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.

Cowboys and Indians

In 1847, it was the Cayuse on the ridgeline, with the lightning flaring from their appaloosa’s eyes and their water monsters painted on their bodies, and early American settlers on the flats below.

These grazing patterns continue today in the Walla Walla Valley, where my country stepped into history with a rifle shot.

Gardening in the Petro State…Is that Possible?

How do we save the planet? By planting rocks in our gardens to “prevent global warming?” Isn’t that murder?

Or by planting rhubarb?

The second garden is mine, across the road from the firs, which is the global warming it is trying to invent. It is amazing what a country addicted to oil will think of next. Actually, we don’t save the planet. We ask it to save us. Then we listen. I planted this salad one day between snow storms a month ago.

Gardening in the Land of Peak Oil

How do we save the planet? By planting rocks in our gardens to “prevent global warming?” Isn’t that murder?

Or by planting rhubarb?

The second garden is mine, across the road from the firs, which is the global warming it is trying to invent. It is amazing what a country addicted to oil will think of next. Actually, we don’t save the planet. We ask it to save us. Then we listen. I planted this salad one day between snow storms a month ago.

Gardening in the Okanagan in 2017

Some things are sobering. Here’s a cold frame (a glassed-in seedbed, for early growing) from 1978, updated for the new Okanagan in the age of vineyardization. Before 1978, this was an orchard, that supported a family and grew apples, peaches, cherries and plums. After 1978, it became a place where people could raise that food for their families themselves. As people turn away from the land today, hire Mexicans on special temporary permits to do “their” agricultural labour (actually, the produce is for export, a series of capital-intensive cash crops; the produce locally eaten comes from California and Mexico), and pressure the water system with overpopulation (yet blame the water deficit on global warming) while continuing to extol the fruitfulness of the land (heavily-taxed wine, affordable only to tourists and the wealthy), gardens transform into a new image of society. 
A couple things to notice: the black cloth is intended to allow water through but to prevent weeds (or life of any kind). It has been augmented by some rocks, likely formerly a decorative garden wall, to keep it down, and has been growing some cheatgrass (like the green stuff in the foreground) in the fir needles (the tree is an important local hawk perch) that the stones have gathered. The yard is decorated with a pre-fabricated aluminum garden shed. The yard next door, which has replaced its garden with a small, decorative  patch of lawn amidst a vast swath of rocks and gravel (because of that global warming, but also because yards are now large barbecue entertainment areas, not spaces for gardens, i.e. they are now interior spaces), has collected un-needed garden equipment behind its new (large) garden shed, which mustn’t be for garden tools. It’s likely for general storage. Welcome to Canada in 2017. It took us some work to create this, but we managed in the end.

Water is the Speech of the Earth

It is commonly said that water reflects light. It’s a great observation.

However, water also gives light a place to reveal itself. That is an older observation, but no less lucid.

During this process, water reveals itself as the hidden body behind the light. This organic twinning is what is called nature.

It is the earth speaking. Human bodies fit into it in the same way.

 

Placenta of The Earth

Every red osier dogwood is a placenta.

It streams with blood into the sky …

… or it catches the sky, and brings it to you.

Traditionally in this country it was used to control pregnancy and to stop bleeding after childbirth. That’s quite likely because it catches the seeds from these cattails, which are male (top) and female (below) flowers in one.

It holds them in the air for a later time, or dries them out, rather than allowing them to enter water …

… and carry the sun into it.

It stands apart from the two worlds.

It is at balance with earth and sky.

It is a screen of nerves, or blood, in the Earth’s mind, or body.

They are the same thing, and so are you: the one that is two, and still one, and still many.

This is the blood.

The red sea in your veins is no different. Rather than a metaphor, like this…

“The red of the dogwood is like the red of my blood, and the patterns of it are like the arteries in my eye.”

… there is this instead:

The complexities of the world are written here. We may read them, with minds built out of this same blood. If put in words, they might be reducible to something like this:

Blood flows through the dogwood and my eye, my heart, and my hand.

Ah, the heart, dear thing. Sure, it’s in the chest, but it’s also here, simultaneously:

Red Hill, John Day

It’s good to remember, of course, that this blood is also the screen of nerves in the mind. Perhaps you can see the thoughts collecting on neural points of gravity and tension below?

That is also blood. This is sacred medicine. It is not a metaphor, and it is not a unity broken apart into body and mind, earth and sky, thought and feeling, or anything else. It is as unified as light. Our ancestors didn’t learn to read the world by trial and error. They lived it.

Perhaps you see how words direct our thoughts away from our knowledge? It’s not that

it’s as unified as light.

Rather, dogwood and light are one.

More clearly: dogwood, light, blood, mind, water, heart, birth, water, conception and life are one.

In this form, in this holding up, the sun speaks. It becomes offering. Well, it was all along, but we reach out to it, we respond to the sun’s hand with our own.

There is no end to the listening, which is the mirror of the speech. Yes, the hand listens.

Yes, the hand teaches, and speaks. Yes, the mind is a hand.

Yes, the hand is a mind.