future.

A content analysis of the interviews was conducted and summarized into a narrative organized to correspond with the general interview structure. A process oftestimonial validity established that most participants found the narrative to be an accurate representation of their perspectives. Participant feedback led to several phrasing changes and other identified issues are discussed, including one participant's critique of the narrative's use of a first-person plural voice. Major themes from the interviews include the role of the human being as caretaker actively participating in the web of life, the importance of simultaneously restoring culture and ecology due to their interdependence, the need to educate and build awareness, and the importance of cooperation. Understanding who we are as a living species, including our profound connection with nature, along with a holistic and intergenerational perspective are suggested as prerequisite for balancing and aligning human modes of being with the larger patterns of life. The closing discussion addresses the importance of social action and going beyond a conceptual understanding to an embodiment of sustainability.


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