Magpie’s Thoughts on Land Claims

Middle Class Country: an American pop culture project.

Dude Ranch Country: an older American pop culture project.


Spiritual Country: a Chinese-European folk cultural project.

Artistic Country: an American cultural export installation.

Virtual Country: an American delivery network.


Prototype Country: A country house in Wales.

Let’s pause a little at that one, to enjoy the view. Please note that the former croft houses and sheep folds of this working and living space have been transformed into nature by wealth. Their setting is now used as space. “Separation” would be a good word for that kind of space. Or “nature.” It creates “health.” That there was health here before this for is beside the point. This is an antidote for wealth. It is also its reward. Unlike the crofts, that were temporary shelters for people for whom these hills were living and working rooms, the land here is claimed as a part of the house merely by its presence, not by its working use. It is this form of clearing that peopled my part of Canada starting around 1898. As a consequence, we have “parks” (see below) where people can “recreate”, ie recover from the stress of the dense, urban world. In this sense, the Canadian city of Vancouver is the country house for the “park” below. The idea is to touch space untouched by human hands, as it existed in healthy, elegant, pre-human patterns.

These are the Marble Mountains (in Secwepemc Territory). Canada has claimed them, in a similar way to which the Welsh country house has replaced croft farms.

Well, it’s a story we tell. Unfortunately for the story, it has always been human social space. After all, the giant heads in the Okanagan Valley shown below stand directly above an ancient syilx village site. The village was long ago removed (its people were moved onto a reservation) and the form of thinking that sees heads here is declared “primitive.” That means it is erased from narratives of place, made into nature, and marvelled at for its physical beauty. Yet the heads are still here. Just rather invisible.

Vaseaux Lake Bluffs (Syilx Territory)

That’s how this stuff works. As for the country manor house, here’s a middle class man’s version in Vernon today.

Notice how the living hillside has been converted into house space, and at great expense. It is, however, house space meant only to be viewed. That road winding uphill through the gravel? That’s a display road. Not for driving on. It goes nowhere. Before the space was colonized in this way, it looked something like the image below (just up the hill and a kilometre to the north).

At that time, it was once human living and working space…

Columbia Hawthorn

Syilx space. Before the syilx were fenced off of this space, they were scarcely different, in a way, than crofters. After all, a house made of field stones or mud anchored on the side of a hill in Wales did not have a “living room” or a “parlour” (a room for conversation); it had a black fire; you could get out of the weather in it. But you lived outside. The hill was your living room, so to speak. So is it here as well.

Or was. I don’t speak for the syilx, only for the land and indigenous identity as I know it from my ancestors, and I am not advocating some romantic return to some imagined and romanticized Arcadia. There are good reasons for building houses and administering land-use conflicts between people, and good reasons for creating nature (just as there are good reasons for dismantling it.) I am only hoping to point out that Canada is a bit like this chicken farm just downhill from my house. Ingenious, really.

Free-Range Eggs, Anyone?

It is a space, onto which people write stories cobbled together from pieces brought from elsewhere. You leave out any other possible story, until it becomes invisible.

You could grow potatoes in the parking lot above. Sure you could. You could figure out a way. You could grow apples here, as they do above parked cars in Tokyo, but various Canadian stories about parked cars and apple trees prevent that, and, besides, there’s always that big sign to remind you. That’s the thing about reservations. They create space by putting fences across it and controlling access. Some of us wound up within the fences. Some of us wound up outside the fences. We are all limited by the fences. They are within us, because the land is us.

It matters not that behind the fence and its no trespassing sign corn and pumpkins are grown for an Eastern American festival that (for a price) we can help celebrate. What really matters is that these stories change all of our relationships to the land. Now we have to buy the bounty of the Earth from the labour of someone else’s capital.

What’s more, this buck can only pass between the remnants of the wetlands and the remnants of the grasslands high above by passing through this field. All the other fields have tall deer-proof fences. Nonetheless, although there is nothing he can damage here, the farmer (or anyone he delegates) has the right to shoot this essentially tame deer in urban space because of right-to-farm legislation that allows him to protect his crops. Damage or not, those are the rules. They can be bent, in just one of the many ways in which the stories fences tell can be used to manipulate life held in common.

The Land that Fences Made

Vernon, Looking North-East

The stories are everywhere. They might be on the land, or they might be electronic or written fictions, but here in British Columbia, where almost all indigenous space has never been ceded to any colonial power, all stories are always land claims. Meanwhile, it is not dishonourable to do the best we can in the emptiness. Ask any smoker.

Ask any downtown property owner. They know how dangerous it is to let graffiti taggers put land claims on their parking garage walls. If something is not done, they will become living rooms. The result is the greatest of all Canadian art forms.

To keep it in Canada, rather than allowing it to morph into common land and a future in which we are all indigenous, such claims must be neutralized.

It’s a continual struggle for scraps.


But it’s a living, eh.



3 replies »

    • Whew! I sweated over it for hours, trying to get it clear enough that it made some kind of sense. It’s good to hear that it was worth it. Thanks for following along.


      Liked by 1 person

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