The Story of Cascadia

It started as an accident. A whisky jack landed on the limb of an old pine overburdened with snow from the latest polar vortex. The limb broke with a loud crack triggering the index finger reflex of an RCMP officer providing lethal overwatch at a routine check on the TMX pipeline protest. A shot rang out. His partner spooked by the reverberations fired a second shot that accidentally struck an elder from the local tribe blocking the path proposed for the pipeline river crossing. A third shot came from somewhere or was it an echo of the first? The officer who had been talking to the elder fell to the ground bleeding and a teenage protestor lay dying in the snow. The RCMP detachment retreated down the access road only to find their vehicles on fire. A helicopter evacuated the detachment as the protestors scattered into the trees. A CBC reporter captured video that was played on the evening news. The next day 100 protestors had gathered where there had only been a dozen the day before. Someone had driven a bulldozer into the river after flattening the pipeline construction headquarters.

A meeting called for noon the next day was attended by the Press, RCMP, the local Tribal Council, the Minister of BC Lands and Forests and lawyers for the pipeline construction company. The RCMP officer and the elder were reported in stable condition but the teenager had died of their wounds. An investigation was promised and a call was made for calm heads to prevail but by now 1000 protesters had descended on the area setting up camps and road blocks. The construction crew abandoned the site pending an injunction. In Vancouver 20,000 people gathered in a public plaza to express solidarity. Representatives of the BC Council of Indian Chiefs, MMIW and All Children Matter spoke movingly at length about the need for a new approach to “all our relations.” An early leaked report suggested that the elder and teenager had been hit with an RCMP assault weapon but it remained under investigation. There were reports that construction equipment had been driven into the pipeline at several other points causing extensive damage. Blockades appeared at several sites along the pipeline construction route and a large crowd gathered at the BC legislature demanding justice for the teenager. Security was strengthened at all construction sites as further incidents were reported.

BC environmental groups then called for a complete moratorium on ALL pipeline construction while the National Assembly of First Nations called for the elimination of all RCMP presence from unceded tribal lands. Road, rail and pipeline blockades spread to Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario. Earth First, Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace began appearing at rallies as well as the members of the American Indian Movement and a new group called the Cascadian Defence League which called for the immediate return of all unceded land north of the Columbia River to their ‘traditional’ guardians.

Another group called the First Nations War Council appeared dressed in camouflage and would not speak to the press. Similar groups appeared at support rallies in Seattle, Spokane, Portland and Missoula. At one large rally in Vancouver a list of 50 demands was read out including divestment by the federal government of all fossil fuel infrastructure, an end to subsidies, immediate return of all unceded crown land to indigenous control and restitution for damages done by “settlers” over the last 500 years.

The Green Party morphed into the “Cascade” party and ran in local elections on a platform of “sustainable” self-rule, proportional representation and the principle of interdependence. With partisan politics stalemated in the US, pandemic fatigue widespread and decades of increasingly extreme weather, a new “third way” in politics appealed to many voters and the “Cascadians” were able to form a number of minority governments due to increased adoption of proportional representation and increasing distrust of mainstream parties. They advocated further reforming local governments along the “Iroquois” model of indigenous governmental and passed “Right to a Healthy Environment” legislation that offered appealing alternatives to “politics as usual.”

Within 3 years the Cascadians in Oregon, Washington, BC and the Alaskan panhandle had forced referendums on the creation of a transnational bioregional semi-sovereign state representing watersheds in the PNW flowing west from the continental divide. Membership in a bioregion was determined by the source of the water that you drank and could be identified by its chemical signature. One could become an adopted member of any regional tribe after consultation with an “elders council,” demonstration of familiarity with its wisdom teachings and a vision quest story judged to be authentic. Those not wishing to participate in the transnational Cascadia were assigned to urban reservations in Vancouver, Seattle or Portland which operated as semi-independent “city states” under the supervision of the Cascadian Confederation with restrictions on consumption, waste and carbon footprint.

Movement off or between those reservations was closely monitored. In time northern California, the Idaho panhandle and western Montana applied to the confederation as well as parts of the Yukon and NWT. The Canadian government fearing further secession movements in Quebec, Newfoundland and the artic and facing endless land claim negotiations agreed to a form of “sovereignty association” for Cascadia so that although the area technically remained Canadian under the Treaty of Tordesillas, it would operate independently as a transnational entity much like the CUSMA trade association.

