The End of White Privilege in the Okanagan

For about 125 years, my valley has been the setting for the creation of a White homeland. It started in a British Empire that was largely Asian, looking for a racial state for a Britain driven to overpopulation by industrialization: the same force that drove Americans west across the continent to dislodge native peoples there. After the First World War, the whiting of the Okanagan continued by embracing other Europeans, after the British population was decimated by insane class-based military bungling in the trenches in France. During these two seminal generations,the indigenous population was confined ever more tightly to tiny “Indian Reserves” and the land that it had cared for for 6,000 years, was now approached out of european ignorance as “nature.” Its wealth was soon drawn down ecologically until now it is a ruin of weeds and burning forests and smoke. Well, it’s all over. It ended this summer. It is the end of White privilege in the Okanagan.

“The Rise” Development

Government ecological-protection legislation allowed for the legal ruin of essential grassland here in Vernon, through, in part, its replanting with native bunchgrass. This image shows how invasive cheatgrass is rapidly making inroads. It will soon replace the bunchgrass with a one-species wasteland of drought, because no one is minding the show. They’re not doing so because this is “nature”, and hence outside of human control. What nonsense.

Sure, land will continue to be abused, indigenous people will continue to be excluded from decision making processes or land use, but it’s all done on borrowed time now. Still, white culture continues to build for its views (all that foreigners can understand of a landscape) and continues to play, even when the valley is full of the smoke of burning forests caused by a hundred years of forest mismanagement, in general, and 25 years specifically. The smoke is “nature”, the pillar of whiteness, burning up.

Okanagan Lake, Below Bella Vista Road and Okanagan Hills Boulevard


White culture is so affluent that even in the smoke it can continue to offer elite views to the working class. Working class? Yes. The wealthy part of it. You can be sure that the elite white classes have already packed up for their second or third homes in Maui or Bermuda or Portugal or are the colonial elite teaching English in China.

As it was in the beginning, White settlement in the valley is fortress culture….

…and every view of smoke and shame is for sale, on the bluff that it is still a view of “nature.”

Even a view of smoke and shame. As I said, White culture has so much power it will continue for a long time here, but it will do it out in the open now. It does not own this land. That’s not to say that the syilx, our indigenous people, do. No-one does. But we all do together. Fire certainly does. At the moment, we all own the shame and the smoke. We could all own the pride. This couple just over the mountains at Willow Point already do:


1 reply »

  1. Your words ring true, Harold. I see this sobering recognition coming to the surface in other ways in other places. I had been giving thought to how to counter the discouragement that accompanies news of racist right wing acts becoming more frequent in news, and found two articles helpful- both from The Gaurdian – one calling out the US President for not condemning terrorizing acts in the USA by Klan members, and one looking at how people in Britain and abroad need to be coming up with viable alternatives to meet the need for employment and place, while not losing gains made on social issue and equality fronts. In the first, it pointed out that the USA was built on a platform that assumed white supremacy, and used slave labour as well as cultural genocide to construct a nation- that progress toward a more just and equal society made since World War II stands to be undermined if we are not alert to reactionary thinking and actions that would attempt to justify a class-based social structure based on consumption more than good stewardship and humanity. Canada is little better than the USA in terms of being built at the expense of certain ethnic or racial groups and traditions. Relatives in both the USA and Canada were among the loggers and miners and farmers who brought with them European ways of seeing the world and relating to the land – not all of them bad, but often ways of being that did not understand or coincide with, or build upon indigenous experience and ways of knowing.

    I am grateful for the light you shine on some of the indigenous peoples’ ways of seeing the world and being in it, in the Vernon area. I thank you for the photos you take and the ideas you share that remind me of what it is to be a part of the wholeness of a place rather than an outside observer and exploiter whose reference points are increasingly virtual.The smoke has come here too. My hope is that there are more individuals such as yourself able to point out how some sort of restoration and change might be brought to bear to restore balance. Do you know Rhona McAdam, who lives in Victoria? Does she follow your posts? She also strikes me as someone making a difference – as does a former art student, Linh Truong who runs the eco-friendly Soap Dispensary business in Vancouver. You can find both on Facebook.

    Keep up the good work. it is much needed, and deeply appreciated.

    Best regards, Ruth Anderson Donovan


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