(i wrote this as a response to the above CBC news segment. i’ll skip the obligatory denunciation of “white, flag-waving soccer fans” as that is a cheap-shot stereotype of our movement, and/or the only damn thing they’ll put on TV.)
In light of the growing popularity of a movement that I believe will only be gaining momentum in the years to come, I want to be clear and unambiguous about why I am a Cascadian.
Let me first state that I am a bioregionalist, as opposed to what may be termed as a ‘nationalist.’ It’s a somewhat complicated, yet desperately important distinction to be made up front. I won’t give an in-depth explanation here, but suffice it to say, “voting to secede” and/or “creating a new nation-state” are not the particular strategies that I embrace towards emancipating this place from the unsavory gamut of impositions placed upon us. Some form of traditional “Nationalism” is the unfortunate conclusion jumped to by most folks when trying to understand “Cascadia.” It’s understandable, and something I would sympathize with, but in all honesty, our movement here goes much deeper than geopolitics and mere economics.
The Earth is in deep ecological trouble, and Humanity as a whole is at a crossroads. Yet despite the universality of this danger and hope, this place contains many uniquenesses both historically and ecologically that have come to bear upon our present reality. I believe this distinctiveness has a role to play in the future that will have, well, cascading implications for both the Earth and Humanity.
Cascadia is a place. Created and define by geomorphological processes, not political projection. The name simply refers to the “falling waters” that result from this process of land rising steeply out of the sea against a much older, flatter continent. This place is home to a profound diversity of Indigenous peoples. Within the watersheds that meet the Pacific Ocean all along the unbroken rainforest coast, from Cape Mendocino (presently California) to the tip of Tlingit country (presently SE Alaska), the diversity of languages spoken is astounding, despite the failed, long term US and Canadian government policies to erase and destroy these languages and cultures. This diversity is a direct reflection of the landscape itself, and is also the best explanation as to why there is not just one single historically indigenous name for the entirety of the bioregion that has now gained the latin-rooted name “Cascadia.”
I say this because I believe in the power and morality of maintaing and restoring Indigenous place names.(1) Cascadia, in a sense, is a name that has come to this place, yet etymologically speaking, the name comes from the land itself, reflective of what the land actually does: it cascades!(2) I would make the contention that the broader name Cascadia does not (and should never) erase the many Indigenous place names found throughout the broader region. In fact, it should be a Cascadian ethic to know and support the Indigenous place-name restoration processes that are presently occurring throughout the bioregion. Names are powerful things. So when I call myself a Cascadian, I am not speaking lightly.
The heart of bioregionalism is ecological restoration. This place has been devastated. What was once the greatest salmon fishery in the world has been reduced to a fraction of a percent of what it was, with the ecologically dubious fish hatcheries glossing over this, and the ecologically malicious salmon farms expediting this. The vast majority of what was once the worlds grandest temperate rain forest has been clear-cut, the same happening to the massive Ponderosa Pine savannas of Cascadia’s arid interior. The fight to protect the last refuges of these ancient giants, and their unique ecologies, has resulted in car bombs, arson, sabotage, and exaggerated prison sentences. A time known locally as The Forest Wars.
Yet as the late bioregionalist Peter Berg emphasized, our movement is “more than just saving what is left.” We need to be on the offensive. We need to do what it takes to restore to 100% the annual regeneration of salmon, steelhead, oolichan and lamprey runs. We need to do what it takes to restore the forest ecologies of watershed after watershed, and not accept the smothering of landscapes with industrial tree farms. To this end, our way of life and our economy must uphold and directly reflect these values. The dominant economy (presently “corporate” Capitalism) is ferociously at odds with these aims. The economic turbulence of recent years does not bode well for what has become a self-annihilating economy that is being forced upon us. If our way of life (and hence economy) does not change in order to re-create and maintain an active, living harmony with the land upon which it is based, we will all have to face the consequences. And in so many places, these consequences have already reached a breaking point. We do not have all the time in the world to put this place back together.
The US and Canadian governments do not represent “The People” whether we mean settler people or Indigenous people. These governments are tools of multinational corporations used to create laws that protect these corporations and fetter the self-determination of individuals, families, and communities trying to maintain honest, respectable lives for themselves. Assimilation into the servitude of these corporations, at one level or another, remains the only viable option for survival within this imposed context. And this context expedites unfettered resource extraction in a manner that leaves communities and ecologies in abject ruin.
