Indigenous Land Use and the Agricultural Land Reserve

It’s actually the law of the land: indigenous rights precede all others. No matter that the rule has scarcely been applied since 1858, it’s still the law of the land, and it still makes sense. For instance, right now, negotiations are under way in my country, British Columbia, for ways in which to realign a land-use practice called the Agricultural Land Reserve, which intends to prevent the sale or use of agricultural land for any other purpose. Land like this:

The reserve has been in place for forty-five years, and was prompted by a desire to halt the infill of British Columbia’s scarce farmland with houses. Any land that was farmed, or that had once been farmed, was frozen in place overnight. Or so it seemed. Forty-five years later, vast regions of farmland are currently unharmed under this system, being dedicated instead to golf courses, on the one hand, private horse paddocks on another, and large private lawns on the other, while many others sport houses 10,000 square feet or larger: obviously more urban residences than viable farm houses. Some agricultural land owners (and not a few) have simply dumped rocky fill on their land until it could, reasonably, be declared unfit for agriculture, while others have used arguments that land is not economically viable as agricultural land and landowners deserve to get profit from their private holdings. Human cleverness being what it is, there is no end to the work-arounds. In a province which makes the bulk of its money from selling houses to foreigners or Canadians from east of the Rockies, the system is exacerbating tensions, hence the current call for reform. The Agricultural Land Reserve Commission is now taxed with finding a better balance between urban and farming land uses, presumably not subject to abuse. Land like this:

Land like this:

Fair enough, but all of this fiddling is beside the point. The argument is not whether land removed from agricultural use should create profit for its owner, or how it should be developed into housing or industry, but that the original removal of land from its indigenous owners, between 1858 and 1878, for the most part, has even the slightest shred of ethics behind it if the argument is accepted that it was needed to develop an economy, to support a government, to prevent a takeover by the United States (a publicly-advertised threat back in those days), regardless of how much that usage represented racial policy. What that means is that if urbanized agricultural land, like this …

… or like this, which escaped land reserve censure through an extensive green belt program..

… is ever to be removed from agricultural use for industrial or other development purposes, two processes must ethically precede that. First, the land must be returned to the productive health it was in before 1858, with the kind of natural-process, fire-regime indigenous farming practices local people built up over thousands of years, before any sale could be made (the resulting viability would prevent any argument that the land was not viable farmland, only that it was not viable in a racially-derived land-use system based on degrading natural values rather than improving them, and good riddance to that) and, second, any land alienated from the original claim should be returned to its original indigenous owners, with one exception, noted below. Even a compromise between the two systems is possible, with shared governmental authorities between the three claimants to this land: British Columbia, the peoples of this Pacific Slope, and the other people of this space, who deserve travel corridors through any built space, rather than being shot when they enter it, or denied any access at all.

A claim is often made in this country that the hills are dry and full of weeds, and that the country is hot, dry and unproductive. None are true, and can be countered with a wide dispersal of knowledge. After all, the reason the land appears dry has to do with destruction of its original vegetation, as well as the infilling of tens of thousands of acres of wetlands, for industry and housing. Water is natural here. Here’s a tiny remnant on the Commonage Land Claim, disputed since 1895. This creek is all that remains of a vast wetland filling the entire floor of the valley. It has an airport on one side and a sports field on the other, and low-cost housing developments throughout, all of which are the equivalent of dumping waste rock on agricultural land today to render it unviable.

It has to stop. It is unsustainable. What is not acceptable is to compound the original theft by now removing the land from any productive or natural capacity at all, and turning it into this:

