Adaptive and Maladaptive Economic Practices

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Culture is characterized as a complex whole that includes various sets of knowledge, arts, values, customs, or other habits kept by man as a member of a particular society. It is apparent from the meaning that culture is taught. Everyday living skills should try to improve or adapt to the context. As a result, based on the ultimate effect on the climate, a community may be adaptive or maladaptive. Adaptive cultures have behaviors that have a favorable environmental effect, while maladaptive cultures have activities that have a negative environmental impact. This research sought to investigate the adaptive and maladaptive cultures of the economic cultures of the Pacific Northwest Native Americans. Upon analysis, the study classified the feminism struggles of 1950s as adaptive, and the salmon restoration plan in the Columbian River was maladaptive.

Restoration and Resilience

The historical narrative of the Grand Ronde provides a basis for the discussion of gaining cultural restoration of resilience and sovereignty and adapting to various economic practices through commercial portfolio creation, tribal knowledge, and language revitalization. The Grand Ronde is among the Pacific Northwest Native American culture who made their living as crafts specialists and arts, farm laborers, and mill workers. They were suffering from difficult living conditions, lack of utilities, and poor health (Colombi & Smith, 2014).

The Grand Ronde can be called resilient because the community could adapt and absorb change or disturbance while maintaining crucial functions. Through the restoration, reservation, and pre-contact periods, the community maintained several sources of economic support as well as collaborations to get political support for new knowledge, learning, and goals. The Grand Ronde has merged many diverse cultural identities since the pre-contact period and synthesized various cultural elements from multiple groups to form their tribal language and beliefs after restoring sovereignty to adapt to their economic practices. Thus, the Grand Ronde can be described as very adaptive by implementing and convincing different states while maintaining their primary cultural identity. The community faced and made numerous changes from foraging people to wage laborers and farmers, and to their current status as a modern corporate entity (Colombi & Smith, 2014).

Adaptive Capacity

Adaptive capacity relies on economic well-being, communication systems, secure land tenure, infrastructure, and the dependency on natural resources. A culture with the capacity to adapt is more likely to recover from maladaptive behaviors or to be more resistant to impacts. The restoration of sovereignty by the Grand Ronde and the entire Northwest Native American culture represents something more cultural and comprehensive about coping with original and new situations (Armitage & Plummer, 2010). The adaptive capacity concept is used by the Northwest Native American culture in many ways such as survival of minority groups to overcome discriminatory situations, business organization, resource restoration and conservation, and climate change (Colombi & Smith, 2014).

Ecological economists stress on various forms of capital that enhance capabilities to change, chief among them, and the adaptive capacity. Adaptive capacity is affected by governance structure, social factors, and economic development and technology. For instance, the Pacific Northwest Native Americans had more than thirty-nine different languages and were the most sophisticated hunting and gathering communities across the world (Colombi & Smith, 2014). However, these practices became maladaptive due to the arrival of the Europeans who came with the monetary system. Different cultural practices in Pacific Northwest Native American cultures can be classified as maladaptive or adaptive practices based on their impacts on the environment (Grothmann & Patt, 2005).


Most Pacific Northwest Native American feminists refer to various economic practices in explaining the women oppression. However, these feminists assumed that cultural and economic practices that predispose women to oppression exist only in the third-world countries. One economic practice that manifested feminism in the past was the definition of some professions along gender lines (Yuval-Davis, 2006). For instance, in 1950s, nursing was regarded as a profession for women. However, this gender-based perception of nursing changed and there are numerous male nurses in Pacific Northwest Native American communities than there were five decades ago. The increase of male workers in professions that were perceived to be feminine is credited to the fight by feminists to champion for the women rights. Particularly, the feminists pushed for inclusion of the women in all sectors of the economy arguing that such a practice would spur economic growth. Feminists’ argument made most people shun the perception that certain jobs are meant for a certain gender and began embracing all careers. The shift from gender-appropriate jobs led to the adaptive change, whereby candidates are evaluated on merit rather than their gender, which was discriminatory (Mammen, & Paxson, 2000).

Replenishing Fish Stock at the Columbian River

Another interesting trait of Pacific Northwest Native American culture knowledge and racial ideology is how it guides the adaptive capacity of their economic practices such as restoring fishes in the Columbian River. In 1994, the Columbian river tribes planned and formed an organization for restoring steelhead runs and Columbia River salmon that had been listed as an endangered species (Colombi & Smith, 2014). These tribes employed their knowledge to develop management and resource restoration strategies. These restoration plans were heralded by the significant drop in salmon stock in the river (Armitage & Plummer, 2010). Consequently, the adaptive cultural change sought to challenge the dominant cultural practices of using hatcheries to augment salmon stocks (Engle, 2011).

They drew upon their local knowledge of salmon and the past knowledge derived from their experience and skills and designed natural ponds that they used to improve fish stocks in the river. However, scientists attested that the use of supplementary hatcheries would prove effective in the short-run and may adversely impact on the genetic composition of the future generations of salmon species in the river (Colombi & Smith, 2014). Though the restoration plan increased the fish stock in the short-run, it was maladaptive since it affected the genetic compositions of salmons negatively.


Cultural adaptation and maladaptation is about system adaptive capacity, resilience, and complexity. This paper has emphasized the elements of adaptive capacity of the Pacific Northwest Native American culture, particularly on the economy and ecology and how these encompass the ideas of financial relations and resilience in their association with ecological processes and resources. Cultures create economic platforms that provide shifting and substitution between economic activities and how they impact the environment. Culture include the vision and leadership to adjust to no-analog and novel features. Those leaders with vision create new opportunities and engender trust. Moreover, these directors form partnerships with other head to achieve their goals. Knowledge and ideology are about gaining the education for people, the learning they engage in, and the values people have. Knowledge was vital for the tribes to establish supplementation facilities, casino gaming, and to fight for their legal rights. Being concerned about a place is also important, particularly when sovereignty is usually connected to a land base. Further improvement requires new synthesis, discussion, and study of cultural processes and concepts. Cultural narratives can provide insights into the most significant relations and variables used in defining adaptive capacity. Moreover, cultural narratives can be used in identifying the processes and variables that help in predicting non-analog and novel futures. Adaptive capacity is an ideological, socio-political, economic, and ecological dimension of culture which enables various cultures to be knowledgeable, adaptive, and flexible in the face of unknown future.


Armitage, D. R., & Plummer, R. (2010). Adaptive capacity and environmental governance. Berlin: Springer.

Colombi, B. J. & Smith L. (2014). Insights on Adaptive Capacity: Three Indigenous Pacific Northwest Historical Narratives. Journal of Northwest Anthropology, 48(2): 189-201.

Engle, N. L. (2011). Adaptive capacity and its assessment. Global Environmental Change, 21(2), 647-656.

Grothmann, T., & Patt, A. (2005). Adaptive capacity and human cognition: the process of individual adaptation to climate change. Global Environmental Change, 15(3), 199-213.

Mammen, K., & Paxson, C. (2000). Women's work and economic development. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 14(4), 141-164.

Yuval-Davis, N. (2006). Human/women’s rights and feminist transversal politics. Global feminism: Transnational women’s activism, organizing, and human rights, 275-95.

November 23, 2022

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