The Power of Names and Stories

Take this (no name, please)…

See that rock in back there? That’s this (below, centre of image, again no name, please.):

Now, look at the name it is unofficially known by (Sorry. Wikipedia’s robots don’t know any better):

McIntyre Bluff is a large ridge of rock, made of gneiss,[2] located south of Vaseux Lake between Okanagan Falls and Oliver in British Columbia, Canada. The bluff is located beside Highway 97 and is one of the most well known landmarks in the Okanagan Valley. This landmark is named after Peter McIntyre, one of the Overlanders of 1862 who had also been a guard on the Pony Express in the American West.[1]

First Nations in the area tell a story of a battle centuries ago on top of McIntyre Bluff. An enemy war party from the south (now Washington State) was lured to the top and driven over the cliffs.[citation needed]

Sounds good, right? Not, really. Going to the B.C. Geographical Names database, we get this:

Name changed to Nʕaylintn per request from Osoyoos Indian Band as part of agreement with Ministry of Environment, 7 August 2015.

So, what if Wikipedia was built up not on colonial history…

Credit Union Billboard to Attract White City Folks to Translate Their Sexual Attraction into an Imported European Wine Industry

…but from the land and her people? Might it look  something like this?

Nʕaylintn or “The Chief” is a body and story written on the territory of the land later called “The Land of the Big Heads” of the love, courage and devotion that led to the peaceful resolution of bloodshed caused by conflicting stories and homelands between the syilx and the secwepemc between two ancient villages along the post-glacial obsidian trail linking the northern and southern basalt seas, most recently in approximately the year 11780. For a century and a half after mid-19th century American and British invasion, the story was retold in denaturalized European terms as part of a nationalization process, as the story of a land-form, a bluff above the land grant of one Peter McIntyre, a gold-seeker and Pony Express guard who had come overland from Canada by raft in a disastrous, ill-fated and foolish journey into secwepemc territory north of t’kemlips in 1862. As part of the return of the earth to her care-taking, rather than invading, peoples, Nʕaylintn’s original story was adopted by the regional colonial government in 2015, on request of her story-tellers and story-keepers.

I mean, sure, I bet there are many errors there, and the whole glacial story is missing, but when this is one of the village sites …

The View from Vaseaux Lake, or: Yes, a Lake Can Be a Village Site

… we might as well try. Actually, it’s important that we do, because the Earth needs us. Consider this article in British Columbia’s post-colonial “alternative” news blog, The Tyee:

Source: https://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2017/11/16/humans-blind-imminent-environmental-collapse/?utm_source=daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=161117

It’s sad, you know. A regional news source posts an article by a professor emeritus of a supra-regional university with a generic (and romantic) photograph of distant pollution on a nature-industry model, misquoting a German scientific study that was as much about German politics as German industrial agricultural practices, while an important part of the solution, right here, right now, was left out of the story in favour of a species-wide response. Nature is the problem here, and the host of colonial attitudes that came along with it and replaced, for a time, the stories that bind people to the land and compel them to care for it for their survival on the understanding that humans and land are the same. We can, and should, do better. It’s not as if the replacement of a dehumanized nature with a reinvigorated one is difficult, or that this is the only “Big Head” in the valley. Here’s one near the colonially-named “McLaughlin Canyon” south of the colonially-named Tonasket, Washington.

Here’s one at the foot of Sqexe7 Lake:

Is the story known? Yes, you can bet it is. Is it publicized? Hardly. Has anyone asked? Maybe not. Would anyone answer? Perhaps, but stories like this are also the kind of thing one can find out for oneself, and thereafter earn a chance at joining a story-telling circle. They are rich and combine human, environmental and geological history into sustainable foundations, providing respectful barriers to exploitive activity, for which there is no longer any room. Global problems are local problems. Global solutions also have local solutions. Culture can be asked to stop glorifying invasion and settlement and actually settle down to stay. Humans are as well-situated to do this work as natural processes are.

Indian Reserves and White Reserves

This thing came in the mail. For those of you who are not Canadian, this is what colonial life looks like.

Note that everything here is an image of something to purchase, that is made in China. We don’t make stuff here. We bring it in by ship. We have a national railroad to deliver that stuff from coast to coast. That is called industry here. Other countries would be troubled by it. We’re not. We celebrate it. After all, the role of a citizen in this market state is to purchase amulets representing various forms of colonial culture. We call it global culture. Sure. Well, it gives a raven a place to perch while he figures out what he has stolen from a garbage can at the bottom of the hill. That’s something, right?