That is, again, unsustainable, unless compensations are made for it to the original debt, and payable to indigenous peoples and indigenous environments, with the full participation of indigenous peoples. The thing about all of this is that it is easy, and less intrusive to society than the original land theft, or the reconfiguration of private land rights through the Agricultural Land Reserve Act. Sure, there would be difficulties, but any government that can invest $11,000,000,000 into an unwanted, unneeded, actively opposed dam project on Indigenous land, against the wishes of its rightful Indigenous owners, surely has the money to invest in supporting its farmland owners to make the transition from degrading environments to improving them. After all, it is already investing in agriculture — in industrial agriculture. There is a valid point to these millions of dollars of investment, in terms of protecting the ethical responsibility that adheres to the original privatization and racialization of land, but when the flip side happens and that ethical responsibility is squandered, then environmental and social ethics take precedence. Moving the land further away from its debt, into increased urban density without changing urbanity into an environmentally sound model on indigenous principles, is ethically, economically and morally bankrupt. Are there issues, between the needs of the federal state, Canada, and all its regional levels of government? Of course there are, but they can be worked out. Setting them aside is only going to compound them.

Sterilized Geese on the Dole. Okanagan Lake

People keep feeding them, despite governmental orders not to do so.

Period.

Economic Viability, Environmental Sustainability and Elon Musk

I have been challenged to explain how my beautiful observations can be economically viable. This one in particular, this beautiful rock melting the snow away.

Well, there are many dimensions to economic viability. For starters, my small urban area of 80,000 people currently draws water from an upland area that could support a vigorous cool-climate agricultural industry, a forest industry and a wild-crafting industry. Here is some Labrador tea doing just fine.

What’s more, it has a value. Google says so:

$400 per kilogram is not a bad price. But, aside from that it’s not really that hard to imagine hundreds of crops growing here at 3800 feet, because, for one, there are many areas of Canada with thriving agricultural regimes at that altitude, and for another the climate is better than the Black Forest, Iceland, Switzerland, and many other places in which the land is intensively farmed. Here, however, the limiting factor is water, and water is very expensive to transport into the valley bottom. In fact, in my small urban area of 80,000 people, the current projected bill for upgrading water delivery is $100,000,000. When you consider that half of the water (half is not an exaggeration) evaporates away in these rain shadow deeps, that is, effectively, $50,000,000 of lost value. Pretty much anything we do is going to be better than that.  These rocks below are melting it in place.

That is value, because this image is taken on agricultural land, or at least land that was agricultural before it was alienated to form an inefficient irrigation canal and then alienated further to create a subdivision to house people retiring from Greater Canada, each of whom increases the water load on the land. The thing is, there is water on the land, but by midsummer it has all gone. In fact, by mid-spring the land surface is dry. This dryness is used as an argument for the economic non-viability of the land, which increases housing development, which increases the concentration of water in the hands of wealthy people, which decreases the availability of water for food growing. The thing is, though, that there are 28 inches of water falling on this land each year, most of which flows away, much of it into Okanagan Lake.

The flood events that come from sudden spring run off, create a public safety bill of $12,000,000, just in Greater Kelowna. Read about it on Castanet here.

Source

That’s economic unsustainability. So, it is certainly economically and environmentally sustainable to stop transporting water into wasteful environments, and it is certainly an expensive waste to let the water all run away at once. It is also ethically questionable to do both, given how the processes create a class system around water. That is actually more than normally problematic in this environment, because this is all stolen land and stolen water, and its original owners have the right under the laws of the Government of Canada to assert their rights to mutual governance of that land and primary rights to the water. I am in full support. I am also in full support of acting proactively, to prevent critical problems before they explode and get very expensive and perhaps poisonous. Hence, a simple idea: a rock.

Rocks are low tech, and they are durable. They melt snow and soil, and slowly combine them in repeated cycles that reduce runoff, and they gather rain in the summer and bird faeces all year long to nourish bushes. Producing berry bushes like this:

Last time, I checked, dried berries are going for $25 a pound. Raisins are $5 a pound. We don’t grow them here. Our land and our water are too expensive, and our sun is too fragile. We can, however, grow saskatoons, on unused land, supporting an indigenous food crop and indigenous forms of land use and understanding. Are we farming like this now? No. There are solid economic reasons why not, but they have a lot to do with rules surrounding land ownership, property access, non-wildlife zones near human housing, and, the big one, the desire to keep all the water. The beautiful thing about wringing water from rocks…

