Cascadia, Illahie, and La langue de nos mères

Here is the Similkameen Valley in The British Columbia. This is the land that holds me, and which made me, just below the foreground slope (Mount Kobau). Just behind it is the U.S.A.’s Pasayten Wilderness.

The river itself, below the slope across the valley, begins along with the Skagit on the west slope of the Cascade Mountains of Washington, then follows this ancient trail north and east, before crossing south back into Washington a few kilometres to the left of here.

The “American” Similkameen at Nighhawk

More like just The Similkameen.

There is a great green land on the West Coast of North America, which some have called Cascadia. They include, rightfully, the Similkameen, and much else. It is certainly a great green land. It stretches from Northern California to Alaska, and east to Yellowstone and the Rocky Mountains. A big place. Great rivers are born here, and I am at home wherever I am in it. I celebrate the multiplicity of this place. It strengthens me to feel my self expand as I move through it.

Sacred Pinnacles Near White Man’s Gold Camp, Washaptum Valley

Until it gets universally celebrated for this multiplicity, it is not Cascadia. Most discussions of Cascadia come from the Coast, where people, good people, are really talking about this:

The Hoh Rainforest

There will be no Cascadia in any non-Coastal sense until the people of the rainforests come to the grass. They have in mind the Great Hieratic Cities of the Coast: Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria, as well as their echoes, Nanaimo, Longview and Bellingham. These days, CBC News in Vancouver is reporting on a high speed train linking Cascadia, meaning very clearly the coastal triad of Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. I can’t really say that’s merely disappointing. It is just of no positive value at all. Weird Canadian bias. Unacceptable. There will be commonality only when those cities and their rainy forests are seen as equal to but not dominant over the grassland below:

Kalamalka Provincial Park

This is our rainforest.

This grassland is as much a city, or more, than Seattle, or Portland. I know one Coastal Cascadian who will not come to the grasslands, because the Confederacy lives East of the mountains. Billboards sprout up on the passes during American elections, commanding people “not to let Seattle steal another election from us.” That’s weird American stuff. But I sure get the frustration on both sides. It is as weird as the USA government slapping on duties on lumber coming from one part of Cascadia to another, without the voices of American Cascadians refusing to accept this warfare for what it is. There will be a Cascadia when people stand together, apart from the national governments that own them. Cascadia is a place traditionally known for gift economies, tied ceremonially to place and spirit, and power granted from them and traded within their bonds and bounds. Our capitalization here is the land and what comes from it, not the capital systems that tie us to ownership systems managed from Washington, New York, Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto. Cascadia will be a place when it matches the flows-of-the-land as lived in by people. Until then, one would be foolish to go to any indigenous community and talk about it. Foolish, meaning profoundly disrespectful, and wrong. One would be talking about American colonization, and frankly, Cascadians can do better. Ultimately, until we are all indigenous, there is no Cascadia, except as a colonial idea.

Fishing for Endangered Sturgeon in the Shadow of the Hanford Plutonium Reactors

It’s likely they will be re-commissioned in my lifetime.

Should we be looking for a new name for this land, given how inadequate this one has become? I think so. It reflects political divisions that do not bring people together, but fence them, on lines of private ownership. We need to think together, not apart. I think the way is to do the work with the land and its spirit. The name will follow.

We will have to leave history and make a life together here. Until then, Cascadia is a coastal game. They should have their name over there. It doesn’t apply to our country. Maybe the old word from Chinook Wawa is best, in  the language hammered out in the households of French Canadian and Kalapuyan women on French Prairie, on the Willamette, before there were any Americans in town: Illahie. Our La hai. Our hedgerow. A place where two languages meet. Our sacred stick game. Our fish weir. Our ancestral stories. Our ancestral fish rights. Our matrilineal lines. La langue de nos mères. Who were indigenous. Whose great-great-great-great-great(?) grandaughters still do not speak for this land but as it. Perhaps there is another word that can bridge the coastal gap, but not Cascadia, please. The Cascades are on the Washington-Oregon border. The Cascade Mountains end a few dozen kilometres into British Columbia. Yes, my Similkameen is a Cascadian River. But it has chosen a journey through the cactus, rather than the journey through the rain of its sister, the Skagit. Let us be one by making a life together.  Anything else is an ethical dead-end.

Vancouver Island Greenhouse Rat Trap

2 replies »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.