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.

 

Cultural Blindness and Agricultural Practice

Culture is a powerful thing. Here is some earth, laid bare by a plow, in preparation for seeding in the spring. In the past, it has been used to grow tomatoes. This last year, it lay fallow, to recover.

In Canadian culture, this is an image of fruitfulness, taken at the most fruitful time of year. Enjoy it.

The only thing is, it’s not fruitful, it’s dead. Look at how this soil is nothing but congealed clay and sand. Living soil, that things grow in, is a complex environment of fungi, microbes, insects and dead and living plant material. This is just clay and sand.

And it started like this.

 

That’s how powerful culture is.

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.

The Great Artwork

This is what the present looks like. You can see how a 100,000,000 year old seabed, lifted into the sky by a collision with North America and silted up with the drift of a river running alongside a melting glacier is covered with life, the present state of the earth, and gathering rain to feed it.

The following is what time looks like. This is 10,000 years ago. You can see that the land has been scraped down to post-glacial rubble, contemporary life-giving water is piped across the land’s ancient face, the life is exclusively immigrant weeds, and houses have been erected on shelves of gravel taken from this slope and dumped on the hill. The goal is to re-create the moment when European cultures first stepped onto this human space, and claimed it as an art installation re-creating the moment when Homo sapiens first colonized post-glacial Europe.

It was an attempt to get past history. It is, as you can see, a fortress culture. This is the hill above my house. Millions of dollars were spent to create this bittersweet romantic artwork. Not a penny was spent to maintain the earth it relies on for its illusions.

That’s because the “wildness” of that space is one of the illusions of the artwork called time. What if we stopped looking?

The White Bees of Autumn and the Blue Weeds

Roadside Chicory

Be ethical, please. Plant weeds. They’re the only thing keeping the earth going right now, this group of plants that reclaim broken land — and save the sacred people of the earth for their future work. Every weed you plant is an earth ship, carrying precious cargo across a deadly sea.

Why Populism is a Bad Thing

Populism is a form of political system which furthers the beliefs of a class called “the people” against a class called “the elite.” We could call “the people” any of the following:

regular folks, white people, local people, indigenous people, poor people, and so on;

and we could call “the elite” the following:

rich folks, intellectuals, scientists, bureaucrats, career politicians, town houses, land owners, property developers, and so on,

or if we like, we could call the elite the following:

regular folks, white people, local people, indigenous people,  poor people, and so on;

and we could call the people the following:

rich folks, intellectuals, scientists, bureaucrats, career politicians, town houses, land owners, property developers, and so on.

Oh, brother. Let’s do a little experiment. Imagine, for a moment, that this fellow is “the people”:

And imagine, for a moment, that this is “the elite:”

Sound far-fetched? Not really. The porcupine lives in a riparian area draining from the back side of this hill. This upthrust lump of seabed, in other words, creates the conditions in which the porcupine lives. But, alas, look again:

The porcupine does not exist in a “natural” world. It uses a culvert as a short cut under a fence, to access a walking trail in an old irrigation canal to access its trail down to a farmer’s compost pile, which has fed its family for generations, well, in between nibbling on choke cherry bushes in the winter snow. At the same time, the “natural world” is not a proper elite. Look at it, just a kilometre to the west:

The elites of this city (and this is in the city), who tend to be retired oil men or the people who are developing the land for their houses, often call this a wasteland of weeds and cactus. They are rather correct. Look again:

A thousand hectares of once-productive grassland for one cow? No, two. The other one was behind a rock off to the right of the image. This is land that once powered the elites of Canada in this region, ranchers for whom the grasslands were sacrificed and for whom all property rules were created. 150 years ago, the act of privatizing this land, fencing it from indigenous use and putting cattle upon it was called development. Now the so-called elite wants it to be developed into productive farmland, with the weeds (both weeds and natural grasses) cut down to make good grazing, or the land broken up and turned into housing lots for “the people,” who tend to be “the elite.” This is not an elite which provides direction for the people. It’s just open competition. So, let’s look again:

When this land was first settled, it was farmed as “common land,” with open access to all. That meant that open grazing of cattle was available to everyone, which sounded mighty egalitarian but resulted, sadly, in the end, with the first man who could get his cattle on the land, often due to his wealth and power, getting the benefit of the grass and the rest of the ranchers (and the indigenous syilx) getting, well, dead cows. Privatization of land was meant to settle that. In other words, a form of populism.

The result of that, however, is that whoever places a house on this “privatized” or “popularized” land gets the benefit of the land, and changes the nature of the land, not for the common good of the land but for whatever purposes he wants, with no oversight other than the populist principle that a private owner knows best and his rights are inviolate. This is one reason that populism is a silly idea. The German sociologist Karin Priester, who has studied, among topics, Italian fascism and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, calls populism a relational idea with an empty heart. It is, by the way, this heart that populists such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini filled with mystic substance, in the place of rational analysis. In short, the term is a mess, and yet its ideas, and the relationships they present, are rife in contemporary society. They create a gap between oil men, on the one hand, and indigenous peoples, on the other, which governments then try to bridge, often against the protests of “the people” and, often, the protests (called appeals to the Supreme Court) of the oil men. This is the normal state of affairs. It can only, ultimately lead to one end, this: 

“The people” might want a grassland hill, or might want development, and “the elite” might want a grassland hill, or might want development. In reality, though, the productive capacity of the land has been destroyed. You are looking at a couple hundred hectares of richly productive indigenous land that can’t even support a single cow, and whose grasses have been replaced by weeds. You are looking at weeds. You are not looking at nature, because there is no “nature” at the heart of populism, even though Hitler and Mussolini argued that “natural man”, i.e. the heart of populism, knew best. That’s the trick of populism: it makes dichotomies where none exist, legitimizes, even creates, bad behaviour, and leads, always, to the dehumanization of the earth in the name of human values. These are issues which Karl Marx blamed on capitalization and its distortions of social relationships. Sure. Maybe. The smoky forest-fire light that this loon is swimming in could be called the result of capitalist distortions of healthy forest policy…

…but it might be more usefully called the distortion of populist policy, that places “nature” as an elite, which “the people”, i.e. humans, have a basic political right to draw upon, and which will support them unquestionably, as long as they adjust their courtly behaviour (land use plans) to fit the moods of the elite (the land.) Populism is dangerous, not because it pits one group of people against another but for 2 reasons:

It creates separate groups of people.

