Tlingít Aani. Haida Gwaii. Sécwepemcul’ecw. Chinook Illahee. Nch’i-Wana. Wy’east. Ti’swaq. Hisc’akwaleeas. (4 homelands, 1 river, 3 mountains; respectively. 7 different languages) And as the rainforest coast crawls down the map from Kayak Island to Usal Creek, all of the watersheds that flow out West from the continental divide have been vandalized by scrawling English, French, and Spanish ink.
This place already has names. So why do some of us call this place Cascadia?
I’ve been willing to defend the name before. Right now, I only feel like defending the place. That being said, a recent article, ‘Oh Cascadia…! What are you, exactly?‘ is prompting me to explain why “Cascadia” means so much to some of us. There is more to this place than meets the eye, and I’m still curious as to why some of the old bioregionalists have not been more forward and open in regards to their understanding of this place. So for what it’s worth, I will explain the converging elements that have inspired the bioregional vision of this place: geomorphology, watersheds, ecological interdependence, and anti-globalization.
Geomorphology. The Cascadia Subduction Zone literally pushes Cape Mendocino(sic) up into the sky, and fractures northwards past Vancouver(sic) Island into the “Queen Charlotte(sic) Triple Junction” which shatters against the Continental Divide at it’s intersection with the Aleutian trench in the neighborhood of Galyá x Kwáan and Laa xaayík Kwáan at the Northern tip of Tlingít Aani.
This uplift from 60˚N down to 40˚N creates the worlds largest, and dare I say most magnificent, temperate rainforest all along the Northeast Pacific Rim, rain shadowing the Great Plains of Turtle Island.
To this living geological phenomenon has been attached a name from a dead language. To this name has been attached the wildest dreams of it’s native born and refugees alike. And to the chagrin of these dreamers, to this name has been attached opportunistic marketing schemes and cheap politicizing. And now a pseudo-nationalism that is beginning to trudge ignorantly forward in a way that certainly risks a neocolonial invisiblization of Indigenous People and place names, as if the primary colonial invisiblization wasn’t bad enough. (notice in the picture below Hawai’i and Kodiak Island randomly added to so-called Cascadia. WTF? Go back to playing D&D or Settlers! of Catan.)
So why do we Cascadian’s take this risk? It has become a term loaded with connotations of settler futurity and re-colonization.
Watersheds. The violence instigated by colonial mapmakers cannot be overstated. And this recognition has lead to the poetic dream of “el mundo sin fronteras” – a world without borders. After a number of remarkably unpleasant experiences with “international” border pigs, I am more than sympathetic towards the abolition of the current global police state. However, there is something to be said about ‘healthy boundaries’, and isn’t that borderless world also the fulfillment of the neoliberal globalist’s ultimate violation imperative? Catch 22? Or is there a way to respect local communities and their place-based values without relying on the militarization of colonial chalk marks?
I see two options and I advocate for both. Indigenous Nationhood and watershed autonomy. Now first, these two acts of boundary defining must be seen as incommensurable. I have seen some interpretations of Cascadia by well-meaning bioregional activists that amount to colonial equivocations, specifically “Cascadia=Chinook Illahee.” Sorry. Bioregional Cascadia is defined by watersheds created through geomorphological processes. The homeland of the Chinook Nation should not be equivocated with a regional description from a trade language (chinuk wawa- which is now evolved and living as the Native tongue of a confederated Tribe), let alone a plurinational bioregional vision of an ecologically integral land base that far exceeds the Chinook homeland geographically.
The purpose of defining watersheds as interdependent and autonomous is to decenter both state sovereignty and anthropocentrism in order to facilitate the process of ecological restoration. From a Cascadian bioregional perspective, this broad-based restoration work is needed as the material basis for Indigenous Nationhood to supplant state sovereignty. This place has been devastated, and the responsibility of putting the mess back together should not fall on the shoulders of Indigenous Peoples alone. The bioregional vision of Cascadia has been based on restoration since the beginning. This is not about reconciliation. The restoration work needed has already begun, and must be carried out on a bioregional scale if it is to be effective.
Indigenous Nationhood is none of my business. Irish Nationhood is. However, practical solidarity, Nation-to-Nation, is necessary to create that “500 mice” scenario that can confront the ‘United Global Empire’; call it capitalism, totalitarian socialism, universalism, or neo-whaterverism. It is on this basis that some of us are theorizing decolonial bioregionalism that would reflect the Indigeneity of each particular place, centering the Indigenous People of each particular place, replacing settler law with Indigenous governance. Bioregional decolonization is a practical process and a theoretical construct that describes the relationship of a settler population to Indigenous governance. Without this narrative, Indigenous Nationhood faces unnecessary challenges and runs the risk of becoming ethno-nationalism.
Am I advocating some form a settler futurity? No, but I feel such a risk needs to be confronted directly. If bioregionalism cannot be theorized in accordance with the Indigenous laws and epistemologies of each particular place, it will further settler colonialism and is a form of re-colonization. Bioregionalism must therefore be a construct wherein, following Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, settler populations become “immigrant populations beholden to the Indigenous laws and epistemologies of the the lands they migrate to.” Or in many cases, that their ancestors migrated to as settlers years ago. This vision of Cascadian bioregionalism is seen as promising by Indigenous and settler folk alike, and is the basis of the collaborative project Autonomy Cascadia: A Journal of Bioregional Decolonization.
