A Short History of Whiteness in Cascadia

It’s not a physical thing.

Apricot in Her White Gown

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

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

 

Grapes are So Celtic

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

Beautiful Old Tree

Image

Peaches are scrubby little bushes from the Gobi Desert, that live to be fifteen years old, more or less, before they succumb to their many fragilities. Here’s one I’ve been caring for twenty years, after another man cared for her for nearly twenty before that. A quarter of her sisters have died, but a week ago she was the first one blooming this year. Her name is Glohaven.
Still gorgeous after all these years. Some fifty-five years ago I remember images of blossoms like this, with my father as the photographer, and it was a tree like this (her name was Vee), with just the right branch, who taught me how to climb trees. I worked at it for weeks. I have a whole lifetime to return the gift.

Of Apricots and Organic Time

She’s a lovely one, Apricot.

She lures me. I have a body that is eager to be lured.

The blossoms are so pretty and smell so sweet. Finding fruit, and caring for it, is a task not done all at once.

 

It’s not that I am the domesticated one, or that Apricot is. We are in this together.

 

Well, plus Mme. Robin.

Yes.

Placenta of The Earth

Every red osier dogwood is a placenta.

It streams with blood into the sky …

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

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

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

… and carry the sun into it.

It stands apart from the two worlds.

It is at balance with earth and sky.

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

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

This is the blood.

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

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

… there is this instead:

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

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

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

Red Hill, John Day

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

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

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

it’s as unified as light.

Rather, dogwood and light are one.

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

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

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

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

Yes, the hand is a mind.