The Big Picture

The big picture is vast and complex. Maybe not. Take a look.

Mullein watching over the Bella Vista Valley towards the CommonageMullein Overlooking Bella Vista and the Commonage

Hint: the Mullein is not a weed here. It is a native plant that seeks to heal damaged ground.

The green hills in the back of this photograph would be as dry and full of weeds as the grassland in the foreground if they were not irrigated by the treated effluent of the City of Vernon. The area remains a part of a 28,000 acre land claim by the Okanagan Indian Band, which has been outstanding since 1899, predating the orchards in the middle ground of the photograph, now abandoned and gone to weeds, and the urban areas in the valley bottom, also decayed and going through slow renewal.

Look at the weeds.

In almost a century and a half, this land was been transformed into a set of images that we called Canada, and then watched  vanish. The ranches, orchards, and natural grasslands, and the society that lived from them are all gone. The land is new and unknown, with a new mixture of species, and new stories, yet remains as it has always been: a land simultaneously claimed by multiple peoples and multiple cultures. It bears the record of the struggle. As the mullein shows, it remains part of the healing. (Here it is trying to heal the disturbance of a natural gas pipeline.)

Consider this: after all this time, the two cultures may not be all that multiple anymore. The land provides an image of where we’ve come from and, I think, where we can go.

Tomorrow: one culture. Friday: a thought about healing.

The Land Game

Apple Orchard at Fort Okanogan

I’d like to introduce you to two of the players in the game being played right now for the heart of the valley. Above, at the mouth of the Okanogan River, across the road from Fort Okanogan, the first European settlement in the Interior, an apple plantation has been placed within a grassland of black sage, yarrow, and rabbitbrush (and a lot of European weeds) as if it were a colony on Mars. Just a few miles upriver, the Chief Joseph Dam ends the chance of any salmon swimming farther to the north and east. Just a few miles downriver, nine mothballed nuclear reactors are sitting on the banks of the river as the wind whistles between them. Let’s call this the “cowboy” side of the table. They’re keeping a pretty straight face. On the other side of the table, also with what looks like a pretty good hand…

Senkulmen Industrial Park, Gallagher Lake, Osoyoos Indian BandSenkulmen Business Park

…in the black sage and bunchgrass (and a lot of European weeds) at Gallagher Lake, the Osoyoos Indian Band has been hard at work developing an industrial park, as a foundation for future income and growth. The two ceremonial figures hold up rings from a hoop dance, which look a lot like a model of an atom and its electrons, painted in the four sacred ceremonial colours of the Plateau. Although this might be the “indian” side of the table, whoever’s sitting at it has his eyes on the big picture.

What’s the big picture? Is it the fast flux test facility in the desert? Is it the fact that an American game, poker, with its film set players are sitting at a game for the land, as if the border wasn’t there? Is it that this game, played in the open for high stakes, goes unnoticed? Is it that the “Canadians” don’t seem to be at the table? Is it that the cowboys and indians are really one culture? Answers tomorrow.

Land is Money

Depression Area Orchard Gets a Makeover

As immigrant dreams give over to the dream of a settled identity, the Okanagan is in a period of transition. On the one hand, the Okanagan is now a tourist destination. Here on the southern approaches to Oliver, the Wine Capital of Canada,  competing images of paradise vie for ownership of the land. Here’s a closer look…

Drunk on Power

Here in the so-called Wild West, it is not settler dreams that are winning out right now, but the more perennial ones of whiskey traders and government agencies. As the Okanagan sheds its European, fruit-growing image, the complex cultural politics of the Okanogan take over. Playfully, such as here. More vitally, here. As John Ralston Saul puts it, Canada is a métis nation. Without a treaty or a functional land claim settlement process, claims get settled on the monetary level, as above, as the notion of what is land and what it is for gets pulled around like Greek Bonds on the German stock market in Frankfurt. The only currency in this game is the land itself.  Currently, all the cards are being dealt. Everyone is in the game.

Pst! Tomorrow, I’ll show you hands from a couple of the players.

Salmon Coming Home

Salmon Season Begins on the Okanagan River

The largest surviving spawning population of sockeye in the Columbia River system, that once brought salmon deep into the Rocky Mountains, is found in one section of the Okanagan River north of Oliver. Here the blue-bunched wheatgrass, big sage, antelope brush, and ponderosa pine ecosystems meet in extensive wetlands and the high bluffs that rise above them. It has largely been cleared for orchards, vineyards, mobile home parks, and an electrical transformer station. The restoration of this dredged and wounded river to this natural state is an art project of the deepest respect. Well, at least that’s what the  British Columbia government was talking about six years ago. Now they’re talking about money. Which is the kind of talk that wounded the river in the first place. More on that tomorrow.