Fate, Race and Populism in the Third Reich and Cascadia, Part 4 of 5

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:…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:   Yesterday, we were all drinking beer together out of the well at the root of the world. Here’s the link, if you want to toast us all: Here’s where we were yesterday:

A Shell, a Shale, a Chalice, and the Weight of the World at Fort Rupert

And today (lucky us), we move on to show how this Nordic sense of fate can guide us in Cascadia.

Okanagan Lake in January

In Cascadia, as elsewhere, energy floods in from the land, just as it does into a shell or the bowl of a lake.

Bowron Lake, at the top of the world in Cascadia

It matters not who floods in as that life, but it does matter to that life. My part of this great wave of energy on the North American shore was woven into life by the syilx people, just as that flood of life wove them into the energy.

It’s the kind of braided place where you just as easily find a dragonfly in the dry grasslands as above a lake.

This is not an exaggeration. The syilx were here during the glacial period. They followed the retreating ice and were here for the first flowers, the first grass, the first game and the first trees.

Ponderosa Pines at an old syilx village site on Kalamalka Lake

Over 12,000 years, the syilx learned to honour this life-giving force by weaving it together for the benefit of all creatures equally, on the principle that together they were strong and if one were missing, all were weakened.

All Together Now

Bumble Bee on a Mariposa Lily

When the murderous armies of 1858 arrived in the Okanagan on the way to mine gold at Fountain and started shooting in West Kelowna…

… they were apprehended by Chief Nkwala in T’Kemlips and pressured to surrender the murderers. The rest of the group was led to the mines by Nkwala himself, dressed in a top hat, wearing his ceremonial British clothes, and smoking a pipe. He did this because he did not want war (an estimated thousands had already been mowed down with Gatling guns in the Fraser Canyon War) and because he represented the land. As an Indigenous man, he was the land. There was no British Columbia. When the sun rose, he rose. By leading the mob, he asserted some control.

Here at Mauvais Rocher, Sen’klip (aka Kojoti) and Fox watched them all troop by.

Things quickly went poorly for Indigenous peoples in BC, and Nkwala is now strongly criticized for not military denying White men entrance to this country. Even in the Kittitas, or the Yakima, in the heart of the grasslands of which this is the northern shore, this was an issue, even at Kamiah, where Lewis and Clark were starving, in 1806, waiting for some rotten salmon from across a couple mountain ranges.

The Centre of the World

Really. This is ?Ilcwé.wcixnim timíne, “The Heart of the Monster.” This is all that remains of the beast that had captured the Nimiipu’u, and in whose belly they were imprisoned, until Itseyeyeh (aka Coyote) freed them by killing the monster.

All human life here in Cascadia begins here, in ?Ilcwé.wcixnim timíne, in this memory of people and the land growing up together during and after the glaciers. This is a 16,000-year-old memory, at least. It is not for anyone to stand in the way of that story. It is for all people to make the story bigger. It’s not for anyone one of us to deny the land a voice at all of our tables.

The Land Talking in the Yakima Gorge

It speaks land talk, not a human language, but we can learn it.

As I said, I’m all for changing the name of British Columbia, but not for a second if it diminishes the story of how hard we have fought, with nothing in our hands but the land and the water, to meet the land’s challenge of generosity and to counter those who would break the bowl or take it for themselves.

Rogue River “War” Volunteers, 1855, Southern Oregon

The game was genocide. Many of these vicious men wound up in “British Columbia” three years later.

Unfortunately, living in the bowl of the land’s generosity includes a complex relationship to Canada: sometimes it is a protector, sometimes it is a colonizer; sometimes it is to be welcomed, sometimes it is to be dispelled. One thing that is unacceptable is when people claim that they have a right to change our stories to fit their own. They do have a right to demand that we include their stories and make a new and stronger story together, but silencing us is silencing the land (as silencing them would be as well.) This isn’t easy stuff. We have to figure it out as we go. As the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says from its bubble in Vancouver,…

It’s true, and to our collective shame. At the same time, it is to our collective shame that such an important conversation can be had without including the land. It is part of the same suppression, and can only be separated by accepting the power of suppression over us. I made a comment on this on Facebook the other day, and was shouted down, on the principle that academic research shows that only by giving rights to women, people of colour and people marginalized by gender can the land be reformed. Maybe so. Who am I to argue with solid academic research. I sure do want all those people to have equal rights in this story.  And, this land is sick:

Rather than save the grasslands, we make rules about building bluebird boxes.

Yes, the bluebirds are gone.

The land can’t wait for humans to get their social shit together without including her as an equal person, because by not giving her that voice we are not actually getting our shit together. We are getting lost in the caverns of White privilege. Outside of White privilege and the cities that are built in its shape, the land and all of her beings are people, too.


Cows and their Calves under the Only Mock Orange on Their Side of the Fence

This is the lazuli bunting’s perch, too, and sometimes the bear wanders by, surrounded by butterflies.

