A Short History of Whiteness in Cascadia

It’s not a physical thing.

Apricot in Her White Gown

White is a tricky, racial word. Here’s a small piece of a meditation on it from my book in progress, Commonage: The War for the Okanagan.

In English in these parts between Northern Oregon and Alaska and Western Montana to Haida Gwaii, “White” applies to people of Caucasian background, as long as both of their parents are Caucasian; people whose parents might include a Scots Hudson’s Bay Company trapper and a Cree woman from Manitoba are deemed to have negated all “White” rights, or at least it started out that way. People such as Hudson Bay Company Factor Peter Skene Ogden’s wife Julia, whose parents were Sanpoil and Nez Perce yet who was raised by a French Canadian-Cree trapper after her mother’s second marriage, was accorded civilized rights by the British but not by the Americans. People such as the Oblate missionary Charles Pandosy, who came to love the Yakama and despise the Americans yet betrayed the Yakama to the US Army in 1855 to protect it from a war it could not win, was occasionally accorded “White” status, despite being Catholic, but Father Nobili, who built a mission at the Head of the Lake Village at a) Nk’mp, or Osoyoos Lake, b) Garnet Valley, or Summerland, or c) Head of the Lake on Okanagan Lake, in 1840, wasn’t, probably because he was Italian, and Italians weren’t “White” in those days, although they are now. It was all very complicated. From an indigenous perspective, “White” actually applies to the dried white salmon of Mnassatas Creek, where this story took the form of a fish and saved Pandosy from starvation brought on by his own ignorant notion that he was living in a wilderness. This salmon was white because sockeye salmon harvested far up in their watersheds, when they’ve gone into their red spawning colours and have devoured all the fat in their bodies after a long journey, develop a white crust over their red flesh when split the traditional Yakama way and dried in the wind. So, yeah, if the Yakama were calling a man a “White,” they probably meant the red sunburn he got out in the shrub steppe and the white, peeling scab that followed a few days later.
No doubt, the Yakama knew the Christian symbol, Ichthos the fish, and stories of Christ as the Fisher of Men in the “wilderness” of the desert of Galilee. I’d be surprised if they didn’t. Swapping fish stories would be a good connection for any missionary trying to convert fishermen in the “wilderness” of the Columbia Plateau — a country in which salmon were people, in an age in which the children of salmon fishers were dressed in white to be baptised by priests. Some jokes are too good to pass up.

 

We Are Not At War

When you live on the earth, in the earth and with the earth, culture is shared between creatures, their spirits and their energies, in a relationship built of balancing energy flows, always to bring forces and creatures together into a mutually interactive patterns. In short, the cat tails below create a human culture …

… and humans who live with them and through them cultivate cat tails, in spirit, in ponds, lakes, marshes, rivers and ditches, and in words and concepts. When they don’t, you know they are not living in the earth, on the earth or with the earth but in one of the other layers of spirit built out of the complex environment of energies radiating from this planet.

 

Raven Thief

These relationships are universal. We are all on the path of the earth, as she seeks to find her way out of oppression and to flow, and to do so through us.

Earth is neither disprespected nor abandoned by those of her children who give themselves to her.

It is time to welcome all her children home. Only the cult of property stands in the way. Its dissolution is her claim on us. It is the claim we will learn to return.

She gives energy away, always. We must give it away, too.

We are not alone in this work.

Post-Racial Geography, an Introduction

This is not indigenous land.
This is one of the main spiritual centres of my country, the Similkameen Valley. To call it indigenous, or native, land, is to adopt the words that make it into a silt bluff and Chopaka (below), another major spiritual story, into a mountain.

Land is a racial term. So is any separation between people and the stories it suppresses, including systems of law and governance.

Racism and Noise in Canada

My neighbours above eat sour weeds because of racism in Canada, which created weedlands for them at the same time it created Indian reserves for their people. Right now, the country’s writing community is tearing itself to pieces over racial issues, between loosely (and poorly)-defined indigenous and non-indigenous communities. It is even lecturing itself on the tragedy of indigenous voices being silenced by uproars about race. I don’t think voices like this are meant:

They should be. Other recent writings on race circulating in the writing community assume that earth experience is all about race, when humans get involved with it. That’s rather self-absorbed. It’s called looking into a mirror. It would be more helpful to say that human experience of a certain kind is that. It can also, however, be described as dehumanization, dispossession, silence, rape, enslavement, genocide, murder, love,

wariness, respect and noise. None of those are solely human. All are powerful. Let’s remember that in the indigenous game of s’lahal, noise is meant to distract players and their spirit guides from the game. Let’s remember the silent ones, the animal peoples, and that it’s not about us. The earth is dying. Let’s stop that form of human self-absorption, because that’s the critical outcome of this whole horrible story.

It’s caring for the other peoples of this earth, including but not limited to other great apes, including the mis-named homo sapiens, that makes us human, not some frightful story of skin colour, evolution and human brotherhood or the lack of it. That’s predator talk with an old patch that is just, simply, exhausted. Let’s make something better together.

 

The alternative is continued silence and noise.

Grapes are So Celtic

There are many ways to grow after visiting the land of the dead. Grapes do it by pushing out shoots from the eyes we call “buds.” Each shoot is a vision. Wood without eyes is said to be blind.
This is the essence of celtic (and Greek, and Byzantine and Catholic) culture: the living rising out of the dead. For that, vines are often best: they rise on the blind limbs of trees and carry sight and vision up with them. This is the time of year when seeing begins. Soon will come the time of year when each eye becomes a bee’s-eye cluster of grapes in our hands; if we give them over to death, they will come back with a god in them. For Christians, this god is God; Christ is only an iteration of this wisdom.

Every Nectarine is Chosen by Hand and Eye

Every single one. Note the pruning cuts to separate the fruits from sharp angles, where they will be trapped and rot, and the edges of the twigs tipped to help the tree lay down next year’s twig in a place to renew this one.

Poor Man’s Bonsai!

Thinning will follow in June, to complete the selection, removing scarred fruits first, spacing the rest, and removing any remaining trapped fruits. There are millions of nectarine trees, each with hundreds of fruits, and each one is chosen by hand and eye, every single one.