I have been discussing what it might look like to leave Settler culture’s uses of land and person. Today, the price of this excursion. First, the background:
and now, as promised (ta da!): The Price
It’s all fine and good to imagine a different world, but what happens when you find yourself in one? Not in, say, the memories and struggle of the Lapwai Mission in the Kooskoosie, just an empty field full of gophers where the lodges once stood …
Lapwai Mission (Nimipu’u)
… but in the mountains north of it? I stood there on the mission site, realizing that for more than 500 generations children had sat with their parents and watched the sun shift across this hill and creating out of it a long narrative — or at least on hills very like it and very close by, namely in the village that lies under the highway in front of this monument…
Ant and Wasp on the Kooskoosie (Nimiipu’u)
It’s told as a cute story now, but it contains the wisdom of a culture, which can only be read from the rock, and only by matching oneself to the speed of the sun.
But what then? It’s not possible to write such stories. Once must step forward from them into a new world. Well, not a new one, but an old one. Here is the drum skin of the Camas Prairie, now planted in industrial wheat.
Camas Prairie (Nimiipu’u)
The price is the loss of metaphor. No longer is this a story of Earthly bounty and a long history of grain-growing stretching back for 5,000 years in Egypt and Asia, with all that history to draw from creatively to make deep, rich stories that open in time. No longer is this a story of God’s bounty, as the farmers who plant this wheat likely see it. Now it is exactly what it is: a sacred gathering ground in a stolen country, seeded into the metaphor of God’s bounty and 5,000 years of history. It is exactly what it is. And yet, it is different. It is no longer a part of history. History is part of it. Similarly, this canyon on the Columbia north of Wenatchee is no longer a blend of habitats, geology, sun exposure, and thickets out of Dante or the Welsh Battle of the Trees, or the orchards that were my childhood, but a story. It can be placed in Indigenous narratives, but that is not my place. It can, however, be placed in a new scientific narrative, at a point where scientific understanding and indigenous narratives meet. This is the work that the Enlightenment did in Europe two centuries ago. My point is not that it can be done here, with entirely different materials, but that when one finds oneself standing in ancient Earth one has no choice, unless one wishes to make the Earth into a fiction and then dismiss it.
The price is that the world of fiction and metaphor tells us all that we live in it. I don’t believe that for a second, but I do believe that words have convinced us of that and that we have erected cities out of this understanding, which now make it so — or appear to. Even Vancouver, the great Canadian colonial city on the continent’s West Coast, lives in an indigenous context and the context of a land, which it inadvertently suppresses to tell its own stories.
A New Colonial Outpost in the North Okanagan Valley (Syilx Illahie)
It’s best to treat the very thought that words and creativity have any connection with the land with some humour and to follow the lead of the land into making new technologies. A friend told me with frustration a few years back that making narratives in many voices, or making narratives including images, is counter-productive; one can’t just create new forms because one can; there must, instead, be a pressing need. He explained that text-based writing, with a single narrator, was the form that reached audiences. I explained that it wasn’t worth the price. Once you have seen through the veil of the world, you can’t draw it back.
Looking into the Cathedrals from the Similkameen (Smalqmx)
If you can see the burnt ridge in the left half of that image as its living self with an articulated body you will know why calling this valley “The Organic Farming Capital of Canada” is not exactly accurate. That is the story of Canada within this place, but this place has a power that far exceeds that. Currently, it is wordless, because that is as far as Canadian culture can go. That is its price.
There are, after all the nectarines. So beautiful. They do live within a context. It doesn’t belong to anyone. Anyone can see that.
Anything else is artificial intelligence. This is an ethical imperative.
Next: the role of Canada in Cascadia