For the ecological restoration of the interconnected watersheds we call Cascadia, there must be a fundamentally different economy. The US and Canadian governments will not facilitate this desperately needed restorative economy by any far stretch of the imagination. However, our imagination is desperately needed for this to become a reality. And it needs to become a reality. So does this amount to “creating our own country?” My answer is that the “country” is already here, it just needs to be restored. And it means a level of economic and cultural creativity, self-determined at the community level, rooted in the living reality of this place, that is both highly contentious and highly emancipatory. No small fish to fry, but just one can feed so many here….
I will also insist on reminding everyone that Canada’s claim to the land here is completely illegitimate. The US Government seems to be following it’s economy straight down the tubes, even apart from a certain “Founding Father’s” admonition to periodically “water the tree of liberty.” Make of that what you will, Professor Resnick.
So what are we really after here?
I’ve been told that the word decolonization is “inflammatory.” Really? Well, I believe that it is only a sad ignorance of the gut-wrenchingly offensive realities of colonialism that could portray the undoing of that damage as anything other than a breath of fresh, clean air. Or a drink of water from a mountain stream. (OK, the road to get there may be a bit tumultuous….) Now, it must be understood that colonialism in the lands and waters of the Cascadian bioregion is alive and well. But it’s not just colonialism, it’s a particularly nefarious strain called settler colonialism. Unlike some other historical contexts in other places, the Cascadian landscape houses a profound settler majority. So isn’t decolonization just a hopeless aspiration against this tsunami of “progress?”
Here it must be remembered that decolonization is, and has persistently been, as much a process of creation as it has been one of dismantling and deconstruction. Historically, the strategy of colonizers has been to create and/or fuel divisions amongst colonized and exploited populations using ethnic and religious difference as points of antagonism. This has time-and-again been a very effective tool used to obscure the much larger chasm maintained by the class divisions created by the colonial system. Wars between exploited settler and native populations have raged on for years, while the colonial upper class go on drinking tea. It’s a sad historical fact, and I bring it up mostly as a model to learn from, because the chasm between Cascadia’s “Fourth World” Indigenous communities and our “First World” settler ‘working’ people can present a greater class division in all reality than there was between a king and a peasant of old. In so many ways, Cascadia is a search for “common ground” where, at present, there may be none at all. Still, as human beings, we all share more in common than not, and this stubborn belief in Humanity reconnecting with the Earth is what stubbornly gives us hope in the face of an almost unthinkable past.
My point in all of this “class” talk is to emphasize that there is nothing essential about class. No mater what form it takes, it is created and maintained by an imposed colonial system. And as we say in my language, “sin é.” There’s nothing more too it. So at base, colonialism is the imposition of “Law from without.” The “law” that divides and conquers, extracts and exploits, fills the markets of the metropole with gold and furs while leaving a devastated landscape in its wake. Decolonization, at base, is the restoration of Indigenous Law: law from the land itself, upheld and defended by the People who’s language and culture are inextricable from the land itself. With this in mind, and no matter who’s toes I may be stepping on, decolonization is the best, most concise word to describe what bioregionalists, at heart, are trying to do.
So what does the restoration of Indigenous Law mean for a settler like me? My task is to ask this question of all my Indigenous neighbors (human and non-human) and be open hearted with all the various answers I am given. And my task is to tell my story; one of colonization, genocide, survival, exile, assimilation, and ascendancy. What can be learnt from my story is my gift. And with all these stories coming together here in this place, each one is a strand that may be woven together in a creative process, the manifestation of which has yet to fully take shape.
But that is my Cascadia. No small fish to fry.
le meas, C.B. Ó Corcráin
(1) The place of my ancestors and living relatives in Ireland has the indigenous name Béal Átha na mBuillí, (or “the mouth of the ford of the strokes”, with “strokes” referring to ancient clan battles that took place there.) Thanks to Oliver Cromwell and his ilk, the place became “Strokestown.” The idiots who changed the name starved half the county to death at one point. I will admit to harboring no small amount of resentment towards this kind of behavior.
(2) I would encourage all readers to search out the “Cascadia Institute” for more on the ecology and lore of Cascadia, including the “Falling Waters” description.