Slow Fire in the Okanagan

It has been a summer of fast fires, burning off the growth of a century throughout the grasslands and fire forests between the mountain ranges of the North East Pacific Coast. While that has been consuming attention, a slower fire has been going on. This one is called drought.

It’s not drought. This is one of the Turtle Hills along Turtle Ridge in Vernon. Note how so many plants, which have flourished in a long series of fire-free, wet summers, were burnt away this summer by the sun alone. It is the same story of balance and renewal. It is this cycle of forces that have made this land, and are continuing to make it in new circumstances, right now. Destroying land like this to protect houses is necessary, but it is also very colonial. It is the wound originally opened in the earth at the time of British and American settlement and the separation of the land and her people. There is a song that could be sung here at the intersection of Earth and Sun.

It is stress like this — not the easy years — that create the patterns of energy that are the story here.

Why Populism is a Bad Thing

Populism is a form of political system which furthers the beliefs of a class called “the people” against a class called “the elite.” We could call “the people” any of the following:

regular folks, white people, local people, indigenous people, poor people, and so on;

and we could call “the elite” the following:

rich folks, intellectuals, scientists, bureaucrats, career politicians, town houses, land owners, property developers, and so on,

or if we like, we could call the elite the following:

regular folks, white people, local people, indigenous people,  poor people, and so on;

and we could call the people the following:

rich folks, intellectuals, scientists, bureaucrats, career politicians, town houses, land owners, property developers, and so on.

Oh, brother. Let’s do a little experiment. Imagine, for a moment, that this fellow is “the people”:

And imagine, for a moment, that this is “the elite:”

Sound far-fetched? Not really. The porcupine lives in a riparian area draining from the back side of this hill. This upthrust lump of seabed, in other words, creates the conditions in which the porcupine lives. But, alas, look again:

The porcupine does not exist in a “natural” world. It uses a culvert as a short cut under a fence, to access a walking trail in an old irrigation canal to access its trail down to a farmer’s compost pile, which has fed its family for generations, well, in between nibbling on choke cherry bushes in the winter snow. At the same time, the “natural world” is not a proper elite. Look at it, just a kilometre to the west:

The elites of this city (and this is in the city), who tend to be retired oil men or the people who are developing the land for their houses, often call this a wasteland of weeds and cactus. They are rather correct. Look again:

A thousand hectares of once-productive grassland for one cow? No, two. The other one was behind a rock off to the right of the image. This is land that once powered the elites of Canada in this region, ranchers for whom the grasslands were sacrificed and for whom all property rules were created. 150 years ago, the act of privatizing this land, fencing it from indigenous use and putting cattle upon it was called development. Now the so-called elite wants it to be developed into productive farmland, with the weeds (both weeds and natural grasses) cut down to make good grazing, or the land broken up and turned into housing lots for “the people,” who tend to be “the elite.” This is not an elite which provides direction for the people. It’s just open competition. So, let’s look again:

When this land was first settled, it was farmed as “common land,” with open access to all. That meant that open grazing of cattle was available to everyone, which sounded mighty egalitarian but resulted, sadly, in the end, with the first man who could get his cattle on the land, often due to his wealth and power, getting the benefit of the grass and the rest of the ranchers (and the indigenous syilx) getting, well, dead cows. Privatization of land was meant to settle that. In other words, a form of populism.

The result of that, however, is that whoever places a house on this “privatized” or “popularized” land gets the benefit of the land, and changes the nature of the land, not for the common good of the land but for whatever purposes he wants, with no oversight other than the populist principle that a private owner knows best and his rights are inviolate. This is one reason that populism is a silly idea. The German sociologist Karin Priester, who has studied, among topics, Italian fascism and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, calls populism a relational idea with an empty heart. It is, by the way, this heart that populists such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini filled with mystic substance, in the place of rational analysis. In short, the term is a mess, and yet its ideas, and the relationships they present, are rife in contemporary society. They create a gap between oil men, on the one hand, and indigenous peoples, on the other, which governments then try to bridge, often against the protests of “the people” and, often, the protests (called appeals to the Supreme Court) of the oil men. This is the normal state of affairs. It can only, ultimately lead to one end, this: 