On Facebook, I was told that I needed to forget history, to just say that everything was because of Columbus, and concentrate on real problems, in the present. I think that racially-murdered land above is a real problem, and the way we got here is part of it, and the way out is built on the fine, specific points of that history. In a country in which land and Indigenous people are one, uniquely, inviting the land to speak is part of the process of giving voice to people. What’s more, it is an act we can all do, and which we can all do together. Canada, Cascadia, and the United States are only imperfectly telling this story right now, but one thing is for certain: just talking about Columbus, as some kind of icon we all learned about in school, is going to close at least 10,000 doors that can bind us together, and this closing will give us little in their place, except the dying Earth we already have. Columbus is simply unimportant. Human voices are, including the voices of the past, and the voices of people of privilege. Our story, our collective story, is life, hard won, and hard fought-for even now, including a host of attempts to try and integrate with the land, as poorly as settlers have done at it so far.  Gunnar Gunnarsson, as I showed yesterday, wisely pointed out in 1936 that a present is an ongoing past leading to an opening future, lived where one does something in the place that one is at home. He called this “fate”, this total accord with land, history, and action. It is what is called Indigenous in Canada and the United States today. These old Nordic concepts are lost at our collective peril. They are hope itself. They mean that there is a better story than the one of destruction and privilege we all know too well and all would like to heal. This “fate” comes from the ancestral Central Asian homeland of half the world’s people, a culture that gave us the Greek god Zeus, the Icelandic god Þor, and the Hindu god Shiva, among others. They are one conception, one energy, that flows through half of humanity. When the Norse god Oðinn, one of this pantheon, sought wisdom, he went to the skål, to the pool at the base of the world tree, to receive it. When he was asked to provide a gift in exchange, he gave a very valuable one, the right thing to do to receive valuable wisdom in return: he threw in his right eye.

In return, he was gifted two ravens, Huginn and Munin, “Thought” and “Memory.” Forever after that, they flew out ahead of him and saw what he could not see himself.

Raven at the Mammoth Hunting Grounds at Tolo Lake, Nimipu’u Territory

It’s quite likely that this birds ancestors were hanging around the Nimipu’u camp 16,000 years ago. He’s still there.

The wisdom contained here is ancient. It speaks of old understandings, deep in Old Norse and its child, English, that thought and memory are intimately combined. If you cross space, it doesn’t exist in anyone’s mind until you cross it, and only becomes a space for you once you have crossed it. Until then, it is Gunnar’s space of sköp, the shaping. Afterwards, it is memory. You have it in mind and are in a position to mind it, to care for it. I appreciate the Canadian desire to help us do this work by liberating all people from slavery, disdain, isolation, poverty and bondage. Asking those of us trying to support this work by preparing the ground to receive the children of the future outside of the global city, and asking us to give up our hard-won mindfulness to concentrate on issues less specific to the land that give us life, and most specific to cities in which we do not live, with cultures in which we have no power and with privileges we only peripherally share, is not a help. The key to thought and memory is that they extend deep into the past, through the present, and into the future, in a space in which they are all one. This space:

And this one, which is exactly the same landscape, rising from the same energy, and expressing an equal degree of ritual human scarring:


The photo is too poor for you to see the lazuli bunting on one of the dead twigs of that mock orange, but after ten years seeing one in the same bush again strengthens the heart.

The questions the land asks us to ask are less of how to rewrite human social struggles than of how to give all humans, most pressingly those whose voices have been silenced, a chance to speak of how they will weave into the land and strengthen it, and the chance to do so, because if you don’t make the bowl, it will not give you water and if you don’t make the journey, the land will not be your mind, and if the land is not your mind, you will not be able to mind it, and if the mind is weak, so will be the land and we will not survive. Any of us.

This young meadowlark has no future unless we mind one.

Toppling Columbus or Thomas Jefferson won’t change that. Even toppling Columbia will only slow our work down. Here’s my candidate for speedy removal.

Dead Poets Society

What an insulting way to send a great river out to sea.

Here’s another:

Grand Coulee Dam

Arguably, the most racist monument in North America. We should dismantle it. It is apocalypse. Doubt that? Read Sherman Alexie’s poem The Pow Wow at the End of the World.

Any “Canada” or that other country “The United States” that doesn’t do something slows our work down and reasserts its position of colonial privilege. It would be a great thing if over the next decade or so we could say that Black and Indigenous and Coloured lives matter in Canada and the United States. It would be an equally great thing if we could also say that we have increased the ability of the Earth to create complex life here in Cascadia. Not one of these vital projects can ethically be set aside. Not one can wait for the other. They are the same project. 84 years ago,  Gunnar told the people of the Third Reich that any leader who ignored the balance of past, present and future in forming fate (life), in filling the empty bowl of one’s future, would lead his country to absolute destruction. The people didn’t hear, and it happened, just as he predicted. Six years later, in the midst of that leader’s disregard, he silenced Gunnar with one of his infamous hysterical fits. The Earth needs us to speak now. All of us. The how is what we have to figure out. The answer is together. That is our work. We must all set our own terms, according to our own fate, as Gunnar put it. We don’t get to step aside from them. We don’t get to set the terms of fate itself.

Western Painted Turtle, Gardom Lake

This turtle does.


Tomorrow or Friday, Part 5: How the Bowl got Lost and the Work of Repairing it. 

4 replies »

  1. This series should be required reading for (at least) all high school & university students in B.C.
    Thank you.


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