Okanagan Woman and Magic

Strange, the things that come in the mail all on their own. There I was reading over coffee, looking over a manuscript about this valley, and thinking about the mail. So I got the mail. “Okanagan Woman” came in the mail. I think she was a message. But what?  Are there forces out there which wish to speak to us? Is this the only way they can speak? If so, what is she trying to say?

What about women who aren’t white ancestral figures? What do they make of approaches like this from the long pre-modern history of the Baltic? I don’t know. What about the real power of spirits like that — Hans Anderson’s 1844 “The Snow Queen” is mentioned in the magazine — who froze children’s hearts? She is a combination of ancient gnostic religion, the Lady of the Lake, the well at the root of the Tree of the World, from which the god Oðin received blindness and sight (in the form of two ravens) and a Christian sermon. There is also a troll, who creates suffering, in place of Eden’s more familiar snake. Is she telling me to stop reading Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash, which neatly dissects the class conflicts that created White culture in these grasslands, by showing their long, long roots in elite culture and its relationship to slavery, and worse? I don’t know. I am deeply troubled though. Perhaps, though, this is not what the reference is. It’s about beauty, certainly. Perhaps this is what this creature from deep in the ancestral past has become now, courtesy of the robots in Seattle (see below). Friendly stuff. But is it friendly? And Is it beautiful? What do I know. I’m not a good commentator, because I do take ancestral memory seriously, and I don’t jest about spiritual power and I don’t find class behaviour particularly beautiful. Many, however do. Look below.

Thanks, Robots of Google

So much devotion and labour has gone into all of these images, I don’t think they have anything to do with the Snow Queen at all. Still, it troubles me. Should these ancient powers of darkness — a Wicked Witch of the West who melts to water at the touch of a pure heart — be called forth so casually? Is this what an Okanagan woman is now? Why? Who hurt her that much? What is she afraid of? Yes, fear. Look.

 

But not just fear. It opens into desire. Look. Inside, she opens up. She melts!

 

 

And why does she look so bruised? I’m sure she speaks to a lot of women and a lot of hurt (and there’s more than enough to go around), but what I’m puzzled by is how a group of people could live in an indigenous valley, apply a European concept of winter to a complicated set of interwoven grassland seasons, pull in an image from Northern Europe, of a white woman laboriously turned into an image of pure Whiteness (whatever that is), couple it with aristocratic flourishes circa 1790 and a dangerous dressing in elven motifs (surely trouble) and then ship it all out as a message — and, if the cover means anything, a celebration of holiday. In my experience, you don’t take such liberties with the gods. Do the editors of this magazine feel they are immune? I feel like they are playing with plutonium. But what do I know. I am 59 years old, male, and my hair looks like hers above without the hours of makeup work. Not much of the golden colour anymore, either. Death has me in her sights. Is that who created this magazine and shipped it out?  Is that who is staring out laughing through those eyes? Ah, but the editors were thoughtful. They put a magic carpet on the back of the magazine to whip us away to safety.

Is buying a magic carpet the way to save oneself from peril? Might one want to try some real magic? Might one just walk?

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. But now I’m wondering: what kind of spiritual message was the last white thing that came unexpectedly in the mail?

It’s starting to become a thing.

The End of White Privilege in the Okanagan

For about 125 years, my valley has been the setting for the creation of a White homeland. It started in a British Empire that was largely Asian, looking for a racial state for a Britain driven to overpopulation by industrialization: the same force that drove Americans west across the continent to dislodge native peoples there. After the First World War, the whiting of the Okanagan continued by embracing other Europeans, after the British population was decimated by insane class-based military bungling in the trenches in France. During these two seminal generations,the indigenous population was confined ever more tightly to tiny “Indian Reserves” and the land that it had cared for for 6,000 years, was now approached out of european ignorance as “nature.” Its wealth was soon drawn down ecologically until now it is a ruin of weeds and burning forests and smoke. Well, it’s all over. It ended this summer. It is the end of White privilege in the Okanagan.

“The Rise” Development

Government ecological-protection legislation allowed for the legal ruin of essential grassland here in Vernon, through, in part, its replanting with native bunchgrass. This image shows how invasive cheatgrass is rapidly making inroads. It will soon replace the bunchgrass with a one-species wasteland of drought, because no one is minding the show. They’re not doing so because this is “nature”, and hence outside of human control. What nonsense.

Sure, land will continue to be abused, indigenous people will continue to be excluded from decision making processes or land use, but it’s all done on borrowed time now. Still, white culture continues to build for its views (all that foreigners can understand of a landscape) and continues to play, even when the valley is full of the smoke of burning forests caused by a hundred years of forest mismanagement, in general, and 25 years specifically. The smoke is “nature”, the pillar of whiteness, burning up.