It is a series of relations without a heart (a good definition of death), which replaces a series of relations which create life.

Relationships will always be there, but there is a big difference between a wooden house filling an ecological niche and a loon filling it, or between people who weave relationships which include the earth (i.e. weave relationships between so-called elites and so-called “people”) and those which treat it as a queen (nature), which will always return energy, forever, without input of any kind. It is a dangerous seduction.

Too Young To Shoot

One of the curious results of mixing houses with farmland is that farmers, or their designates, can shoot deer, with bows or crossbows, in areas otherwise closed to hunting. The deer know this. Here is one of three young guys hiding out in a ruined plum orchard, two metres from the road.

Now, I know you’re not supposed to shoot a bow within 100 metres of a house, for good reason, and you’re not allowed to shoot one from the road, but hunters have recently been spotted in this neighbourhood, at 5:30 a.m., breaking the first of those rules. I wonder if this guy is going to figure it out in time that humans can’t be trusted. Imagine, being surrounded by thousands of predators, with fences blocking you from escape routes and any food. It’s murder.

Indigenous or Aboriginal or Both or Neither, eh?

The Prime Minister of Canada, the colonial power in this space, spoke to the UN the other day about the need for Canada to reconcile itself with its aboriginal peoples. Notice that he did not say he was looking for reconciliation with the country’s indigenous peoples. That would be quite hard. Sure, the words are often interchangeable in usage, but they’re not really the same. Aboriginal is a word used for people who lived in a space before colonization. One can define such people as earlier colonists, and then use that definition to erase their claims, or at least to absorb it into a larger, more energetic colonial context. “Aboriginal” people get to be citizens of colonial cities, such as my Vernon, below:

Indigenous is a word for people who are the land, are native to it, and can’t be separated from it without losing their identity. For example, the cat tail below is an indigenous life form in this space of sun and wind in which I live:

In colonial culture, it is considered a weed. Surely, that speaks volumes. Take another look. The person below is indigenous to this space, and even to the wheat grass she is walking through, but not to the system of roads and houses both she and the grass are placed in, or the relatively pure stand of seeded grass (to stabilize infill from road construction) she is passing through. That is Canadian space. Property developers (for what else is colonialism but property development???) are native to that space. Not mule deer.

I hope you don’t mind that I call her a person. Humans indigenous to this space don’t.

Humans indigenous to this space pass through this grass in the same way as well. They don’t stay. There is nothing to stay for. It is a monocultural desert.

The people who stay are the property developers and the colonists who buy their title deeds.

That is Canada. What then is it to be indigenous? It’s very simple. It is to be the land. That really doesn’t need elaboration, but since the words are colonial ones (there was no “land” here before colonial property rights were introduced, for example, which is not the same as saying there were no property rights), it might be best to say a few more things. First, the earth is organic, and her processes are as well. Things fit into other things: the mule deer foot print in mud from a colonial diversion of water through a seasonal subsurface water drainage, creates a healing wetland, which a mule deer steps in, which allows seeds to gather and wait for rain, and growth. What happens to the land, happens in depth.

What happens to the land’s people also happens in depth, and is part of this organic process. This is not a wild deer. It is fenced by a set of ideas. Are human people any different?

The opposite is also true: what happens negatively to the land, happens negatively to indigenous people. If the land is fenced, so are they. If the land is capitalized and divided into property, there is a “Canada Indian Act” to turn indigenous people into aboriginal property, little different than trees or rocks, which can be milled or mined. It is this fundamental de-indigenization that lies behind current cries of protest about cultural appropriation of indigenous cultures for profit. It’s what Canada is for. This transformation of indigenous people into aboriginal people, and then their erasure by time and demographics, is a process often commented on by the political right in Canada: all people in the country are equal. Yes, all people in the country are indigenous to Canada, because it is ever-present, but not all people in Canada are indigenous to the land and share in its fate. That’s a huge difference. It is also something Canadians don’t talk about much: the difficult trails that coyotes and human people walk in urban environments to maintain their contact with the earth, and the difficult forms of taming and domestication that these colonial environments instilled in them, and how to tell the difference. Perhaps people in other countries need philosophies of existence or of individualism or of trade. What we don’t need in Canada is a philosophy of reconciliation. What we need is to make Canada indigenous to this place. We’re going to need new words and philosophies for that. For one thing, people are not a resource. The salmon people below are not a resource.

Canada is the resource. .

Construction Gone Bad in Vernon

Men have been digging at the hill to make a level place to build houses, and have put up a wall of blasted rock to hold the hill back. Note the deer.

In the two months since this wall was constructed, it has rained, oh, 0.5 millimetres once. It was enough to barely wet the soil.

But still it flowed.

And flowed!

Imagine what 2 mm. would do!

Imagine 1 cm.!

What were they thinking?

Were they thinking?

It sure doesn’t look like it.

It will be the city’s problem some day.

Someday soon.

How embarrassing.

As for the deer, she has been doing a little erosion of her own.

Her angles are precise. Note how she has loosed a little avalanche on the left.The rain ought to make good use of that when it comes.

There should be laws against this kind of stupidity and carelessness.