Notice as well, how everything is painted white…

…and that the largest item is a nationalist military figure from an American fantasy film production company. That’s colonial. An American would see a nationalist military figure. Big difference. Canadians are used to dedicating their lives to making collages of the cultural articles of other peoples. Americans aren’t. Most dominant cultures aren’t. That’s the point. That’s what the whiteness is for. It is an attempt to belong. There are alternatives. We are not prisoners. After all, this is the local catalogue, in my corner of this country:

That’s right. Choke cherries. Not white. That’s because they are an indigenous food crop, and those people get put on reservations although in this part of North America no treaties were signed and white culture, including Canadian Tire’s colonial culture, is squatting on stolen land. That is not an exaggeration for effect. It’s absolutely true. And what’s a reservation? Ah. Let’s ask the Canada Indian Act to tell us:

Here’s the thing, if we replace the term “bands” with municipalities and the term “Indian” with “community”, we have just described this colonial province, British Columbia. In other words, we are all on reserves. Now, I’m very clear that the two sides of a reserve fence confer very different privileges, but it is also true that reserves were set aside on racial principles, to separate “white” claims to land from “Indian” ones, and to make the “white” claims dominant. Really, though, all of us who live on this shoulder of the earth are on a reserve, no matter what side of the fence across stolen land we are on, even these beautiful people:

The Horses of the Okanagan Indian Band on their Overgrazed Community Pasture

They need a few thousand acres more, which was denied them by “white” (i.e. non-indigenous) ranchers.

We are all prisoners of this reserve system, denied access to power and knowledge across the reserve fences, and thus denied access to the solutions that will solve the problems caused by the setting of those fences. It is making people angry. We should be angry, but we should not be directing our anger at each other. There are no Indians in Canada, except as the Canada Indian Act says there are. There are hundreds of separate peoples, with ancient, proud histories. There are no White people in Canada, either, not essentially, at any rate, except where the Indian Act and collusion with it has made people so. In this battle, Canada Tire, and it’s white colonial nonsense…

 … is completely in the way of progress. If that is the set of choices for Canadians, then Canada is the problem. Canada is capable of so much more. We should get rid of the Canada Indian Act, for one thing, and institute land and constitutional reform to make this thing go away. Will that happen? It’s not likely. But we can start with knowing our land so intimately that the government is revealed to be an invader, representing cultures, peoples and lands not our own, and that means having the courage to speak and not to say, “Harold, it’s just a Christmas catalogue.” It is no such thing. This is:

No country can hold a piece of land for which it has no stories. That’s the first rule. The second rule is this: the stories we tell become the country we live in. Please, don’t be an invasive species. Be present and haunted by the land, for that is to be home:

Oh, and maybe don’t check the mail.

This Land Must Burn

In the panorama of the hill, there are flashes of colour, very specific, which signify human food and the season in which they will be found. Indigenous humans spread seeds from those asparagus, hawthorn, rose, and Saskatoon bushes, so they can come again.

There are also cows, choosing to live only in a world of weeds that have sprung up in areas they have lain in before and shat out weed seeds from off-mountain hayfields and pastures. They make their own environment. Most of the grass you see in the distance is cheatgrass, which came with the cows but then went feral and made an environment hostile to everyone. It limits movement but doesn’t make it impossible.

Pretty sick and sad-looking animal, that. On the hill, there are also other people, who won’t be found in the cow muck.

They blend in.

They make the trail I used to climb easily up a steep hill, which is where I found him. Of course, he found me first. He made possible the relationship we stood within for five minutes.

His environment is still here, but highly-constrained, just as narrowed as the human one, yet the old relationships are still here, and can still be rebuilt. For that, today, I rejoice.

Practical Ways to Re-Indigenize the Grasslands. Really.

Two days ago, I suggested that the former grassland hillsides of the Okanagan Valley (now large, private expanses of unproductive and water-wasting weeds), an area at least equal to the 100s of 1000s of hectares of lost grasslands on the valley benches and the equally extensive lost wetlands of the valley bottom, can be reclaimed for environmentally productive use by weaving into them again valuable plants that have demonstrated an ability to enter the old ecosystems and fill now-lost niches. The balsam-root niche, a kind of clumping wild sunflower,

First of the Year! March 14, 2015

… could be augmented by forms of domestic sunflower…

 

My Wildflower Garden, with a Bird-seeded Sunflower

… and extend the season for birds and deer, replacing niches currently empty due to extirpation by cattle ranching, as well as provide seed and flowers for human use. Similarly, as I pointed out two days ago, the niche of early greens such as desert parsley…

Desert Parsley, a Few Days After Snow Melt

Seed is a secondary crop. Other early parsleys provide root flours.