Okanagan Lake, Below Bella Vista Road and Okanagan Hills Boulevard

 

White culture is so affluent that even in the smoke it can continue to offer elite views to the working class. Working class? Yes. The wealthy part of it. You can be sure that the elite white classes have already packed up for their second or third homes in Maui or Bermuda or Portugal or are the colonial elite teaching English in China.

As it was in the beginning, White settlement in the valley is fortress culture….

…and every view of smoke and shame is for sale, on the bluff that it is still a view of “nature.”

Even a view of smoke and shame. As I said, White culture has so much power it will continue for a long time here, but it will do it out in the open now. It does not own this land. That’s not to say that the syilx, our indigenous people, do. No-one does. But we all do together. Fire certainly does. At the moment, we all own the shame and the smoke. We could all own the pride. This couple just over the mountains at Willow Point already do:

 

Global Warming, Indigenous Culture and Industrial Nature

Please, forget carbon dioxide for just a minute, if you can. It’s a symptom, not a cause. There is worse.

Nature in Canada

This mule deer doe is trapped by fences on this hill. The collection of weeds (all introduced by cattle farming, except for the sagebrush, which has choked out the hillside, is also a result of cattle farming. This is an industrial ruin.

Nature in the Swiss Alps.

These alms in Unterwasser, in Alt Sankt Johann, feature a flock a sheep around the ruins of an old croft, a pasture water dam (centre of image) on an old creek (dry), and machine-hayed, state-subsidized farms on the beds of old forests. This is an industrial museum, used as a pharmaceutical to enable people who live in urban areas to survive as biological entities in artificial environments causing physical and emotional stress.

Nature in Zurich

This is an indigenous city. Here the celts became romans, adapted, and became better romans than the romans. After 2000 years of that, they raise their children in cages. This is a school playground.

In this context of adaptation, biological nature is an artform. You can find it at the graveyard across the street.

The Art of Death and Life

It’s an ancient celtic thing, that lives on. It’s called landscaping, because that’s the fashionable way to talk about it, learned from the roman britons of the 18th and 19th centuries: another group of indigenous people who romanticized nature to survive the brutality of states built as cages, and built new cultures out of it.

The wealth created by spreading these new aestheticized cultures around the planet, and living off of the conversion of other indigenous spaces into romanticized nature, or wilderness, has powered the global economy for a long time. We all live in the industrial ruins (corpses) these compromises have left behind.

Industrial Ruin on Vancouver Island

The ancient salmon forests and rain forests of the North East Pacific Coast are largely gone now. A few trees remain, but that’s it. Some of the oldest trees, however, ancient Nuxalk, Kwakwala, Haida, Nu-chah-nulth and Tlingit trees, for example, that grew huge in a shared ecosystem of humans, human shell middens, salmon and bears, litter the shores of British Columbia now, where they are called driftwood. They are not. They are ancient forests, chopped into logs, and torn by storm out of log booms. They were intended as houses, for immigrants in the United States and Canada, as well as structural timbers for Allied Aircraft, and so on. The indigenous people of this land were sacrificed, in other words, to create homes for people displaced elsewhere.

In an industrial culture, such views of industrial ruin are romantic and beautiful. In this case, they are called nature.This large stone on the shore of Discovery Passage, for example, is called, in the language of nature, a glacial erratic, and in romantic, colonial language, a grizzly bear that froze just as it touched the shore of Vancouver Island, and mythological evidence of why there are no grizzly bears on Vancouver Island. The tale was made up by a 19th Century missionary, along the lines of the Just So Stories of Rudyard Kipling. It is a part of a far older series of ancestral myths. Its attraction for artists of the industrial age is a testament to its ongoing power of attraction. For humans, this is a kind of industrial mirror.

Nature itself, a European concept, is a series of ancient indigenous forests (celtic), sublimated as principles of regrowth and renewal. It is what grows within industrial settings, returning them to the state of the Garden of Eden. In that regard, this colonized and industrialized foreshore is a Christian landscape, which is why it is so attractive to European cultures:

Ancient Kwakwala Clam Garden, Willow Point

This is also a Christian Landscape, this time above the Rhine at Sankt Goarshausen, in the celtic and roman heart of Europe. This is a catholic landscape, from a time in which the Catholic church was a political and industrial institution, when it was, in fact, an adaptation of an indigenous culture (rome) to an invasion and takeover by its own slaves. The resulting new rome was catholic. It produced images of itself, just as contemporary Canada produces images of its colonial processes along its own shores.