… or for a land management strategy making use of the abilities of rocks is that it is there to sustain us when those issues of land ownership, property access and notions of wild or farmed land change under economic, social, political, industrial or military pressure. Is it economically sustainable to throw a bunch of rocks around and live off of them? No. Can we use them, and a hundred other natural process like them, to unite our society across its very real divides and to provide resiliency for the future? Yes. Now, there was one more factor to this question of economic viability. It was Elon Musk. This American man…

… says this on the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/feb/15/elon-musk-cyborgs-robots-artificial-intelligence-is-he-right

If humans want to continue to add value to the economy, they must augment their capabilities through a “merger of biological intelligence and machine intelligence”. If we fail to do this, we’ll risk becoming “house cats” to artificial intelligence.

 

And so we enter the realm of brain-computer (or brain-machine) interfaces, which cut out sluggish communication middlemen such as typing and talking in favour of direct, lag-free interactions between our brains and external devices.

To which I can only add tonight: if humans want to continue to add value to the earth, they must augment their capabilities through a “merger of biological intelligence and environmental intelligence”. If we fail to do this, we’ll risk becoming “house cats” to Elon Musk. It is a very real risk, but it is not an economic risk, so much as an existential risk which has the danger of becoming a military one. Part of the answer is not to “enter the realm of brain-computer interfaces,” but to go where the machines can’t. The time to develop existential resiliency is now, not ten years from now. And so, unabashedly, a rock.

With full apologies that every post hasn’t garnered this level of detail these last six months. And that leads to a personal explanation of my recent concentration on beauty rather than the practical goals at the heart of this project: I have been finishing off a manuscript that lays down, through explorations of balance, which is an ancient definition of beauty, sixty years of journeying towards an understanding of the earth that can underly this practical work. I have used the blog, as I always have, to conduct the explorations to support my arguments. On that framework I am ready to start assembling the practical posts from this blog into useful collections. Will it change the world? No, Elon Musk will do that, under the paternalistic guise of protecting us from a mechanized world. He is absolutely right that it is our job to change our selves. We’d better get started.

 

Conjoined Cultures on the Cascadian Coast

Here’s a glimpse into the nature of ritual, a favourite human way of dressing the naked world in the stuff of the mind. Here’s the world, on Discovery Passage, on the East Coast of Vancouver Island. Note that it’s a horizontal human figure staring at the sky. This is ancient knowledge.
Now, compare the latest knowledge in the culture of the island: two richly decorated welcoming figures displaying family ancestry and cultural wealth from Kwakwaka’wakw culture, greeting visitors from the sea. Perhaps the stone heads above are an early incarnation of these figures, or perhaps they are a late one. Either way, the giant stone heads of Easter Island are similar, as they should be, given that the cultural similarities between Polynesian and Kwakwaka’wakw culture exceed 90%. 

It would be wrong to see a simple colonial story here. Look how the carvers have incorporated some good boat-building aluminum into their sculptures, to keep them out of the rot, and how the colonial culture in behind, has created symbolic structures of its own: a modern view rancher on the ridge to the left, an older faux-tutor one in the centre, and down at road level, a contemporary urban loft-and-garage style house: all, like the figures in the foreground, looking out to sea, all richly-decorated and even tattooed, and all laying claims to power. These are both cultures of display. Oh, and the view? Well, water, waves, gravel, driftwood and wind: the colonial verities, read by island culture as “the natural world of First Nations culture.”

I dunno. Some of those rocks are richly decorated, too.

There are older stories here, in which water is not water, stone is not stone, and display is not meant for the eyes alone. Look more closely. Old and new mixed together, really!

The modern colonial view is no less a ritual incantation. Look at this combination of industrial wreckage and mourning that has recreated this beach, with the same sense of a ritualized body looking out to sea.

And the same thing at the coffee shop a kilometre to the north. While the sea just keeps coming in, with waves cast off by passing barges on their way to Alaska. In which the people still wade.