It was agreed that details of the association would evolve over time. With the American congress frozen into stalemate over the electoral representations from the “Block Cascadia,” the legalities became a constitutional quagmire. The UN Conference on Transnational Associations in 2025 authorized the creation of such entities and declared the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas that had authorised the European claims on “terra nullis” to be null and void. Cascadia successfully developed renewable energy sources, dramatically reduced its carbon footprint, developed local food sources and reduced waste to near zero levels. A universal basic income was instituted based on income from the world trade in carbon credits. Protection of wild areas and natural features was prioritized and ecotourism flourished. Education utilized the life experience of elders who were honoured as story tellers and wisdom keepers. Restorative justice systems developed for conflict resolution and since “simple living” was encouraged crime became almost non-existent. The model was so successful that similar bioregional associations emerged around the arctic circle, the Atlantic Maritimes, and the southern sun belt.

The “personhood” of corporations was finally revoked but a special “citizenship” in Cascadia for sentient beings was granted if “interdependence” was demonstrated and spokespeople were designated to represent them. The “7 generation” rule was codified into all decision-making processes. Cascadia developed a green block chain digital currency backed by carbon credits that became a world standard. A group called “Free Rangers” claiming “world citizenship” became ambassadors encouraging low impact life-styles, respect for nature and the wisdom literatures of different cultures. Although they had some independent income they relied mostly on the hospitality of strangers and a growing network of sympathetic knowledge keepers. In the first few years of the Cascadian experiment there were many growing pains and short-term problems that kept people occupied but as the system evolved and prospered deeper stress fractures began to appear. Although watersheds made effective “organic” regional divisions, some like the Fraser and Columbia river systems were vast, complex and prosperous while others like the Stikene, Skagit and Squamish River systems were smaller, poorer and more isolated. Tribes often subdivided along tributaries while some clans claimed creeks and lakes as their traditional home.

The “Free Rangers” offered mediation services but conflicts sometimes spiralled out of control and warrior societies became involved. Legalities became tangled among the many intersecting jurisdictions. Denied personhood, global corporations still attempted to pilfer resources, viewed the “sharing” economy as a threat and took steps to defend their interests. Communication and social media systems struggled with the fragmentation of audiences and the monitoring of community standards. Neighbouring jurisdictions probed for boundary weaknesses and exploited them. Coeur d’Alene became a trouble spot with the Freedom Militias claiming the south shore of the lake for the Old West Block and the Earth Guard claiming the north shore and the Clark’s Fork watershed to the north. Boundaries for the Northern California extension and their indigenous representation remained in question between the Rogue River faction and the Sacramentans. City states chafed under the supervision of the Confederation and sought foreign investments. It did not bode well.

Cascadia Part 2 – The Collapse

Cascadia Confederation flourished for over a decade but then troubles arose.  As there was no clear boundary between Couer D’Alene and Lake Pend Oreille in the Idaho panhandle, the local Clearwater Militias claimed The Clark’s Fork River as their northern boundary whereas the Schitsu’umsh people used the St. Marie and St. Joe Rivers as their traditional watershed and countered that claim for Cascadia.  Efforts to resolve the issue stalled and roads and rail service in the area were blockaded cutting off substantial commerce from the east. Eastern Oregonians chose to meld with south Idaho and southeastern Washington forming a new state called Columbia. It did not help that a decade of increasingly intense droughts had rendered the Scabland area of Eastern Washington and the Oregon high desert mostly uninhabitable.  Perennial wildfires created a permanent haze that combined with water restrictions on the Columbia River reduced agricultural production to economically unsustainable levels.  The new American Freedom party demanded the repatriation of all land west of the Cascades which attracted a number of zealous adherents and the attention of alt-right news media. They took over the Hanford nuclear reactor and threatened to release radioactive waste into the Columbia if their demands were not met. The occupation was put down by the Nevada national guard.

Northern California rejoined the USA as “Redwood,” another American state with its southern boundary being the Sacremento River and the Rogue River being its northern boundary.

Victoria, BC became a centre for the Salish Sea Alliance while Seattle became the centre for the Cascade Conference and the two factions often found themselves in open competition.  Trading patterns shifted as Asian block nations began to develop their more lucrative 3rd world investments abandoning those among their increasingly self-sufficient Cascadian connections.  Decentralization of the Cascadian economy and its government services had mixed results.  There was a feeling that the city states hoarded resources and monopolized foreign trade.  Mining, forestry and aquaculture had become severely restricted by sustainability requirements and were sold off to foreign interests who then lobbied hard for exemptions.  Haida Gwaii seceded and established itself with complete sovereignty outside of the confederation.  More boundary disputes broke out in the Alaska panhandle.  The UN determined that the Yukon border should extend straight south to the ocean but that became stalled in the US congress though the installation of a naval new base was approved for the area. Sabres were rattled.

