Over the Edge
Prince George (CUP) — There is a separatist movement amongst the forests of the Pacific coast. Its growth reflects the pace of the people outside metropolitan centres. It’s not a typical political movement, not based on the right and left spectrum, and not protecting a certain culture.
It’s more about creating one, building from the foundation of what already exists in the westernmost bioregion. It is about leaving two governments based on the East Coast that seem to disregard the population on the west coast. The movement calls for a new sovereign state called Cascadia.
In 2011, the “Republic of Cascadia” made it onto a Time list as number eight of the “top ten aspiring nations,” despite the author’s throw-in that Cascadia has “little chance of ever becoming a reality.”
For Cathasaigh Ó Corcráin, co-editor of underground journal Autonomy Cascadia: A Journal of Bioregional Decolonization, reflecting Cascadia’s basis of ecological designs, its borders would reflect natural boundaries more than politics. Corcráin follows David McCloskey’s influence and says that watersheds should dictate Cascadia’s region. For example, he uses the Alsek River in Alaska and the Yukon as the northernmost border, and the Klamath River (which spills into the Pacific Ocean just south of Crescent City in California) as the southernmost. He also points to the importance of sharing the Salish Sea, a body of water around southern BC and Washington’s Puget Sound. The map is not perfected, though. To some, it stretches from Northern California to the Alaskan Panhandle. Other suggested boundaries include Idaho or San Francisco, or use current political borders.
Flowing from that, Corcráin also sees the focus of bioregionalism as challenging the current way citizens associate with 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 travelled around the theoretical Cascadia filming Occupied Cascadia, says that he also noticed many similarities communities around the region had in relation to natural resources and surroundings. A logging community in rural Washington shares many cultural characteristics with a logging community in rural northern BC. Furthermore, Corcráin points to the fact that Cascadia is a very wild place, and the rugged wilderness is “in your face and hard to ignore.” Letsinger said that Cascadia is the birthplace of the idea of bioregionalism. Furthermore, Cascadia’s ecological systems remain more intact than the rest of North America’s.
The region was recognized in sports with the creation of the Cascadian Cup in 2004—an intense competition between Major League Soccer’s 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 a nation behind them. Letsinger says that Washington residents already cheer for the Canucks. He says the same can be said for British Columbians and the Seahawks. The Mariners also have a following in BC, strengthened by Michael Saunders, an outfielder from Victoria.
In Canada, British Columbians have probably inadvertently seen Cascadia’s flag, nicknamed the “Doug Flag,” as it made its way onto the packaging of Phillip’s Brewery, one of Victoria’s most popular brand of beer. The Doug Flag depicts a Douglas Fir over a horizontal tri-colour flag. The three colours—blue, white, and green—represent the bioregion of Cascadia. The blue represents the ocean, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water; the white represents snow-capped mountain ranges and glaciers; and the green represents 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, based on social justice with a sustainable foundation. Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly, associate professor of public administration at the University of Victoria, sees similar outlooks and values on the environment throughout what some call Cascadia. BC 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 those inside what could become Cascadia are 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 and 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 thousands of followers. Corcráin agrees, saying that he has seen the idea of Cascadia grow since he was first involved. He agrees that Cascadia comes without “ideological baggage,” and says the WTO protests of 1999 were a re-awakening of the bioregional movement in Cascadia. 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; through this, change is on people’s mind in a very basic and practical way.
Going further down the road of politics, colonialism and unceded lands in Cascadia would still exist if the moment of independence came now. As a comparison, the Mohawk population in Quebec says they will hold their own referendum for independence if Quebec wins theirs from Canada. 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.
Some say Cascadia is a chance to break old, traditional left-versus-right politics. 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. Mix in the Cascadian respect for the environment and a localized economy, 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 considering the “dirty corruption” and limited democracy currently in Canada and America, and that 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.