Two days ago, I took you to the Nimiipu’u and Yakama homelands, to show you the oldest inhabited region in the Americas, as an introduction to a discussion of fate and time and what they have to say for social relationships in contemporary Cascadia and human links to the land. Here’s the link, if you want to catch up: https://okanaganokanogan.com/2020/06/28/fate-race-and-po…2020-part-1-of-5/ Yesterday, I moved the discussion into a history of Canadian relationships with Indigenous peoples in the Nimiipu’u, Cayuse and Yakama homelands, in land now claimed by the United States. Here’s the link, if you want to catch up: https://okanaganokanogan.com/2020/06/30/fate-race-and-populism-in-the-third-reich-and-cascadia-part-2-of-5/. Here’s where we were yesterday:
Yakama Nation, and the Ancestor Pahto
Not a mountain.
All of this history has a lot to do with Columbus, in many complex ways. In that sense, the call to replace the name “British Columbia”, which I introduced yesterday, makes a lot of sense. However, before we rush at that, I want to show how historical context is vital, if we are not to simply cover over vital paths on which we can move forward. And for that, I’m going to take you into a bit of European history, where such struggles have led to real (and terrible) experiments in the past, from which we can draw some wisdom and humility, for more than the legacy of the slaver Columbus, this place has much to do with an unfolding story of real people in a real place. This place:
A quick snap while walking down from the mountain to my house in Vernon. When syilx land becomes as degraded and weed-choked as this and is no longer viable for agriculture, local culture urges it to be transformed into vineyards, instead of being returned to the syilx with apologies. You may think this is a good thing or a bad thing, but either way that’s the culture here. Land use always has a racial dimension.
Part of that unfolding has to do with Indian Reserves. Like this:
Chopaka, Looking North
History matters. British Columbia Governor James Douglas reserved virtually all of the Similkameen Valley for the Smlqmex. With the collusion of the government, much of that land was illegally preempted before a bankrupt B.C. accepted confederation with Canada as a way out of its debt, a process that began with the racial deposing of B.C.’s mixed race governor, James Douglas (who was with Ogden in Fort Vancouver during the Whitman Massacre), who tried to maintain some semblance of Indigenous law based on respect and ritual, and ended with a reduction of Douglas’s BC-wide reservations by 96%. Well, “ended” is the wrong word for it, because British Columbia (the province, not the colony) and Canada used the incomplete status of aligning their legal systems as a means of stealing that land, a process that continues to this day. In short, naming “Britain” as the colonial power here is naive. Canada is the colonial power, as much as Britain was, or perhaps even more so. For some Canadian sitting in the Canadian cities of Toronto or Vancouver (this one is on British Columbian land) or Kelowna (this one is in my homeland, here in the Okanogan), an offer of erasing “British” and “Columbia” in order to dispel Columbus is an act of the neo-colonial suppression of history. It is this wine advertisement:
Note the syilx village turned into a marina below. In 1858, this lakeshore was the site of an attempted genocide by members of a private army from Walla Walla, armed for two months of battle, against the laws of Britain and the United States. Syilx men begging for Christian mercy, as trained by Fathers John Nobili and August Demers, were shot point blank.
So, yeah, enjoy your Canadian wine.
Colonial Patio Sippers in a Country Without a Past
How many Canadians or British Columbians or Cascadians of colour do you see in the advertising image above?
The invasion continues. I would rather have the story of this place, and all its struggle, beautiful and terrible, heart-wrenching and horrible and hopeful all mixed up together, than the story of these people, or any others, written over it in an ongoing colonialism, which is, as always, a complete erasure of the past, in favour of someone else’s story. That Indigenous and coloured people have been largely left out of colonial stories (including the colonial present) here is terrible and impoverishes us all. It’s like travelling through a Germany without Jews. The lack speaks out of every stone and every face. It is what is not there. This syilx moment …
… is, for example, not present here:
Modernized Syilx Living Space in Downtown Kelowna
Context? Sure. Below is the Old Synagogue of Erfurt, Germany. It escaped the pogroms of 1938, because the Plague was blamed on the jews of Erfurt in 1349, and the whole congregation was murdered. The building survived the Nazi period because nearly six hundred years before it had already been transformed into a warehouse and was no longer recognizable. It was rediscovered only after the Fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, and the push, with reunification money, to upgrade the buildings in the downtown of this major East German city. It is now a museum, not a house of worship nor the centre of a community.
And yet, it’s important to keep it there, just as it’s important to keep the Brühler Garden on the other side of downtown, where neo-Nazis grill sausages, play Murder Ball, and watch the police watch them, both the undercover police and the police in uniform, and then spill out into town and fight it out with the Antifaschist League, the Communists, the Anarchists and the walls of town.