Note the exquisite detail of colonial tattooing in this place, from the mouldering plaster of the Tudor house in the back, and its half-timbered, military cladding, to the shrink-wrapped, plastic cladding of the new loft-house, with its old growth pillars replacing the industrial driftwood of the shore, and its simultaneous display and privacy.

White culture here might desire to represent continuity with New York and London, and it does, kind of…

… but it has more in common with this:

Colonial and pre-colonial worlds are still speaking with each other. Bodies are still re-creating themselves as ritual objects in the world and are still facing the sea, and that sea, still, speaks back.

This relationship is not reducible, but we can live in it, together.

Happy New Year to You As We Surf Among the Blue Herons

There are a series of giant stone heads laid along the east coast of Vancouver Island just north of the Salish Sea. As the new year comes in, they are great for landing on.

Or just for surfing.

Have a great landing in the surf of the new year, all of you. Your support for this project has kept me inspired and I have tried to return that to you. We are 1787 posts into this project now. It started with just one, in a moment of curiosity that began on this beach and took flight when I returned to the country that made me! It has changed my life, in many positive ways. I hope it has changed yours, at least in a small way. As a blessing for the new year, and in the hope that I can continue to provide all 20,484 of my visitors in 2017 with fresh views of this beautiful Earth and how we can work with her to create our future together, I offer you a good head to land on in an outgoing tide.

Surf ahead in 2018, eh!

Saying the Names Shanty & the CBC Poetry Prize

As some of you know, when I’m not exploring the poetry of the earth, I am working for the words as they arrange themselves in similar patterns, also called poetry. Today, I am proud that my poem “Saying the Names Shanty” has been nominated to stand among 33 others in the long-list for the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize. You can read the full list of poems and their poets here: http://www.cbc.ca/books/literaryprizes/33-writers-make-the-cbc-poetry-prize-longlist-1.4389859. I am proud that my poem and I get to rub shoulders with such a fine group of visions, words and people. What’s more, I am glad that the poem, which began in 2009 with a trip up the Columbia River from Astoria, Oregon, rose out of the series that started this blog at the same time. Here’s the Columbia, as it sweeps through the ancient Sinkiuse homeland at White Bluffs, directly across the river from the Manhattan Project’s plutonium reactors.

That was my journey home from the Coast, that allowed my new poem’s journey across the mountains and back to Canada. The final impetus was written after visiting Yellowstone …

… and Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump …

… and the Blackfoot wind …

… and then sitting on the shore of the Conconully Reservoir in the early morning.

The poem came, in almost its final form. I think that’s the editing crew above. The reception apparatus is below.

The Poem Saying Harold’s Name

The poem begins like this:

It was Al who said it, to stick out the thumb’s knuckle and nail, crook’d,
to say with a gesture where you want to get along to

and see who is going there too, with her hands on the wheel’s leather
and the rubber taking the curves of the Crowsnest,

crossing the line from black tar’s unwinding ribbon
into the riddle of headlights weaving between Similkameen deer and Arcturus.

The Al mentioned is Canadian Poet and elder, Al Purdy, who has left us but whose poems and spirit still live. Here he is, just a month older than I am now.

Poetry Saying Al’s Name

One of Al’s poems, “Say the Names”, that inspired my poem is here: https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/arts/say-the-names-by-al-purdy/article4161335/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&

It begins wondrously, like this:

say the names say the names

and listen to yourself

an echo in the mountains

Tulameen Tulameen

say them like your soul

was listening and overhearing

and you dreamed you dreamed

you were a river

and you were a river

It is a beautiful challenge. I accepted it. After all, many of the rivers and names that Al says with such love are my home country in the mountains, including the nmɘlqaytkw (the Similkameen), here:

The nmɘlqaytkw at Nighthawk, looking to c̓up̓áq̓.

You can read another of my love poems for this river here, a prose poem with photos: https://okanaganokanogan.com/2012/04/23/earth-writing/

My poem “Saying the Names Shanty” is part of a book-length manuscript of songs for being at home in the west beyond the West, and especially in the grasslands between the mountains, and of following the road across the mountains and prairies to the east.