… could either be augmented by seeding wild parsley and other cold climate greens, or extended into the lost lily niche by planting or seeding asparagus extensively, to present not one feral plant (as below) but thousands.

Asparagus Looking at New Opportunities

Should predation be a limiting problem, the plants could be protected by screens of young roses or hawthorns.

Black Hawthorn

Not so young, but it was once. There are several generations here. Note the youngest daughters to the left.

However, the reintroduction of human, nutritional and environmental values into degraded, industrialized, colonized and privatized land and, as I pointed out yesterday, healing its structurally racist agenda, need not solely concentrate on crops such as those above. Crops for bees and birds are also essential, if pollination, seed distribution and fertilization are to take place without human labour. For that, a concentrated reintroduction of grazed-down native thistles, would be a good start.

 

Cirisium Undulatum, Wavy-leaved Thistle

Thistles want to grow here. Here is a colony of scotch thistle…

… poisoned this spring under government orders to protect the grazing values of hillsides such as this …

In Colonial Society, this land is called a farm.

No, it is a mine. It mined ecological value, and is now a tailing field. So it is in a culture that started with a gold rush.

…which has virtually no grazing value of any kind.The grazing value was actually in the thistles!

Currently, wild bees are in crisis, wandering off the droughted, flowerless grasslands to access flowers in such places as my wildflower garden, which are rapidly disappearing, due to government recommendations to remove vegetation on private land, to conserve water. Soon, they will have nowhere to go, while their European cousins, the honeybees, are dying off because of high tech, nicotine-based insecticides sprayed on industrial farms. These are problems that a rejuvenated grassland could help solve. There would also be winter seed for birds, where this year there is none. We are facing a starvation winter that does not need to be. This is an interwoven grassland, which will provide most of the labour if we set it up and work to maintain its balance.

 

It would be naive to think that the class of property owners within Canada would relinquish the real social value of their private property rights in order to allow open community foraging on their land, and it is probably equally unlikely to expect that they would hire individuals to walk great distances daily over irregular terrain, in order to harvest a crop, such as asparagus, growing within the interwoven ecology of reclaimed syilx grasslands. However, there are practical ways forward. A burn can get things started.

9 Months After the Fire

It has the advantage of eliminating a great subsidy that communities pay to private land owners: their overgrazed, overgrown sagebrush and weed lands along city margins provide a huge fire risk.

Spot the Bear Trying to Blend In

Should fire come, it will be the communities that pay the price of damage, and pay the cost of fighting the fires. That is a massive subsidy. Levying environmental charges against landowners who cover their land in explosive weeds would be a start.

There are, however, many ways, other than prescriptive fire and penalizing levies, for providing benefit to landowners for a retreat from the industrial land-mining called farming. For one, there is a model from Germany, where land is valued. Take a look at an egg-and-bison (yes!) farm north of Lake Constance:

Hönig-Hof

The upper building is a new chicken barn. To get permission to remove agricultural land from production, the farmer was asked to provide an equal amount of land restoring lost ecological values to the district. He chose to plant the two hectare field inside the corner formed by the approach of the driveway to his larger set of buildings (hen house and packing facility) in wildflowers. He receives no payment for this, other than what he can earn from his eggs. Switzerland does it a little differently, providing subsidies of many different kinds, for such varied ecological values as bird habitat (old apple orchards rather than new ones), wild flowers (fenced off areas of pasture, off limits to grazing and cattle), and so on. We could enact legislation of a similar kind, tailored to meet our needs. What’s more, there’s this:

That’s traditional European farming applied to this land, with its corollary soil degradation. This method of farming allows for efficient machine access, in large unified planes. However, there’s also this…

That’s a shared coyote, snake, porcupine, deer and bear trail up a dry creekbed. Rather than being a plane removed from an interwoven environment, it is a line through it, allowing easy access to varied environments left and right, up and down slope. We could use this model to create access pathways, of use to all who use the hillsides, but making foraging efficient in a new agricultural model. And that’s just for starters. We can do this. If we don’t, we will die. The fence below?

It’s only for people. We can make such violent forms of social interaction unnecessary. And that’s just the start.