Surely, No Translation is Needed
By the way, this is an Anti-Nazi slogan, despite its violence. You can tell because it has not been painted over, and because only democrats and Neo-Nazis are patriots. It is lumping democrats and Neo-Nazis in one camp.
Here’s a more mixed message from around the corner, in which an Anarchist or Nazi (hard to say) message, tauntingly pasted over a (likely Nazi) censored message, has been, itself, mocked with a splash of pink paint the colour of strawberry ice cream suggesting a homophobic slur being used as a weapon. Not so nice.
Stickers and paint bombs: an artful form of communication used because writing on walls has been made illegal by the democratic state and is highly punished. In an old trick from East German times, satirical images can often escape the censors because a censor has to accuse himself of understanding them in order to condemn them. Always dangerous.
Really, Anarchist, Antifa or Nazi, in this case it matters little. The mockery and disrespect is universally understood. This image was made ten years ago. I put it here, because in contemporary North American discussions of the Black Lives Matter protests, the Antifa keeps cropping up, either lauded as heroic or demonized as being Nazi. We should not be so naive as to simplify these threats to social justice. By now, in Germany both the Antifa and the Neo-Nazis have infiltrated both the police and the army. Right now they are carrying on their battles underground. I’d rather have them where I can see them, thank you very much, and spend an afternoon among them in the sun while they grill sausages, even if some of their behaviour leaves me shattered, even if the undercover police interview me to put me in their place. I’d rather be in the story than have the story going on invisibly to its poisonous ends.
Three Months Later, this “vineyard” is still moving dirt around and blasting rock, to remake the earth into a factory floor. This is what elite privilege looks like.
As for the past, here’s where Gunnar Gunnarsson comes in. Remember him? Maybe not. After a lecture tour in 1936 failed to change German politics towards libertarianism, he went on another one in 1940, which ended with a personal interview with Adolf Hitler. The essay he read on his tour, “Our Land,” is a poetic work, that attempted to sway Hitler’s foreign policy through psychological manipulation. As the best-selling author in Germany, Gunnar must have thought he had earned the status of a skald, a scold, or as we might say, a Court Jester. Here he is immediately after the meeting:
Gunnar Leaving his March 1940 Meeting with Hitler 3 Weeks Before the Invasion of Denmark and Norway
From left on the Chancelry steps in Berlin, Hinrich Lohse, Gauleiter of Schleswig-Holstein, Head of the Nazified Nordic League Literary and Film Club of Lübeck, of which Gunnar was a member and under whose auspices he was on this tour (Lohse was soon to become Kommissar of the Baltic States as well), a hidden man in civilian clothes, possibly Otto-Heinrich Drechsler, the Nazi Mayor of Lübeck and eventually in charge of Latvia for Lohse), Gunnar, two SS Officers (likely Werner Best, later the Nazi administrator of Denmark, and Otto Baum, later head of the Das Reich Division of the Waffen SS), and an SS guard. Baum led the invasion of Denmark and Norway. Best was the only leading Nazi not hanged after the Nüremberg Trials, as he had had a major change of heart and worked strenuously along with the Danish Resistance to save the Jews of Denmark, at great personal risk. Note Baum leading with his right leg in a trained fencer’s stance.
Needless to say, the meeting did not go well and Gunnar did not change Hitler’s policy towards Scandinavia. By his death, Gunnar had only revealed the secrets of that meeting to one person, his grand daughter. She kept them to herself, but did hint that it was a terrible meeting indeed. They lie buried together on Viðey Island in Reykjavik Harbour, right next to John Lennon’s Peace Tower. In Iceland, Gunnar was vilified for this meeting, under the accusation that he had known the details of the plans of the Scandinavian Invasion (apparently the plans were on Hitler’s desk, and Best and Baum had been discussing details that day), and did not warn anyone. It is only supposition, although Gunnar was certainly playing with fire, because after fighting off the Soviets and accepting a peace treaty with Germany, look what appeared in Finland that fall.
Northern Light: The Magazine of the Baltic Club, Helsinki. In German.
Not really an image of Scandinavian unity.
I suspect that what happened that fateful March day was exactly what happened to Wiechert: he was sent home to Iceland under the threat that if he ever tried such a stunt again, he would be hunted down and thrown into Buchenwald until his complete physical and spiritual annihilation. That, too, is just a supposition. We do, however, have the texts of Gunnar’s speeches. “Our Land” speaks of the relationship between land and people, and how colonialism fails because it does not come from a deep relationship with the land. His 1936 speech, “A Lecture on Nordic Fate,” is less poetically-organized and far more damning. Gunnar had just arrived from Brussels, where from September 3-8th he had taken part in a communist-organized peace conference, which had been organized as a response to Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia, as a claim to the entire Mediterranean.
