Indigenous Knowledge, Livelihoods, Gender, Water Resources
Gullah Geechee are descendants of enslaved West Africans who have preserved cultural traditions of their ancestors on the Sea Islands. The ecological similarities of Sierra Leone’s coastal region facilitated the juxtaposition of African traditions upon South Carolina’s established cultural practices. During slavery Africans from this region were specifically targeted for their agricultural and fishing knowledge that was critical to South Carolina’s exponential economic growth. As a result, the indigenous knowledges of Africans of the Diaspora and Native Americans co-produced traditional practices still evident today. My research analyzes indigenous livelihood strategies and self-determination pursuits in fisheries within the broader context of participatory approaches to natural resource management. Conventional resource management strategies typically ignore gendered perspectives in favor of homogeneous frameworks in which women’s critical engagement in natural resource management is obscured. Researchers also note that regulatory language often creates barriers between state agencies and communities. Conceding limited success with hierarchical models, state agencies now acknowledged the importance of strategies fundamental to participatory approaches: indigenous self-governance and self-regulation of Common Pool Resources (CPR). My research tests the hypothesis that relational governance that acknowledges asymmetrical power between governmental agencies and indigenous groups and values gendered knowledge improves participatory approaches to natural resource management. In so doing I focus on the power dynamics of structures of authority producing small-scale fisheries managed as common pool resources in the Sea Islands. Employing an ethnographic approach, I conduct a gendered analysis of power along a vertical axis of the state governance, local fisheries, and individual households, under a rubric of governmentality, in which identities are produced in relation to local politics and externalities. Within this framework I analyze shifting alignments of power that enable access to water resources and the continuance of traditional practices critical to Gullah Geechee indigenous articulation in the Americas.