I hate to say it, but the dream that has kept my family tied to the land for 91 years in this trough in the Columbia Plateau is over. Instead of a view over the valley to the Okanagan Highlands above Kalamalka Lake, we can just make out the houses one street away. Beyond that is one more line of houses, then farms and mountains, but who would know?
Collectively, we’ve ruined the place. It’s trashed. It’s hard to say it, given that much of my identity is given over to this place for safekeeping, but it’s the truth, and we have to learn to say these things. Still, there is some hope. For Indigenous peoples, the land matters. Borders, not so much. We have a border here, that cuts our valley in two. Here it is in the Similkameen, on the western edge of the Syilx Illahie:
The border a few miles East, along the road between Mexico and Alaska, is busier:
But that’s the thing. In North American culture, sun culture, LA, and Mexico are desirable, and the cold of, say, Toronto or Edmonton, is not. The result is much of the demographic pressure of 35,000,000 Canadians wanting to warm up is concentrated on a tiny valley in the mountains of the far west. 500,000 are here now. In a decade, it will be 600,000. We can’t support the 500,000 we have now, let alone the valley itself. We drove through Kelowna, the Canadian colonial city in the heart of the Canadian Okanagan, yesterday. The air was unbreathable with smoke, the highways were choked with cars, many of them luxury vehicles out on a display ride, as if this were Orange County or Miami Beach, and the highways were lined, as usual, for 50 kilometres with American box stores plus 2 Canadian Tires. Do you see the fix? It’s easy, really, if you think as the valley.
Reunite the Pacific Northwest!
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want American government here. I don’t think it’s particularly functional. American culture, well, an image of it has largely taken hold, and, I tell you one thing, removing the border would remove the demographic pressure overnight. The valley would double in size, easing pressures. What’s more, many other people would simply go further south and leave the valley completely. After all, only 50,000 Americans live in the same volume of land as 500,000 Canadians, and a third of those live on the lands of the Colville Confederated Tribes. There’s no rush to these sagebrush flats. There’s warmer land to the south. Still, the vineyards could do their colonial thing down Omak way instead of here in the last northern grasslands, and the land here, where the desert meets the mountains, could get a reprieve so its caretakers could get ahead of the colonists from Canada. There would be a downside, though. At the same time as Canadians were trooping south, people in California, who know too much about the sun and smoke, would be moving north to the forests. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but it sure would put pressure on the roads through the valley, which are already choked with the steel and plastic of a culture out for a holiday ride in the smoke of burning forests, because in a culture of images and travel, that’s good. We’d have to contract some big engineering company to build a high speed train out of the valley itself, where the movement of people could do less harm. Then we could get to work healing this broken land, including doing an even better job of coordinating the return of the salmon given to the land’s people in perpetuity at the Walla Walla Treaty Council of 1855. Washington even wants that. Only the border makes it hard to save the land and her people.
Until then, we will have to hold our breath. Literally.