Replacing Wild Harvest With Mountain Culture

100 Sustainable Paths for the Okanagan: 19

Currently, agriculture in the Okanagan Valley is industrial, in keeping with colonial models from 1858, when water was diverted through Nlaka’pamux villages in the Fraser River Canyon to flush out gold in the gravels beneath them. This Okanagan mother and her twins do not live within that industrial form. 

It is exciting to see Indigenous peoples in the valley and across the entire industrialized landscape known as Canada call for an end to colonialism, and exciting to be among the voices asking for it to end soon. More, however, needs to be done. It is simply not enough to stand within the benefits of industrialized water and complain about colonialism as some distant force, perhaps deep in the past, perhaps expressed through systematic racism (the privileging of people of one race over those of another by inherent biases built into political and social systems lived in by otherwise well-meaning people), perhaps in addressing the inadequate responses of police forces and courts to the murder of far too many indigenous women or the incarceration of far too many indigenous men. Bound with industrialized water is also industrialized land. I know I have pointed this out before, but I think I have found a way to make a clear point about it. I hope you will follow along for a moment. This is important. If you feel you can’t follow along, here’s an image to leave you with.

 Crab Spider in the Asparagus (Camouflaged as the Sky)

If you would like to follow along, here is another image of wild asparagus, a few weeks later. This one has gone yellow, after a long season of ripening.

What I’d like to draw your eye to here, other than the asparagus, and the ability of your mind to instantly pick it out of the background slope — your mind is evolutionarily selected to do that —is the hill in behind. In the industrialized space called Canada, this is what is simultaneously called “wild nature,” “private land” and “a farm.” What it is farming is a few cattle, which eat the “nature” off of the space. That is a pure image of colonial activity. This “nature” actually consists of large swathes of overgrown sage brush (the consequence of overgrazing by those cattle) and cheatgrass, an invasive and destructive weed from the Russian Steppes. In the colonial, industrialized space, these two species, which have replaced hundreds, are called “wild,” although they are almost completely domesticated, in keeping with the industrial nature of this space. Note that the asparagus plant, which is not native to this place, and which is also called “wild” is not part of the industrial project. Here’s another.

And another. This one is reclaiming a seasonal watercourse created by erosion from industrial activity to lay a natural gas pipeline nearby. Notice the lack of water in all of these images.

The erosion here is not just geological. It is cultural as well.

For reference, the images were made just to the middle left of the image below. Notice that here water is flowing down in a dry channel between the pressure gradients of the hills. It doesn’t show on the surface as liquid water, familiar from industrial systems, or cropped water, familiar from orchards, grain, hay and vegetable fields using industrialized water, but as a system that passes water along from plant to plant to plant. The plants are the water system, not its recipients.
In that spirit, have a look again at Asparagus, but this time closer up. She is being fruitful.

She is also wild water. Did you catch the significance of that? I hope so! It’s worth spelling out again, because it’s such a powerful example of the post-colonial future we need to form on this land. Asparagus is a newcomer to this land, but lives on it without support, is fully integrated into it, not only lives without free water but enriches the land for many species, including humans, leads people into their natural habitat, opening other opportunities to them, and can be planted and gathered without capitalization. In short, we don’t need provincial parks, preserving wilderness — another colonial idea — except from ourselves; instead, we need more asparagus.

In the process of deindustrialization, it is important that ancient relationships with the land be maintained, such as the relationship between the syilx and their horses. This is a relationship that goes back a long way in time, possibly far longer than the 1790 proposed by non-indigenous scholars. At any rate, whether 220, 500, 1000 or 20,000 years in the past, the gift of horses from the land to the people was accepted.

The Horses of the Okanagan Indian Band on the Communal Reserve Pasture in April

Asparagus is making the same gesture today. There are complaints that horses gouge up and erode the grasslands (true), and suggestions that they be killed off to free up the range for more cattle or just more grass, but that’s offensive. The problem is not the horses but the number of horses maintained on constrained space created by industrial water and industrial land use. Private land, whether it is land set aside communally on an Indian Reserve or land privatized for the benefit of a single individual, is a sister of industrialized water. Land usage rights were also set in 1858 in British Columbia, and rose out of Gold Rush era water law and its structural racism. If there were enough land for the horses, there would not be an issue, and, besides, if horses are unacceptable as “non-native”, then so are cattle, and the industrialization of the land that makes space for them out of what were richly producing fields of plant crops 170 years ago.

