Decolonizing Cascadia?

Rethinking Critical Geographies 7th Annual Regional Mini-Conference

University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

November 16th and 17th, 2012

The seventh annual Critical Geographies Mini-Conference will be held at the University of British Columbia, Point Grey Campus. Our emphasis is on creating a fun, engaging, and friendly atmosphere and embraces unsettling of the ‘traditional’ conference structure. We welcome a wide range of spatially-oriented critical scholarship and encourage creative media on various themes from geography and other disciplines. There is no fee to attend the conference and graduate students are particularly encouraged to apply.

Responding to conversations at previous mini-conferences, the plenary keynote discussion will centre on decolonization. Our speakers will lead a dialogue through which we will critically engage with (neo)colonial practices in knowledge production, pedagogies, academic institutions, and regionalisms. We are excited to announce that Dr. Margo Greenwood and Dr. Sarah de Leeuw will give our keynote address, sharing their work on decolonization and the ‘new’ settler colonial identity in various institutions such as the university. Dr. Glen Coulthard, Sarah Hunt, and Harsha Walia will contribute their thoughts during a plenary response panel.

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One response to “Decolonizing Cascadia?

  1. Apologies for not bringing this review to you sooner, we somehow missed it until now:

    Decolonizing Decolonization (or, how many grad students does it take to change a light bulb?)

    A short review of “Decolonizing Cascadia? Rethinking Critical Geographies Conference” at UBC-Vancouver,

    November 16-17th, 2012. Unceded Coast Salish Territories

    By Casey Bryan Corcoran, Cascadia Matters

    Driving home to the High Desert from the mouth of the Fraser River on November 18th, Cascadia was just starting to get some of that “extreme weather” you’ve all heard about on TV. It seems Mel and I made it back from the Decolonizing Cascadia? conference at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver just in time to avoid the worst of what the West side would get (or best of it, depending on your perspective). That night, some of my friends braved the storm by climbing on top of a building in Downtown Bend and hoisted a Cascadian “Doug” flag on an empty flag pole in honor of my 30th birthday occurring that next day. The flag was initiated by near hurricane force winds, and my face certainly lit up when my friends showed me their little surprise as we walked to town in the dawn’s early light. Yes, the flag was still there, but the words that came into my head that morning were Arundhati Roy’s:

    “Nationalism of one kind or another was the cause of most of the genocide of the twentieth century. Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.”

    Still smiling, I began to hum the tune of a song called “The Old Dirty Flag” as I imagined the wind tearing flag and flagpole alike right off the top of the building and smashing a car below. Would the city blame my friends, or could we just blame it all on the weather? The wind really was that strong. But as the flagpole could indeed hold it’s own, it seemed that the wind would just rip the flag to shreds like a Tibetan prayer flag in no time flat. Perhaps this was Mother Nature’s way of showing her appreciation of the gesture, while wisely keeping everything in context for us. “Happy Birthday. I’m still in charge.”

    But, of course, this is nothing we haven’t seen before. Earthquakes, floods, windstorms, volcanoes: that’s just who we are here. Even back home in Bend, safe in the rain shadow, we were getting dumped on, and the wind never stopped all that day. The Willamette valley flooded, but unlike New Jersey the week before, there were no sharks swimming the city streets. Yeah, the weather in 2012 is getting a little crazy. But in a town flanked to the south and west by active volcanoes that will erupt again as sure as the sun rises, this all just seems like some harmless fun.

    Cascadia is real. Cascadia is alive. We live on a sleeping giant who, from time to time, wakes up and shakes. If you listen to so many of the oldest stories from this place, the living reality of what we call “Cascadia” is clear as day. Cascadia is a term of endearment for the beauty of floods and earthquakes and volcanoes, for rivers that writhe like snakes within human memory, not just in geological time. Cascadia is the humility that the settlers learned (or will learn good and well, sooner than later) from a place who’s job it is to humble you. And Cascadia is the word spoken by those who, in falling in love with a place that embodies serenity, tumult, and defiance simultaneously, choose to betray the laughably foolish (and heart wrenchingly tragic) attempt to domesticate this place. Cascadia is a one-word love poem.

