Race and Apples 9: First Steps to a Better World

The 10+ years of this blog have consistently explored steps to a world beyond racial divisions in this valley, despite its racial history. We have a long way to go, but there are ways forward. I propose that we remember that, originally, there was no great division between Euro-americans and Indigenous people in this place.

The Bed of Glacial Lake Penticton, Cascadia

Yes, Cascadia is a land of water, but it’s not all rainforest.

They both adopted technologies and cultural attitudes from each other, traded together, and made families, a language, and culture together. I was talking to a friend the other day, who has raised in Canada and has lived most of his life in England and Africa. Apparently, and I blush, he hadn’t heard of the commonplace understanding from my youth and my mother’s generation (she was born in ’35), that one is first a British Columbian and then a Canadian. When he talked about Canada and I said, tongue-in-cheek, “Oh, that country on the other side of the Rocky Mountains,” conversation kind of stopped for a moment in puzzlement. I had a similar experience a few years back, while trying to organize a Cascadian poetry conference. After I tried to convince my organizing committee that Chinook Indigenous drum songs should be the foundation of our conference, given their 16,000 year history here, things just all went sideways. The other poets were all (as was I, too) trained in Canadian poetry, just as Cascadian poets south of the Canadian-American treaty line have been trained in American poetry, and knew very well that by being present here their poetry was automatically Cascadian and defined the region. Respectfully, yes, it does. It defines a political entity. It doesn’t, however, describe this:

The spirit kłlilx’w, above So’yoos, otherwise called Spotted Lake.

In the end, there was no conference, because there was no common ground, and I went on to work with Indigenous friends on three reconciliation projects, instead. That’s the first thing we have to fix, because it perpetuates the moment at which Indigenous and Euro-American experiences diverged, which is, I would say, in the 1890s, when such men as Hiram J. Smith in Oroville and Frances Xavier Richter at Nighthawk abandoned their Indigenous wives and children and married young white women in their place, right at the time when ranching culture, the successor to the fur trade that first invaded this place, gave over to fruit culture and settled life. As a son of this land, I think that was the beginning of troubles, which were cemented in place after the First World War, when a strengthened Canada started making even stronger incursions into Northern Cascadia, new waves of immigrants were brought in from Europe, and governments began to consolidate control of land and water in their offices under an increasingly racial national regime. This was the period which saw persecution of Indigenous people for grasshopper plagues caused by general overgrazing, persecution of Indigenous fruit growers for operating on different cultural assumptions, the end of annual Indigenous burning and the beginning of the overgrown forests that are causing catastrophic wildfires today, and the beginning of the incarceration and abuse of Indigenous children in residential schools. We don’t have to accept this racialized history, however.

Paul Terbasket’s Apricot Tree, Blind Creek

It doesn’t have to be the only survivor of Paul’s incarceration for watering it and its orchard in 1923. We all can be, too.

We can all carry the best of British Columbia forward. In terms of apple growing, the context of my discussion here over the last two weeks, this might include:

  • Planting apple orchards where the water is, rather than destroying other habitats and bringing the water to them, in landscapes where 40% of all water is taken away into the sky. We can’t afford the water loss or the habitat loss anymore.
  • Planting Indigenous apple and choke cherry orchards in appropriate environments, swampy for the apples and just above water or at the bottom of draws for the choke cherries, and developing those crops, the apples for the growing cider industry and the choke cherries for cider, distilling, juice and fruit. It should have been done originally. We can do it now and correct the mistake.
  • Growing orchards and vegetables in alternate locations currently called wild, such as this arroyo:
The Water is Good for More than Mustard

This includes management of the environment with fire (such as in the sagebrush above) and the planting of such crops as asparagus:

A Plant at Each Fencepost?
  • The planting of fruit trees for common consumption. Currently, there are city rules against doing so, as fruit attracts rats and bears, free food damages the livelihood of farmers, and apples grow codling moth, which becomes pandemic and destroys fruit and economies. These are all racially-devised arguments that we have grown out of. We have the technology to control codling moth organically. Farmers aren’t making a livelihood. People are eating at food banks. And the bears?

Well, they are here. They are, however, suffering, because their access to wetlands, where food should be available to them in the dry months, has been shut off. The solution is obvious: to plant orchards for them in select locations, to support them there. Yes, bears will move, but this is an Indigenous principle and we have to figure out how to make it work. That we haven’t over the last 150 years is to our shame. If we do these things, we will have done much to reconcile the breach of the 1890s. We will be growing trees where the water is, rather than moving and losing the water and destroying other environments in the process; we will be growing plants that grow well here, and creating new crop opportunities; we will be expanding our available land base by working with the land instead of engineering it into Europe; we will be getting people out active on the land (who wouldn’t walk 5 miles to get enough wild asparagus for dinner?); we will be allowing the Earth to grow food for her people, rather than privatizing access to the Earth’s bounty; we will be supporting our animal relatives so that what we live on is surplus to their needs; our cities will be places of life, for our children to experience. These are all foundational Indigenous principles. If they gain common acceptance, we have a chance to live on this land for many generations together. If they don’t, we are at peril. It’s a radical shift, but, hey.

We are strong together. This is all the first thing we can do together. If we can’t manage this, we can find a place partway and start there. The bottom line is to remove the racial foundations that keep us hungry and poor.

Look for more tomorrow.

2 replies »

  1. Ten years of your blog: ten years of provoking, consoling, prophesying, and always celebrating the indigenous folks, the land, water, plants, air, wildlife, and pointing to ways to live together.
    Thank you.


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