Strong seasonal atmospheric rivers made coastal cities less desirable for corporate headquarters.  Boeing, Microsoft and Starbucks decided to move their operations to San Francisco.  Rising sea levels made port operations in Vancouver, Portland and Seattle difficult while flooding made maintaining road and rail connections to the east problematic due to frequent disruptions.  Increasingly severe storms played havoc with resource industries and eco-tourism declined as well.  The Sino-Japanese military coalition made an offer to lease the former Canadian Forces base at Esquimalt but when approved was expanded beyond the original agreed perimeters.  Russia pressed claims to some of the Aleutian Islands that had not been mentioned in the Alaska purchase of 1867.  The US responded by expanding its naval base at Bremerton and its air station on Whidbey Island without Cascadian consultations.  A proposed compensation and boundary resolution from the International Court of Justice at the Hague was simply ignored. Point Roberts became a UN peacekeeping base.

A 2nd constitutional convention of the Cascadian Confederation was scheduled for the summer 0f 2035 however a powerful earthquake in 2033 on the Pacific subduction zone and a resulting tsunami severely damaged much Cascadia’s infrastructure and resources for rebuilding it were in short supply.  Increasing hostilities between the social democratic government of Canada and the populist government of the USA discouraged cooperative efforts to fund restoration projects.  The “green” factions welcomed the further decentralization of Cascadian government to regional watersheds but the “urbanite” factions lobbied for a return to previous national boundaries and advocated a government of the “Golden 12”, a collective of billionaire oligarchs who controlled most of the technology infrastructure on the North American continent.  The new CJK Asian axis of China, Japan and the newly united Koreas offered extensive infrastructure investment and exclusive trade relations in return for more military bases and provisions for some settlement colonies.  Ucluelet became a large military base for the CJK navy and also a major trading hub with high speed rail service to Nanaimo and a tunnel through to the Metro Vancouver city-state.  Many Cascadians objected to what they described as a neo-colonial domination of politics by the urbanite coalitions but they found their protestations were censured and deleted by the social media conglomerates or sabotaged by shadowy computer hacker syndicates with international IP addresses. Speculation in Cascadian digital currency along with some counterfeit hacking caused a collapse in value necessitating adoption of the CJK axis common currency. Traditional land lease arrangements with 1st nations became commodified and were traded on major world exchanges. Soon land leases became wildly inflated and ended up monopolized by a few globalized hedge funds. 

Cities became more unaffordable and then finally unliveable as repeated pandemics, recessions and extreme weather events collapsed effective city governance.  Many remnant “village” structures survived in off-grid configurations but could seldom support more than 1000 individuals at a time.  Cities developed large ghetto populations that survived with minimal services.  Some gated communities developed within walled compounds but were subject to attack and looting by increasingly organized armed gangs. Life was difficult until in 2050 cold fusion energy systems were finally developed using dark matter.  The climate crisis abated, regional governments under the guidance of the “Free Ranger” eldership were reconstituted based on their wisdom principles and data analysis that scanned millions of social scenarios with artificial intelligence to determine which provided the greatest good to the greatest number.  The “Elders” filled ceremonial and educational roles in the New Cascadia based on “two-eyed teachings” that combined tradition wisdom traditions with sophisticated computer modelling and artificial intelligence. An artistic renaissance emerged around the imagery of harmonious relations between the Earth Mother, the Sky Father and all their relations. Optimum population levels were determined based on regional carrying capacity and reproductive rights were balanced against reproductive responsibilities.  Corporate charters were reviewed annually and required proof of community engagement and worker satisfaction. Total collapse was averted and the next 50 years ran more smoothly as population levels dwindled to sustainable levels.

Bob Worcester
Suzuki Elder

3 comments

  1. Interesting, dramatic, violent – this fictional story has some good themes but then apparently, soon gets bogged down in confusing [power] groups and petty infighting. Would a Part 2 help resolve this? I hope so, otherwise it’s unclear what the overall message of this story is to be.

  2. As a naturalist-ecologist-elder I have long held biophysical and socio-economic views of the Pacific Northwest very much much like those so well expressed in Bob Worcester’s piece. Is this only dreaming, or a vision of a transition that is underway?

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