“The people” might want a grassland hill, or might want development, and “the elite” might want a grassland hill, or might want development. In reality, though, the productive capacity of the land has been destroyed. You are looking at a couple hundred hectares of richly productive indigenous land that can’t even support a single cow, and whose grasses have been replaced by weeds. You are looking at weeds. You are not looking at nature, because there is no “nature” at the heart of populism, even though Hitler and Mussolini argued that “natural man”, i.e. the heart of populism, knew best. That’s the trick of populism: it makes dichotomies where none exist, legitimizes, even creates, bad behaviour, and leads, always, to the dehumanization of the earth in the name of human values. These are issues which Karl Marx blamed on capitalization and its distortions of social relationships. Sure. Maybe. The smoky forest-fire light that this loon is swimming in could be called the result of capitalist distortions of healthy forest policy…

…but it might be more usefully called the distortion of populist policy, that places “nature” as an elite, which “the people”, i.e. humans, have a basic political right to draw upon, and which will support them unquestionably, as long as they adjust their courtly behaviour (land use plans) to fit the moods of the elite (the land.) Populism is dangerous, not because it pits one group of people against another but for 2 reasons:

It creates separate groups of people.

It is a series of relations without a heart (a good definition of death), which replaces a series of relations which create life.

Relationships will always be there, but there is a big difference between a wooden house filling an ecological niche and a loon filling it, or between people who weave relationships which include the earth (i.e. weave relationships between so-called elites and so-called “people”) and those which treat it as a queen (nature), which will always return energy, forever, without input of any kind. It is a dangerous seduction.

Too Young To Shoot

One of the curious results of mixing houses with farmland is that farmers, or their designates, can shoot deer, with bows or crossbows, in areas otherwise closed to hunting. The deer know this. Here is one of three young guys hiding out in a ruined plum orchard, two metres from the road.

Now, I know you’re not supposed to shoot a bow within 100 metres of a house, for good reason, and you’re not allowed to shoot one from the road, but hunters have recently been spotted in this neighbourhood, at 5:30 a.m., breaking the first of those rules. I wonder if this guy is going to figure it out in time that humans can’t be trusted. Imagine, being surrounded by thousands of predators, with fences blocking you from escape routes and any food. It’s murder.

American Dipper Among the Salmon

This is the bird that weaves the worlds of water, air and stone.

It walks into the water and out of it again.

To Dipper, these worlds are one.

Deep under the water, the earth is formed, and the sun, and the stars.

Dipper eats them all and sings. The salmon have come to lay some more.

They weave through Dipper’s tracks. You know the ones. The one Dipper lays down to lead us, if we will follow.

Our Ancestors Are Not All Human. Neither Are We.

The salmon come home, but they do not come home alone.

Sure, they have each other …

… but that’s not what I mean. They come home to the ancestors. Have a look:

There are ancestors here at Vancouver Island’s  Stamp Falls for many animals, and many combinations of animals and people. The human, fish, and animal morphs above, or the big cat and human morph below. For instance.

A snake-human. Even that.

A whole crowd, really. Are they in the stone? Are they in the observing mind? Yes. It doesn’t really matter. This is the Stamp River Canyon.

See who your mind can reveal from deep within you below. It is to this energy of revealed form that salmon return. “Words” and “thought” are songs, but our minds come from the earth. They are bodily organs. Like touch. Or breath.

Raven is waiting, too. He is a whole collection of people, really. Not all people are human. Some are stone.

And dog. He is the first to welcome the salmon home. Ignore the German photographer. Dog is.

Lizard waits, too.

It is not fantastical that a people who lived on this land for 10,000 years or more would develop their spiritual technologies out of the forms of the land, or would read the land out of the forms of their stories. It is not fantastical that man whose ancestors were indigenous to Bohemia and the Rhine would know this stone. Everywhere that the people of the Pacific Northwest fished for salmon or made camp, these figures appear. I could lead them to you here, or in Germany, and help you to see with indigenous eyes. To such eyes, thought is a form of spiritual technology with no boundaries between spiritual and physical life. Here’s fox. And friends. The mind sees what the ancestors know. They are within, and without, and it’s the same space.

One crosses back and forth. One enters

One comes back in a different form.

So many Canadians worry that talk of indigenous rights means a lack of rights to anyone else. This is hardly the case. Canadians have every right to Canada. Canada, however, is not this land, and, speaking as a Cascadian, a man of the North Pacific Slope, neither do Americans, who have laid their country over this land as well. They have every right to this country, but it does not make them this land.

Shuswap Lake

I have often heard it said that the first peoples of Cascadia (or elsewhere in North America) have no more or less right to living in this place than any of the newcomers of the last 150 or 500 years, because they, too, claimed this land from others. It is a spurious argument. They came as people of the land. They listened. This is what they listened to.

Most newcomers listened to this:

They did not listen. They saw, and built a place to continue that seeing, with windows, and walls, and a deck that allows them to be outside and inside at the same time. They came to retire from work and struggle.