Gunnar was disappointed at the outcome.
So, there he was, suggesting to the Germans that the Baltic Sea, to Germany’s North, was a kind of Mediterranean, around which all Scandinavian peoples, including the North Germans, were united, in one shared fate. I’m pretty sure that few in his Nazi audience knew what he meant.
The speech itself was a complex mess, in which Gunnar tried to sound scholarly. If we cut through the obfuscation, though, we get a discussion of the old Icelandic word for “fate”: sköp. Gunnar says:
In the kind of broad extension forwards and backwards by which life can be said to exist, [sköp] embraces not just that which is or which is occurring right then but also the great force of life in the past from which it wakes; it encloses what for thought is the ungraspable sum of life and its possibilities.
Not precisely a communist or Nazi message. Both of those were about erasing the past to make a future.
The Jetsons, Soviet Style
Not for Gunnar. Every old man of the North, he adds, “felt himself at all times in the middle of Creation.” The inference was that Germany could not solve its food problems by attacking its Baltic self. The inference prefigured Gunnar’s arguments of 1940 against Germany attacking Iceland. In 1936, Gunnar had just bought the old Skriðuklaustur farm. Just up the road, in the circular sheepfold Melárett, Gunnar’s sheep were gathered in the Autumn, among those of all the other farmers at the head of the fjord. After being brought down from the mountains, they were sorted here into pens opening from a central ring and taken home from there for the winter and the following spring. All time was there, in a kind of clock that did not move yet told all time.
Melárett in April, 2013
The centre of the world.
“Sköp,” Gunnar said at his lectern in 1936, perhaps with his mind on that sheepfold, is “continual self-completing creation. It is capacity itself, and therefore also the future.” That’s a clear description of an agricultural economy, which is centred around the farm square, that assembles wealth from the field for processing and shipping, collects manure, and distributes it back to the land for the next year’s crop.
Sheep Out in the Spring, Fljótsdalur, Iceland
The centre of the world.
Gunnar could also have said that this “standing in the centre” is a landscape. In a landscape, the centre is movable. In a farmyard, a tun, or a city, a -ton, a place of “doing”, it is possible to measure an exact centre, but on the land itself, on the tumbling heath above the Melárett, for instance, every person is the centre, the same as every tussock of grass and every stone.
A Small Tun (House Field) and an abandoned Croft above Melárett
The Centre of the World
Take the tun away, and you have this:
Tófufoss (Tuff Falls) on the Bessastaðaá River
The Centre of the World
Gunnar could have mentioned that. He could even have said that “sköp” is the concept of shape, not a shape itself. It is the active act of shaping upon the world. One is shaped by it, the way a man is hefted to a field. Instead, Gunnar called this “sköp” fate — the shape of your life. That might have been useful in 1936. There is a German word that expresses Gunnar’s sense of continually creative shaping: “Schale”, or “bowl.” He could have used that. In English, we use the word to describe a shell. We say it is shallow, meaning it fills and empties easily — a pretty useful thing.
Shell with Barnacles, Fort Rupert
The Centre of the World.
Gunnar didn’t know English or German, but he did know Danish. Luckily, the word appears there as well. The Danish word is Skål, what every drinker says when he or she makes a toast: “Skull!” One lifts the dead to one’s lips and drinks spirit, then sets it down and motions for the bartender to fill it again.
A skull, or shell, though, is more than just the dead and somewhat gruesome container for a mind. No container can contain the mind, which is like the sea: everywhere. It’s too bad that Gunnar didn’t use this word. It would have held his meaning. A skull is a cupping shape, that holds the mind in the way a flower holds a bee or a drop of rain. This shape is shallow, like the shore of the sea. It is a potential, that becomes filled (by the tide) because its shape accepts filling. It is the horn of plenty that gives forth the fruit of the world: a bowl that one holds it in one’s hand. A chalice.
Ceremonial Bowl, Buffalo Eddy
Imagine if Gunnar had mentioned that. The Germans, great beer drinkers at the time, would have understood his subtlety drinking was part of their culture as well. “Zum Wohl!” they say, clinking steins of lager. “To your health!”
Nazi Party Meeting in Munich’s Bürgerbräukeller in 1923
Shortly before the party was disbanded, and 5 years before it was reconstituted. Never underestimate the power of humans to hide their actions in plain view.
Given that they were in the habit of clinking with a different exclamation at the time, “Heil Hitler!”, a substitution of a man in the place of God, a more open term might have saved the lives of millions. I don’t jest. It comes down to a physical space that fills with life, because it is the space that life fills.
Tomorrow, I will bring this sense of fate and time back to Cascadia. Thanks for walking on this journey with me.