Race and Apples 5: Indigenous Cultures Saved by the Border

Today, a piece of good news. The orchards and berry farms of Washington saved many Indigenous families and children from British Columbia. They saved them because their mothers stole away with them, fled across the border, and camped out with them for years, picking berries on the Coast and apples and pears in Wenatchee. They did it because the Canadian government had a policy of taking Indigenous children from their families, forcing them into residential schools, and stripping them there of their language and culture. It was cruel, often violent, and often resulted in sexual abuse, perpetrated by the nuns and priests who ran the schools. Schools like this one:

This removed the children from any kind of schooling, and placed them in unhealthy work camps, working alongside their mothers at what has been described to me as illegal employment close to slave labour, but families remained intact, languages remained intact, and these children survived, to make it home after they turned 18. What is remarkable about this story is that at the same time in the USA, a residential school program was also in place, with the same goals and methods, and destroying families and individuals in the same way. The Canadian kids were under the radar. That’s remarkable.

It goes without saying that white kids and families in Washington and British Columbia did not suffer like this, and most white mothers didn’t have to make such hard sacrifices. We are forever in debt to those strong Indigenous women, and to the farmers who hired them, when they didn’t have to. Sure, the pay could have been better and the conditions as well, but orchards played a positive racial role here. As we work to remove the barriers created by the artificial border within Cascadia, and as we work to address the losses to our social and physical environments caused by cultural blindnesses we can now rectify as gifts to our children and grandchildren, we should remember that, whatever else, the farms kept people alive, doing work similar to traditional gathering. I promise you this. From what I know of women everywhere, there were wives on those farms who did what they could, often probably a lot, to help out. We are in their debt as well. What we can’t afford is for the border to become hard and for labour to be so regulated that the farms lose the capacity to hold us up when we fail.

This is the fifth in a series. Next week we’ll continue with another story of resilience: peaches. It’s a story of women, war and hope. Stay tuned. Here’s the plan:

1. Mixed Beginnings and Some Hope
2. The Death of Indigenous Fruit Growing
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.(Today).
6. Peaches, the Civil War, and the Survival of the South (Next)
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.

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