Race and Apples 2: The Death of Indigenous Fruit Growing

Here in Cascadia, where most of North America’s apples are produced today, apple growing began with the potential to develop along two three lines:

  • Euroamerican use of privatized land to grow Eurasian apples industrially;
  • Euroamerican and Indigenous use of natural spaces to grow Eurasian apples in ways integrated with natural land and water features; and
  • Indigenous use of Indigenous apples, as well as their hardier relatives Serviceberries and Hawthorns.
Black Hawthorn, Naramata

Yesterday, in Mixed Beginnings, I opened this discussion by introducing you to one of the figures, Father Charles Pandosy, who bridged these differences, and then was used as a symbol to finalize the industrialization of land in the region. Make no mistake, when the Earth is a part of Indigenous social life, in social structures which seek to enhance the free agency of all species, the privatization and industrialization of social life replaces human-Earth relationships with the land-urban relationships that farming is known by today. In this “land”-based paradigm, the Earth is inert; to it the sky adds weather, perhaps including rain, and the farmer adds capital, perhaps water, fertilizer, seed and labour, then harvests the resulting crop for sale, usually in volume and to distant markets. One must do so at a competitive price.

Polished with Carnuba Wax and Often a Year Old

The growing of extra large size apples increases food costs by forcing you to buy more apple than you want. They don’t come in halves, after all.

Any other relationships are called “wild”, including ones that allow for plants and animals to have their own lives. Indigenous cultures on the plateau viewed them quite differently: plants and animals gifted themselves as food to others, including to humans, as social and spiritual acts; in turn, humans gifted themselves to them in return, managing a balance between them and living off the resulting surplus. There were social problems within this system, but that was the gist of it. All the players in this Indigenous world are now treated as natural history. In it, a serviceberry bush is not the Food Chief Síyaʔ, but a source of berries for birds, and grows wild and otherwise untended on hillsides.

At the start of European history in Cascadia, these groves were orchards. Much of life was spent harvesting among birds and deer, who were harvesting at the same time. This is no longer the case, because this social relationship was replaced by private land, private water and blocked access to both. Ironically, serviceberries, Pacific crab apples, hawthorns and choke cherries, our indigenous fruits, still have potential as commercial crops, ones which make no demands on the environment but, rather, enhance it, yet the Eurasian industrial model has so taken hold that they are viewed now, at best, as cultural tokens, rather than invitations to partner with the Earth for the benefit of all.

Choke Cherries in Mid Winter

In parkland, the only land to which contemporary urban people in the Okanagan Valley of Cascadia have legal access, it is illegal to pick these fruits, while farmers go broke growing apples, even though a proven market for choke cherries goes unfilled.

Settler culture has lost so much. Indigenous culture, though, has lost more. In the first years of American and British settlement, Indigenous cultures were successful at integrated the new Eurasian crops, especially apples but also peaches, apricots, plums and pears, into their cultural lives, and adapted some Euro-American water technologies towards success. They were racially blocked. A hundred years after contact, they had pretty much given up the attempt. Here are a couple examples:

  • 1863. The Terbasket family lands in the central Similkameen Valley were preempted illegally by the Cech-German settler F.X. Richter in 1863.
  • 1909. A new water act, erased the Terbasket family’s access to water but denied all Indigenous people the opportunity to file for rights based on previous use.
  • 1913. Paul Terbasket, whose grandfather had first tended apple trees for Richter from the small reserve, Tahlabasket, set aside for his family, in 1863, was blocked from watering the substantial orchard he had established by diverting the creek water that flowed through the reserve into an irrigation ditch by a development company, the Similkameen Fruitlands Company, that now owned the land and wished to sell it to settlers. The company went broke, however, and Terbasket carried on, because it was, after all, his land and water, he had never relinquished title to it, and he had been promised water long before.
  • 1916. Nlaka’pamux Chief John Tetlenista was charged for peddling his apples in the mining and ranching city of Merritt without a business license. 40 bushels of apples were seized from him and he was charged $25 for their return. The (white) B.C. Tree Fruits Association had been lobbying the government for the “cleaning” (eradication) of Indigenous orchards, as they were “a source of disease.” John went out of business.
  • 1923. The Simillkameen Fruitlands Company got back on its feet after World War I and took Paul to court, to secure the water. Paul eventually went to jail (in a trial that frustrated even the judge) for contempt of court, and let his orchard go.
  • 1963. The B.C. Tree Fruits Association member growers of Keremeos (white) went to the Lower Similkameen Indian Reserve, where an apple orchard had survived the eradication of Terbasket’s orchard in 1923. They cut the entire orchard down, on the basis that the trees were a source of disease, essentially of codling moth, an admittedly terrible pest that the white farmers had brought into the valley in packing materials around 1923.
John Tetlenitsa

That’s how racial fruitgrowing is. At the end of these various uses of otherwise rational-sounding laws, there were no more Indigenous fruit farms in the British Columbian region of Cascadia. Indigenous desire to participate in this fruit culture were diminished further by the introduction of courses in apple-growing, taught in the prisons otherwise called residential schools. For some reason, the schools had latched onto the notion that created Indian Reserves in the region, that they were places where Indigenous people could work the land and participate in the capital economy, without realizing from the case of John Tetlenitsa that no access to that economy was going to be granted. Still, orcharding continued to be taught, in an environment linked to terrible abuses of families and children, including what is becoming a pretty common pattern of dead children being buried in the night by priests in the orchards attached to the schools, such as at Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, in Cascadia. . The desire to continue with orchards was shot by that time, while at the same time the children, forcibly removed from their cultures, were also cut apart from the natural orchards growing on the land around them. If Indigenous people want fruit these days, they have to buy it in a store, like anyone else, even though it is a highly-racialized place.

Tomorrow, we’ll get into the question of health associated with this transformation. Here’s the plan:

1. Mixed Beginnings and Some Hope (Yesterday.)
2. The Death of Indigenous Fruit Growing (Today).
3. Health, Fruit-Growing, and Poison
4. The Survival of the Confederate South in Washington State’s Apple Industry
5. The Survival of Indigenous families from British Columbia, escaping residential schools in Washington orchards
6. Peaches, the Civil War, and the Survival of the South
7. Racialized Work Forces, Mechanized Production, Marketing and Retail
8. Portuguese, Mexican and Indian production
9. Food costs, land prices, and privilege.
10. Ways forward.

I hope to see you then.

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