Settler regionalism is settler colonialism: Katrine Barber, ‘Reflections on Pacific Northwest Regionalism on an Edge of Empire’, Middle West Review, 4, 1, 2017, pp. 93-100

18Oct17

Excerpt: The Pacific Northwest is simply this,” New York Times journalist Timothy Egan wrote in 1990, “wherever the salmon can get to.” Many agreed with him (although others were quick to point out that the range of salmon is extensive, even transnational). Regional icons like Douglas fir trees and salmon evoked the “geographical isolation and natural wealth” that historian Bill Lang identified as Pacific Northwest characteristics.3 More importantly, their anadromous life cycle meant they symbolized migration and indigeniety both, central and often opposing traits of Pacific Northwest regional identity. Salmon rely on balanced bioregions through which they journey thousands of miles–from the cool, rushing waters that course through the forest canopy to the mouth of the Columbia River, and into the Pacific Ocean, after which they return to their natal streambeds to spawn. They travel great distances and yet are deeply rooted to home.

This short essay addresses three divergent forms of Pacific Northwest regionalism and argues that each is partial and political. Regionalism tied to iconographic nature, such as in Egan’s definition, linked the vitality of the region to its resources, problematically as those resources waned. Regionalism animated by settler attachment to (and cooptation of) Indigenous material culture simultaneously froze Indian cultures in a seemingly authentic past and erased contemporary Native peoples. Alternatively, a syncretic sense of place that intertwines settler colonialism and Indigenous regionalisms while recognizing asymmetrical power relations can reintroduce Indigenous land and resource claims back into narratives of place, recentering the contests for lands that script the very debates over the meaning of the far west. While regional definitions reflect their geographic and temporally setting—they are supposed to be distinctive, after all—they are all arguments about place and people.



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