Wilderness in Sankt Goarshausen

These vineyards, and tens of thousands of steep hectares just like them, were farmed by hand two centuries ago, and even one, to create wine, which was marketted to dirty, industrial cities as a healthful, peasant alternative to industrial illnesses, containing simultaneously the power of the land, the power of simple people who rose from the land, and the hierarchal and imposed power of the church and God, who brought the power of the sun, and diefied power, into the grapes through the action of human hands subjugated to industry and piety. In its time, it was a beautiful compromise, creating a beautiful culture. It is all gone. Modern industrialization of wine land has created a price structure that cannot support hand labour.  This spiritual industrialization is now a ruin and, unsurprisingly, the churches are empty.

Wilderness in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley

Another name for this form of industrial ruin, or nature, is White Privilege. This is a landscape that became racialized in 1858 and which continues along the process of racialization. In the centre of the image above is Siya?, one of the four food chiefs of syilx culture. Everything else is a series of feral European weeds. In other words, Siya?, and the valley’s earth-based culture, live marginally within the unintentional consequences of racial abuse, dehumanization, and the separation of culture and landscape. But perhaps I am being unfair. Here, have another look:

Wild Rose in a White Landscape

In a Canadian context, she is called a weed, while the real weeds are called “grassland” and “nature.” That’s how far we’ve come.

What is the Canadian vision today in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley?

 

White Privilege: The View Over Indigenous Space

This is the outdoor, garden space of a home for Canadians retired from the petroleum industry to the East. It looks out over The Commonage, an indigenous pasture land that has been under land claim since 1895. This “house”, or viewing platform over a regime of power, will cost about a million bucks once the dust has settled.

You are looking at echoes of European architecture, filtered through the indigenous slavery cultures of the colonial American Southwest, and built out of machine-chipped wood, which is called “added value.” Bricks and European or Arizona-style adobe and plaster will be laid over these faux pillars and arches, to give the illusion of old world comfort and aristocracy. It is, however, only illusion. Not only will it not last, but it comes at a price that only people of White, industrial privilege can afford. Well, not quite.

You can, if you like, buy a town home and live on the edge of the privilege of your oil-wealthy neighbours up above, with a view over an industrial orchard. This too is called nature. This home is built on 5 metres of infilled gravel, into which 50 cm-thick (approximate) concrete footings were poured at -20C in the middle of the winter. Notice how the spring rains are wearing away the foundation. Expect the walls to settle.

Meanwhile, in Europe, nature becomes a gesture.

Rüdesheim am Rhein

Palm trees in the old Catholic wine-making town at the entrance to the Rhine Gorge.

The tourists are growing old now. They walked five years ago. Now they are hauled around in diesel “trains”, which clear all pedestrians out of the streets. This is wine culture today: not wine culture at all. These people are not buying wine. They are buying a tour of a museum town. What is on show is indigenous culture, through the filter of the compromises it has had to make over time to survive. This way people have of surviving in cages can be quite beautiful to people who live in cages.

Here’s the Okanagan Valley equivalent.

Indigenous Food and Medicine Crop in the Ruins

aka Arrow-Leafed Balsam Root in the cheat grass.

Most often, though, it just looks like this:

Or this: In White language, this landscape is called a desert, a term which increases its attractiveness and value (hence those American Southern indigenous-slave-culture architectural forms promising aristocratic ease), but it isn’t. The wheat grasses below (also an introduced weed but intended to replace the original grassland for grazing purposes), show just how much the land isn’t a desert. This grass is growing immediately beside the dead cheatgrass above.

Not a Desert!

“Desert” is a White term here.

So, please, forget carbon dioxide as a cause of global warming for just a moment and hang out with your mule deer sister. Look how afraid she is, racing through the weeds and a few indigenous plants that, like her, are surviving in this cage, and on which she grazes.

Carbon Dioxide is not a cause. It is a symptom. The cause is “Nature”. “Nature” is a racial term. The abuse it causes is the cause of Global Warming. It is a ruin. It has many forms. Similarly, the salsify (French) below along the old (Earl) Gray Canal Trail (British) in the old Syilx Illahie, is not a cause of ecosystem degradation but a symptom, and the source of new beauty.

This post-apocalyptic view, too. The regrowth here takes on special poignancy against the background of failed industrialization and rust.

This failed industrialization and adoration of death, shows up in the backyard image below: plastic chairs model after handcrafts from the American East, in the ruins of a Japanese orchard converted to gardening space int he 1970s, converted now to a lamp of bones over a new-age bowl of magical crystals, with partially-emptied jugs of home-made wine, with ground cloth and gravel to keep the old syilx land from growing through and creating the need for hand labour.

Death has been internalized. It is all powerful and we attempt to survive biologically within its grip. Global Warming is a logical consequence. Industrialization is not the cause. De-indigenization is.