Off-campus Michigan Tech users: To download campus access theses or dissertations, please use the following button to log in with your Michigan Tech ID and password: log in to proxy server

Non-Michigan Tech users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this thesis or dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental and Energy Policy (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Social Sciences

First Advisor

Carol A MacLennan


It has been well documented that many tribal populations and minority groups across the nation have been identified as being at high risk of the adverse health effects created by consuming fish that have been contaminated with mercury, PCBs, DDT, dioxins, and other chemicals. Although fish consumption advisories are intended to inform fish consumers of risks associated with specific species and water bodies, advisories have been the subject of both environmental injustices and treaty rights’ injustices. This means that understanding fish contaminants, through community perspectives is essential to good environmental policy. This study examined the fish contaminant knowledge, impacts on fishing and fish consumption, and the factors that contribute to harvesting decisions and behaviors in one tribal nation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

Using ethnographic methods, participant observation and semi-structured interviewing, fieldnotes were kept and all interviews were fully transcribed for data analysis. Among seventeen fishermen and women, contaminants are poorly understood, have had a limited impact on subsistence fishing but have had a substantial impact on commercial fishing activity. But ultimately, all decisions and behaviors are based on their own criteria and within a larger context of knowledge and understanding: the historical and cultural context. The historical context revealed that advisories are viewed as another attack on tribal fishing. The cultural context revealed that it is the fundamental guidance and essential framework associated with all harvesting beliefs, values, and traditional lifeways. These results have implications for advisories. ‘Fish’ and ‘contaminants’ appear differently based on the perceptions and priorities of those who encounter them.