The Grass Beyond the Mountains

The View from Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump

To which, with respect and thanks for the syilx people, whose land, whose Nxʷɘlxʷɘltantɘt, I live upon, I add the Okanagan Nation declaration:

“We are the unconquered aboriginal people of this land, our mother; The creator has given us our mother, to enjoy, to manage and to protect; we, the first inhabitants, have lived with our mother from time immemorial; our Okanagan governments have allowed us to share equally in the resources of our mother; we have never given up our rights to our mother, our mother’s resources, our governments and our religion; we will survive and continue to govern our mother and her resources for the good of all for all time.” https://www.syilx.org/about-us/syilx-nation/okanagan-nation-declaration/

To all syilx people, yours are the names. Thank you for keeping them alive and for sharing them. Your act of sharing has given me life, and a chance to sing of love. The woman whose hands are on the wheel in the poem, is the poet Linda Rogers,


…source

who introduced me to Al’s poem “Say the Names” by reading it to me late at night in her kitchen in Victoria, with, if I remember correctly, a whoop of joy. I sure felt one, at any rate. Thanks, Linda. All of us, and the poet Pat Lane…

…whose poem “Similkameen Deer”, which begins with a road sign like this …

…Driving through the Similkameen valley

I watch for deer on the Road.

Miles roll out beneath me….

… probably below the screes and Mount Mazuma Ash at As’nola Mouth, where the waters of the Pasayten Wilderness and the Cascade Range meet between Hedley and Keremeos, began me on this journey four decades ago, have, among others, made this poem together, although the words came to it through me. Friends, poets, brothers, sisters, words and spirits, thank you. This moment is yours, a gift for you for the gifts you’ve given. Thank you, CBC, for the chance to share it.

You can find the CBC’s page on my poem here: http://www.cbc.ca/books/literaryprizes/saying-the-names-shanty-by-harold-rhenisch-1.4371756

Oh, yeah, and this:

Poetry Saying Its Name as Arcturus

Source

What the Body Knows in Cold and Light

What is pale and drawn out by light and cold is not dead. The life is within, or, rather, it is concentrated, or distilled.

When you walk through the cold, every twig is power. If you grasp them, you can feel their line down to the roots, bound by ice to all of the earth and through ice to sky and stars. Now that you have found their power, come back in the light and find its concentration.

Welcome to the poetry of the earth, and the open secrets of red osier dogwood, medicine for body and soul.

 

 

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.

Indian Reserves and Language

Let’s be humble for a moment. There is a global culture today, and it is not humble. It looks out through human actors, apprehends the image below through their complex biological organs …

… and sees leaves. It is proud of itself. As the humans this culture controls, let’s not set aside that pride, but let’s set humility alongside it. The global culture looks through its humans at the moment broken by apprehension below and sees an ill poplar leaf, suffering  predation by leaf miners in a season of drought.

It may or may not view the three ants at work within the image. This global culture is language-based, in a conception which views language as the expression of individual humans, learned in social environments. Such languages exist, of course: English, Spanish, Swedish, Hallkomen, Urdu, Nysilxcen, Hopi, French, C, and so on. There are thousands of them. They are powerful. All humans use them. Or, rather, all humans are used by them. Consider stag horn sumac (again):

 

To global culture, the sum of individualized, word-based language, those are leaves. The word “leaf” determines what the humans, who use the word, will see. A human can come by, now and then, and say that these are “tongues” or “wings” or “feathers,” but global culture will soon explain that such “use” of language is “metaphor” and “poetry,” and move back to “reality,” that holds that the image shows “leaves.”

 

 

It was not always so. The culture of my ancestors, for example, once held —not very long ago — that the image showed the Word of God, in a conception that a primary force, called God to give it a tag in language, spoke the world in physical form, not in the words now used to point to it, such as “leaf” and “stag horn sumac.” What’s more, these ancestors held that this language was being continually spoken by this God, and continually spoken back, in a form of mutual interwoven consciousness neither human nor divine.