    Our genealogy is clear: those of us born as “Americans” or “Canadians” have only become Cascadian when we betray the settler colonial endeavor and fight to protect and restore this place. This action transforms our identity, as only this action makes us allies with the Indigenous struggles to protect and restore this place. Notice how those who have sought to “protect” land by creating “wilderness” or UNESCO reserves free from Indigenous human inhabitants have been patriotic environmentalists. Neocolonial tree huggers, if you will. But the Cascadians have been the ones putting their bodies in the path of destruction and helping to bring the salmon back home for as long as the word “Cascadia” has been adopted by the humans living here. Please don’t trust wikipedia or websites with a tree octopus telling you about some pipe dream “Republic”. Those on the front lines of the eco-wars, those striving to live as inhabitants and not occupiers; these humans have little time for internet fantasies. So when the Cascadia “meme” starts to be recuperated by the colonialists in order to sell alcohol and tennis shoes, do we Cascadians abandon our word for the place we love and would die for? Or do we just need to smack somebody?

    I’ll cut to the chase. The “Decolonizing Cascadia?” conference had little, if anything, to do with actually decolonizing the lands and waters of the Pacific Northeast Rim. It appears that “Decolonization” is the new buzzword among post-modern academics who want to remedy (or in action, just apologize for) their positions of privilege within a colony. And even though this specific conference made direct reference to Tuck and Wang’s profound essay (see Decolonization is not a metaphor), the “renaming the conference” fiasco was about “decolonizing” the conference, not the lands of the many Indigenous Nations within this bioregion. And to top it all off, references to “Cascadia” were overwhelmingly derogatory and reactionary, no doubt in regards to all the flag-waving, beer drinking, soccer fans who have adopted “Cascadia” without understanding what Cascadia, the place, is. OK. I understand that. I don’t want to be an ignorant flag-waver either. But it felt like the soccer fans know about as much in regards to real, bioregional Cascadia as most of these graduate students from the geography departments at many of the universities in Cascadia. Really? After all these years? Why? Is there some academic taboo against recognizing the poetic realities of the geomorphology of this place? Must the rocks themselves be victims of politics?

    Now, I’ll be the first to demand that we need to be as critical as we can be in forging a bioregional practice that actively dismantles the colonial reality of the present, and this means recognizing the neocolonial potential in all regionalisms. But this does not mean we let academia turn us humans into politically correct piles of guilt and goo, incapable of doing anything without apologizing for our lamentable ontological status all the time and never actually doing anything. So I should say that there were some wonderful speakers at the conference who were clear on this and did address real decolonization (Glen Coulthard and Harsha Walia addressed this quite directly). And Coll Thrush gave an all too brief presentation that skillfully addressed the neocolonial potentials (and now present) of regional separatisms in the Northwest, and how this whitewash is being adopted as “Cascadia”. But, with all the criticisms, Coll’s love for this place was clear as anything, and he freely admitted to having a ‘Free Cascadia’ sticker on his office door.

    The incongruence between these moments of light and the overwhelming academic doldrums of the rest of the conference nearly threw me into a depression. But the tangential happenstance of a conference for grad students to present geography papers on topics ranging “from anything to whatever” getting called Decolonizing Cascadia seems to have aroused an interest in continuing to follow these specks of light to see where they lead. I, for one, am going to defend myself as a Cascadian from getting thrown away with the whitewash. It seems clear to me that a Bioregional Decolonization is in process, regardless if we use the name “Cascadia” or not. But what else, in the name of friggin’ gaia, may we call this place? When we say Cascadia, people from here tend know what we mean, intuitively. Why do you think that is? And there is a history of defense and restoration that is explicitly Cascadian that needs to be validated and vindicated. Do we close the book before we even finish the introduction?

    I want to invite all those who feel a responsibility to this place to take a step back and feel what lies behind the words Decolonizing Cascadia. There is an energy there that doesn’t want to be repressed. Shall we let mere words “tangle us in our desires”? Or shall we listen to the words of Jeannette Armstrong and act: “Let us begin with courage and without limitation, and we will come up with surprising solutions.” Cascadia has been a battle cry of the fearless for much longer than it has been a tennis shoe. We mustn’t forget. The colonizers have taken enough, let’s not let them take “Cascadia” too.

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