Herein, a watershed can be seen as a self-defined common ground, used to confront colonial borders without breaching the boundaries of Indigenous Nations. If the watersheds of Cascadia were mapped, and the Indigenous Nations of Cascadia were mapped, they would be incommensurable, but potentially complementary. Maps have been made that mix these two views, and I feel they are overtly neocolonial. Cascadia, in it’s most basic definition, is simply a handful of watersheds that are connected ecologically.
Ecological Interdependence. One of the most compelling reasons to embrace a bioregional view of Cascadia is the recognition that no watershed is an island. And for that matter, nor is any Nation….just kidding! At least in Cascadia, the ecology of this place has always fostered a plurinational interdependence. Call it the “grease trail.” The dams on the Deschutes(sic) river flowing just down the street from where I am typing these words are part of the reasons why the fishery has collapsed off the coast of Vancouver(sic) Island and my Nuu-Chah-Nulth friends have been deprived of their livelihood. Ecologically, dam removals within the Columbia(sic!) watershed benefit all the West Coast Indigenous populations to the north, as the Salmon migration flows along the Pacific rim. Technically speaking, this would be of no benefit to the Lakotah or the Arapaho east of the Continental Divide which demarcates Cascadia. Nor does it help anyone in the Great Basin, which further demarcates Cascadia. In this way, we can see Cascadia defined as being ecologically autonomous to a large degree by itself, and profoundly ecologically interdependent within itself. We Cascadian dreamers see this as a way for ecology to triumph over colonial borders and neoliberal economic models.
Anti-globalization. Bioregional theorizing is not the property of white men. This movement is very much alive in the global South, and has evolved along with the world-wide resistance to globalization. It has been a “fellow-traveler(sic)” with Zapatismo and Indigenous resistance in the global North. It has stood in opposition to both capitalism and Marxism, anti-globalist ethno-nationalisms, and neoliberal universalism. Bioregionalism allows for ecology to set up natural boundaries and requires human beings to respect them. It is no coincidence that Indigenous Peoples have been doing the same thing for millennia, and have described Indigenous ways as being “bioregional.” If a common ground is needed for humanity to stand up against the global empire and win, then work laid by bioregional movements over the past 50 years may certainly be our best practical option. I challenge the reader to prove me otherwise. Bioregional visions truly seek to create that “world where many worlds fit.” Cascadia is an expression of the bioregional imagination and an observation about ecology, and the ‘beer bottle secessionists’ are appropriative and neocolonial. Let’s not let them have the final say.
The Fenian Invasions of Canada.
In an attempt to disable the British Empire, the Irish invaded Canada 5 times between 1866 and 1871. Some say it was this pressure that led to the formation of the Canadian State and a sense of Canadian nationalism. Oops. Sorry. This was at a time before the Irish were granted “white privilege” by the US, but were of course mass cannon fodder for the US military. These invasions were coordinated with uprisings back in Ireland, that of course were massive failures. The Irish have been directly, often quite illegally and materially, involved in anti-colonial struggles on most every continent on this planet (ask the Iraqi resistance where they learned to fight). For a long time now, it has been clear to us the the fight for Irish freedom is inextricable from the liberation and autonomy of all the small Nations of this planet. And this is true today more than ever.
I bring this up mainly to contextualize why a certain handful of “fellow Irishmen” are so captivated by Cascadian bioregionalism. It still centers around British(sic) Columbia(sic) and reflects our ambivalence towards the Republican empire to the South which, once we “became white,” many of us benefited from profoundly. The BC Treaty process strikes an ancestral chord deep in the Irish soul. And alternatives to this process are something we cannot feel completely disconnected with. And what can I say about disgust with a failed Republic!?
So when all hope is lost, the Irish take to dreaming. We’re a Nation of dreamers. We tried to lure the settlers onto our side in our fight to liberate our Island from colonialism. Why do you think Orange is on the Irish flag? We said to them “aren’t we all Irish anyhow” and they said they were still Scots. OK. Lesson learned. But even that dream is still alive, and it will never die as long as 26+6=1. And if those Scots get their own country back in September of 2014….well.
And what you think “Republic” of Cascadia, or Cascadia “Free State” mean to us Irish. Seriously! Both notions have cost us buckets of blood, and for what? WE NEED TO DO BETTER! We need our dreams to go wild, then dream big or go home(sic). And the bioregional decolonization of Cascadia is an unwritten future. Practical enough to return stolen land, and quixotic enough for the Irish to want to join the fight.
So in direct response to Ms. Sally McCoy, Cascadia is a place, not a state of the mind or a State in waiting. That other Mick will tell you as much. But I will tell you that this place exists in a context. One of settler colonialism, global empire, and ecological collapse. Cascadia is stolen land, and the bioregionalists want to give this place back, both because it’s the right thing to do, and because the fight for our own places has been global for a while now.
I am writing this 1/2 mile from where I was born, just up hill from the river in Bend, Oregon(sic) with a full view of the mountains where I drink water straight from the creek. “Privilege” is an understatement when it comes to being born in a place so beautiful. The river meets waters from Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Wyoming, and B.C. (sic, et. al.) where there was once the greatest Salmon fishery in the world. And if my life isn’t wasted, it will be again. This just isn’t a webfoot phenomenon.
Oh, and Paul Schell is neither a bioregionalist nor a Cascadian.