First Peoples

Getting Our Land Back 3: Rivers of Place

In this series of posts I am exploring what might be required to set colonialism behind us and create a country for our future children’s children’s children, all of us, human, loon, black bear, marmot, ern, grass, cactus, black widow, and everyone else. This is the third post. Why not follow the argument by reading the first two posts.

Becoming the Flow

The Local and the Universal

And now:

Rivers of Place

Entering a place, as opposed to standing on it and soaking up or harvesting its radiation without it passing through the life of all the people (human included but not exclusively human) of the place…

Wind Theft and Cheat Grass in the Kittitas (Kittitas/Yakama)

…doesn’t have to be overly difficult. We can speak locally and universally, without speaking as “global citizens” or parts of the “liberal left” or those who resist it. Those terms of bipolar political and social organization are legacies of the British colonial system, as expressed through the tensions between individualism and bondage in the old indentured and slave lands of English Central, Southern and Eastern North America, the tensions between royal and freeman status in the old indentured and aristocratic reaches of Northern North America, or the tensions between Seigneur, Church and Paysan using native marriage as a means of resistance, escape and economic freedom, in North Eastern North America and down through the spine of the Land to Louisiana, or the tensions between slavery, terror and agricultural missions of the North American Southwest. In their place, we can start by speaking of our rivers. We don’t have to erase all that history, nor should we, but if we start with the rivers, we can begin to speak of it from the point of view of the land.

The Walla Walla in old Frenchtown, Off “Gardenia Road” in Lowden (Touchet/Cayuse)

We can say, for example, I am of the Chilcotin, and be specific, and know in what ways we belong to it…

Farwell Canyon (Chilcotin Fishery)

without saying “I am not of the John Day or its 55,000,000 year old volcanoes.” We are. We are all part of the energy flow.

John Day Painted Hills (Umatilla)

All our rivers are expressions of this run of the flow we live in. They link together in a language. We are words in that language. As soon as we say, “I am of this biome,” however, we are lost, because that is an abstraction and we are of the land in non-abstract ways, individual and joined. It is a small part of the language in which we move, but only a small part. If, for example, we say, “I am of the Snake”…


Pik’dunin (Nimiipu’u)

… without saying (for example)”I am of the Columbia” …

N’chi’wan’a (Sinkiuse)

… we miss the language that these flows speak, or the language in which they are words and stories, and so cannot speak of our flow as a whole. Without, for example, speaking of the Fire Hole River…

Fire Hole River, Yellowstone Caldera (Kiowa, Blackfeet, Cayuse, Coeur d’Alene, Bannock, Nez Perce, Shoshone, Umatilla and 18 others)

… we cannot speak of the Pacific shore. If we do so, we are trying to speak without a language. That is the work of very small children. We, however, are on the trail of becoming real people. My country is named after this principle. “The Okanagan” it is called in Canada’s land claim, and “The Okanogan” in that of the United States. The name itself means “human being.”

Next in this series: What to Do With Disenfranchised Land

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