In other words, my ancestors understood themselves as physical bodies in a physical world. Language, or the strings of “words” now known as language came later. What’s more, these word strings embodied the place of mutual, interwoven consciousness represented by bodies interacting with bodies, in a social, human sphere. That was its role: it has now replaced the earth.

Well, only if we let it. I can, for example, give myself over to global culture and treat the mule deer doe above as an animal, foreign to humans and separate from them, determined by the word “deer,” contained within concepts such as “environment,” “flight behaviour,” and so on, or I can honour my ancestors, and the power of my presence in the world, by treating this deer as my self. Or this wasp hunter.

Or this limestone cliff. And here’s the thing: if I am the limestone cliff below…

…I am the seabed it once was, and the clams and other bivalves whose shells once made (and still do) that limestone out of atmospheric carbon…

 

…and the forces of subduction and uplifting that raised them here in the sky in patterns that, like language…

…guide where I walk and where I do not…

… what I will find there, when I will eat choke cherries and when I will pick saskatoons that sing off of their stems with the sound they are known by in the human language of this place, nysyilxcen: siya?.

It is both the sound of the tongue making the glottal stop of the “?” in the written approximation of a vocal word that is the mouth eating a plucked berry, and the sound of the berry leaving its stem while being plucked. It is both at once, and their coming together, and their transfer into a human social language, without the loss of their ground. This limestone is part of the complex of forces which lead to that moment. Here it is three months later.Its story is still opening. When you live in space, you read it, then create objects to extend the power of that reading. That’s what bodies do. Let’s be humble and proud at once: it is not about words. The land created the deer trail imaged below, at the intersection between gravity and the architecture of deer skeletons and musculature. Our bodies follow it. Words are no different.

In this way, humans are an invention of language, and are kept by it. It might prompt them to create the proto-petroglyphs and proto-sculpture of the cliff-face above, or it might simply open through the physical experience of human bodies into narrative. 

If you know how to read these artful transfers of energy, you can translate them into cultural amulets, such as words, baskets, houses, food stores, stories, spirit traditions, and by extension into the worlds of those amulets, into automobiles, avocado peelers, radial tires and so much more, even private castles made out of chipped aspen trees, glued together in sheets, hung on the milled bodies of spruce trees, sheathed in plastic, and decorated with a thin patina of manufactured stone to assert its place in global culture …

… and even the red sun from the smoke of a summer of fires caused by the failure to maintain this story.

 

Folk traditions are serious when they say that the earth is our mother. It is not a metaphor. It is not an abstraction. It is not an idea, or a symbol, or a myth. My ancestors say the same thing as the tradition of the indigenous people of this place, the syilx. We are interwoven. The land speaks us. In Canada, the country which has laid claim to this space of earth-human weaving, bridges between indigenous and non-indigenous people are fraught. They needn’t be. That’s the language, or in the case of Canada a system of Indian reserves and land privatization, that determines these boundaries. Let’s be humble and admit that. Let’s be proud, and admit that we know the way forward.

Every word we speak comes from our ancestors.

Every one.

 

Everything else keeps us on our reservations. Yes, “our” reservations. Indian Reserves are not just there to contain indigenous people. They are there to contain everyone else as well. Let’s take that wall down.

 

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.

The Seasons of Fire and Water

Where water is, there is the absence of water. There is always water, hidden in life. There is never water hidden from life. Even in the absence of water, there is water. Celtic consciousness dragged to this land from Europe holds that there are four seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, which function in a cycle. This is a cycle of eternal return, a concept that European anthropologists wrote upon indigenous cultures throughout the twentieth century, often quite brilliantly, but do take a look at four images of one hill in one valley in one grassland above one lake in one small fault in the plateau east of the volcanic arc of the Northeast Pacific shore. These are the seasons of fire.

Where water is, there is fire. There is always water, hidden in fire. There is never water hidden from fire. Even in the absence of fire, there is fire. Fire is always present. It takes on bodies. It comes to life. Life is always present. It takes on fire. It burns. These seasons are one.