A Sovereign #Cascadia?
By Tyson Kelsall, Culture Editor
There is a separatist movement building slowly in the Pacific Northwest. Its speed reflects the pace of the people outside of its metropolitan centers. It is not your typical movement based on the right and left spectrum, nor is it necessarily about protecting a certain culture. More so, it is about creating one, building off the foundation of what already goes on in the westernmost bioregion. It is about decentralizing two governments that seem to disregard what the population wants on the West Coast. The movement calls for a new sovereign state: Cascadia.
The map is not perfect yet. To some it stretches from Northern California to the Alaskan Panhandle. For Cathasaigh Ó Corcráin, co-editor of underground journal Autonomy Cascadia: A Journal of Bioregional Decolonization, since Cascadia is based largely on ecological designs its borders would reflect that, more so than current political ones. Corcráin, following Dr. David McCloskey’s influence, says that watersheds should dictate Cascadia’s region. For example, he uses the Alsek River in the Alaska and Yukon as the northernmost border, and the Klamath River as the southernmost. He also points to the importance of sharing the Salish Sea. Others include Idaho or use current political borders.
Flowing from that, Corcráin also sees the focus of bioregionalism as challenging the current way we associate ourselves with the land. Bioregionalism, as defined by Brandon Letsinger, founder of the Cascadian Independence Project and manager of Cascadia Now’s web presence, is “a way to reframe and rethink a lot of the boundaries and borders on this region to better represent economic, political, social and environmental realities.” Corcráin, who traveled around theoretical Cascadia when filming Occupied Cascadia, says that he also noticed many similarities to communities around the region who shared similar relationships with natural resources and surroundings. For example, a logging community in rural Washington likely shares many cultural characteristics as a logging community in rural northern British Columbia. Furthermore, Corcráin points to that fact that Cascadia is a very wild place, and the wilderness is rugged and “in your face, hard to ignore.” Letsinger said that Cascadia is the birthplace of the idea of bioregionalism. Further, Cascadia has much of its ecological systems still intact relative to the rest of North America.
In 2004, there was the creation of the Cascadian Cup; an intense soccer competition between the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps. Perhaps, if Cascadia ever were to form, the Vancouver Canucks would change their name to the Vancouver Cascadians and have an entire nation behind them. Maybe then, they could finally win a cup. Letsinger says that Washington state residents are the only state to tune in and cheer for the Canucks. He says the same can be said for British Columbians and the Seahawks. In 2011, the “Republic of Cascadia” made it onto a Times Magazine list as number 8 of the Top 10 Aspiring Nations, which, despite the journalist’s throw-in that Cascadia “little chance of ever becoming a reality,” maybe it is just the beginning.
Many British Columbians have probably inadvertently seen Cascadia’s flag, amicably nicknamed the “Doug Flag,” as it has made its way onto the packaging of one of Victoria’s most popular brews, Blue Buck. The Doug Flag depicts a Douglas Fir over a typical horizontal tri-colour flag. The three colours, blue, white, and green, represent the bioregion of Cascadia. The blue is for our ocean, lakes, rivers and other bodies of water; the white for our snow-capped mountain ranges and glaciers; and the green for our lush forests.
The environment is a key factor in any movement towards Cascadia. Letsinger points’ to the 1970s novel Ecotopia, where a country formed by Washington, Oregon, and northern California is a different sort of place, with a sustainable and socially just foundation. Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly, PhD, associate professor of Public Administration and Jean Monnet Chair at the University of Victoria, sees similar outlooks and values on the environment throughout what some call Cascadia. British Columbia and Washington have similar ecosystems; as both Letsinger and Corcráin point out, an oil spill in the Salish Sea, or, Puget Sound is going to transcend a man-made border. Brunet-Jailly adds that Cascadia, or, the Pacific Northwest consists of a culture very engaged with the sea.
Letsinger sees growing support for Cascadia. He points to lack of other alternatives and general unhappiness when it comes to the Canadian and American federal governments. He sees this largely due to the fact that Cascadia focuses on positives and a new, untainted prospect. According to Letsinger, Cascadia Now is in direct communication with 10-15,000 people and also acknowledges the many social media groups with 1000s of followers surrounding the idea of Cascadia. Corcráin agrees, saying that he himself has seen the idea of Cascadia grow since he was first involved. He agrees that Cascadia comes without “ideological baggage,” and says that the WTO protests of 1999 were a re-awakening of the bioregional movement in Cascadia, previously being popular in the 80s. He also points to the bankruptcy of some Oregon counties, stating that economic collapse can be tragic, but it can also lead to opportunity for something new; and that through this, change is on people’s mind in a very basic and practical way.
Going further down the road of politics, of course colonialism and unceded lands in Cascadia would still exist if the moment of independence were right now. So, what could be done about this? What does decolonization look like in an independence movement? As a comparison, the Mohawk population in Quebec says they will hold their own referendum for independence if Quebec wins theirs. Alternatively, Corcráin views a tenant of decolonization as looking at how a colonial power dominated local governance, and sees the potential separation of Cascadia as being Indigenous-led, settler supported. To him, it would be interesting to see how traditional laws can be applied to a modern region with a settler majority. Part of this may be the ability to move throughout the Cascadia bioregion unimpeded by borders. Is there potential in seeing how Cascadia could play to fair land title and rights compared with British Columbia, Canada, and America, all of whom have failed to do so?
Some say Cascadia is a chance to break the old, traditional left-versus-right spectrum. Letsinger argues that it is not a red-versus-blue issue, but one of empowering communities. He says that there has been some energy in Cascadia behind a “progressive libertarian” movement. Is localizing the economy really a right or left argument? Are many people in Cascadia really chasing corporatism as a political ideology? Of course, mix in the Cascadian respect for the environment, and the political landscape starts to unfold. Letsinger points out transparency and real democracy as important tenants to Cascadia; he says the question then becomes “why are we not doing this?” when we consider the “dirty corruption” and limited democracy currently in Canada and America. He says Cascadians are further united by a love of place. He claims that none of these things are attainable within the current system.
So, is a sovereign, but undefined Cascadia possible? Letsinger says surely, and that the foundation is already being built. Brunet-Jailly says the idea of a country is too far-fetched and not something he considers, but does see much cooperation across the British Columbia and Washington border. For example, when BC-based officials were concerned that Americans would not attend the Vancouver Olympic Games, the two sides came up with an enhanced driver’s license so that border crossing would be easier, which Brunet-Jailly states is an incredibly complex process. Letsinger uses the renaming of the Salish Sea as an example, breaking down cross-border division that had an arbitrary meaning at best. Only time will give clear definition to Cascadia.