What’s more, Asparagus has a cousin, with wings, the ring-necked pheasant, which has adapted to this land as well, and often springs up underfoot in an explosion of wings, leading to photographs of departures, such as the one below…

… or the one below…

Like Asparagus, they pay very little attention to private property rights, which is to say they pay very little attention to colonial issues or issues of cultural appropriation, because they have appropriated nothing. They have gone wild. Asparagus has as well. Here is some in the spring. She uses a fence line, a boundary space where she can express the tendency of water to find the sun. She becomes the vertical green river that expresses that force.

She can even compete against cheatgrass:

Food for deer (and humans), Asparagus nonetheless puts out enough shoots over a long enough period, that she outwits the seasonal patterns of deer and humans.

There’s a lot of pressure on Asparagus, yet she manages, and she has a lot of seed. Birds get some in the winter (and they sorely need it, as neither cheatgrass nor sagebrush are adequate replacements for the seeds of thistles, wild sunflowers, waterleaf and lilies, to name a few.), but there is still more.

Beautiful, too. In all this work, Asparagus has fit in nicely to the work of Saskatoon …

… thistle, chokecherry, hawthorn, wild plum and dogwood on the “dry” hills and spearmint along the water and provides the foundation for cultural renewal, not cultural removal. Look at her again, healing the wound of a human mistake.

Look at the slopes.

Such slopes stretch for ten kilometres high above the city. Much of it would support gardens of asparagus, sunflowers and Saskatoon berries. All of them would draw people out on the land for recreation, while picking them.

Future Asparagus Farm

The sunflowers would support birds and the starving deer. The saskatoons would support yet more birds, and the starving deer. And the asparagus…

Note the Lack of Pests. Thanks, Birds.

… ah the asparagus…

Dinner for Four

…sells for $6 a pound in the supermarket right now, grown on nitrogen fertilizer and flown in from South America while we delude ourselves that we are a post-colonial society that needs to make living conditions better on Indian Reserves. We need to get rid of reserves, not to assimilate native peoples into dominant colonial culture, but the other way around. The land will have the last say on this.

Future Orchard, Coyote Highway, Asparagus Field and Recreational Area 

Over an acre of land, at a density of one asparagus plant per 100 square feet, sheltered initially in young hawthorns or old sage until being cut free, we could foresee 420 asparagus plants per acre, or perhaps 200 pounds of asparagus. Over 10,000 acres, that would be 2,000,000 pounds of asparagus, or 1,000 tons. The land is not making that much off of cattle, which means that its industrialization, its privatization into the hands of industrial men for the creation of an economy and the support of communities and their infrastructure, has been a total failure. Moving forward into a post-colonial model would make us all wealthy in this valley. Failure to do so will ensure the continued acceleration of industrialization and industrial development, and the steady furthering poverty of the people and creatures of this place. That’s how structural racism works. Water is part of that story. We need land and water reform.

 

A Starvation Winter is Coming

Ah, the ripening grass of Autumn.

Yes, but this winter will be a hunger winter. Most awns and glumes are empty of seed. They look find, but the vast majority are empty. The others have very tiny kernels.

After the last bare-handed tomato picking, the stained man goes forth…

The young doe below is walking through the tinkling bells of the grass, but the tinkling is empty. She is eating weed, and the birds are all gone. Still, there are dogs up there. It’s worthwhile to keep eyes, ears and nose on dogs.

A hard winter is coming. That is the face of summer’s drought. Or, look, this is winter, here, now:

Or, put it another way: “Nuclear Winter” is a term used to describe the lack of a growing season through a summer, caused by clouds of dust in the stratosphere caused by nuclear war. We could as well say that right now we have passed halfway through a smoke summer, with the hardest months yet to come. 

May the birds find shelter and food where they can. May the deer people find weeds and scrub where humans have lacked the energy to remove them.

May the human people be patient and help them through.

May we get through this together.

In Praise of Scotch Thistles

B.C. Hydro, our provincial power provider, is a responsible citizen, and poisoned these invasive thistles last year.

 

It’s the regulation. One wants to protect cattle range from inedible weeds. The thistles responded by coming back tenfold.

They are doing well.

Very well.

Perhaps we should all just accept that the glory days of ranching are over in these parts, which they are…

Slim Pickings

…and provide a home for the last remaining insects of the rich syilx grasslands (here on one of the few surviving native thistles) …

…that were here before the cattle ate everything else down to nothing. This looks like a good start, don’t you think?

We should do this out of respect.

And love.