This is not the place for that. If one believes it is, then one does not live here, and one has not spoken with the ancestors.

Dead or alive…

…they have much to teach yet.

Indigenous or Aboriginal or Both or Neither, eh?

The Prime Minister of Canada, the colonial power in this space, spoke to the UN the other day about the need for Canada to reconcile itself with its aboriginal peoples. Notice that he did not say he was looking for reconciliation with the country’s indigenous peoples. That would be quite hard. Sure, the words are often interchangeable in usage, but they’re not really the same. Aboriginal is a word used for people who lived in a space before colonization. One can define such people as earlier colonists, and then use that definition to erase their claims, or at least to absorb it into a larger, more energetic colonial context. “Aboriginal” people get to be citizens of colonial cities, such as my Vernon, below:

Indigenous is a word for people who are the land, are native to it, and can’t be separated from it without losing their identity. For example, the cat tail below is an indigenous life form in this space of sun and wind in which I live:

In colonial culture, it is considered a weed. Surely, that speaks volumes. Take another look. The person below is indigenous to this space, and even to the wheat grass she is walking through, but not to the system of roads and houses both she and the grass are placed in, or the relatively pure stand of seeded grass (to stabilize infill from road construction) she is passing through. That is Canadian space. Property developers (for what else is colonialism but property development???) are native to that space. Not mule deer.

I hope you don’t mind that I call her a person. Humans indigenous to this space don’t.

Humans indigenous to this space pass through this grass in the same way as well. They don’t stay. There is nothing to stay for. It is a monocultural desert.

The people who stay are the property developers and the colonists who buy their title deeds.

That is Canada. What then is it to be indigenous? It’s very simple. It is to be the land. That really doesn’t need elaboration, but since the words are colonial ones (there was no “land” here before colonial property rights were introduced, for example, which is not the same as saying there were no property rights), it might be best to say a few more things. First, the earth is organic, and her processes are as well. Things fit into other things: the mule deer foot print in mud from a colonial diversion of water through a seasonal subsurface water drainage, creates a healing wetland, which a mule deer steps in, which allows seeds to gather and wait for rain, and growth. What happens to the land, happens in depth.

What happens to the land’s people also happens in depth, and is part of this organic process. This is not a wild deer. It is fenced by a set of ideas. Are human people any different?

The opposite is also true: what happens negatively to the land, happens negatively to indigenous people. If the land is fenced, so are they. If the land is capitalized and divided into property, there is a “Canada Indian Act” to turn indigenous people into aboriginal property, little different than trees or rocks, which can be milled or mined. It is this fundamental de-indigenization that lies behind current cries of protest about cultural appropriation of indigenous cultures for profit. It’s what Canada is for. This transformation of indigenous people into aboriginal people, and then their erasure by time and demographics, is a process often commented on by the political right in Canada: all people in the country are equal. Yes, all people in the country are indigenous to Canada, because it is ever-present, but not all people in Canada are indigenous to the land and share in its fate. That’s a huge difference. It is also something Canadians don’t talk about much: the difficult trails that coyotes and human people walk in urban environments to maintain their contact with the earth, and the difficult forms of taming and domestication that these colonial environments instilled in them, and how to tell the difference. Perhaps people in other countries need philosophies of existence or of individualism or of trade. What we don’t need in Canada is a philosophy of reconciliation. What we need is to make Canada indigenous to this place. We’re going to need new words and philosophies for that. For one thing, people are not a resource. The salmon people below are not a resource.

Canada is the resource. .

Forest Salmon in the Salmon Forest

In a trickle of water among the ferns among the roots of a red cedar tree high above San Josef Bay,

… a tiny salmon lives out its first year, hunting insects in water so dark it feels like air, occasionally shot through with light as the trees high above shift in the sky.

The trees that shade these tiny waters have grown from the bodies of the ancestors of this salmon. Now, this salmon forest is home for the future. This fish is the forest.

This is just one of the spiritual bodies of a salmon. Look at the skin it draws to itself from the water and carries to sea.

Eating farmed salmon is poison for your soul.

 

The Heart of the Shuswap

Some rocks are sacred.

The twins that allow water to reveal its spirit. The two halves of the heart.

And what a spirit!

Spirit on spirit on spirit. This red blood.

The rock that is a heart and … oh, what ‘s this crawling out from the water to it?

Spirit indeed!

It’s not hard to find your way on Shuswap Lake. It’s not hard to read the land.

By reading it, I read my self.

In the country I used to live in, this was called belief. I live here now.

And here.