The Cascadian identity is a concept which is growing in both number and force. Many people, including many of you reading this, who live in and love the Pacific Northwest region of our North American continent are looking to such symbols as the Doug Flag and saying to themselves, “That’s me. That’s who I am. I’m Cascadian.”
This identity of unabashed uniqueness and innovation is a uniting force which has the potential to drive an entire region of millions to a new era of self-realization. Our shared values and shared ways of life as Cascadians—fundamentally differentiated from the rest of our two countries to at least a noticeable extent—are bringing people together in a new kind of national community.
Yet, even among those who already identify primarily as Cascadian in this sphere of influence, there’s a sense of confusion surrounding the importance of bioregionalism. This idea is the keystone of our young and vibrant movement, but its vagueness compels many to question its importance. To put it another way, there are many who are already on board with the Cascadia movement (and many more to come), love the idea of regional solidarity, but just aren’t that interested in environmental issues and don’t understand the vital importance of bioregionalism. If you’re reading this, you may be one of those people.
Often, when talking about bioregionalism in the context of the Cascadia movement, it’s put into niche environmental science terms. Bioregionalism becomes a discussion about plant species, ecosystems, and the taxonomy of ecological classification. This is all important to understand, but it’s only one side of bioregionalism as an idea.
There’s an entirely different side to bioregionalism which directly links to the cultural aspect of the Cascadian identity—the aspect which many identify with even if they don’t really get bioregionalism. I’d like to explore that side of bioregionalism and demonstrate its importance. Without it, Cascadia is nothing more than an arbitrary fad built upon a foundation of subjective criteria.
The Origins of Nationhood
To understand this adequately, we need to recognize the underlying assumptions people make regarding the cause of shared values and shared ways of life on a societal level. It is commonplace in human communities around the world to link patterns of outward action in society (shared ways of life) and patterns of cultural ideals (shared values) with patterns in human characteristics, such as skin color, ethnicity, or religious affiliation. This is the underlying premise to the common understanding of nationhood.
To put this plainly, we often link something like a society’s common ethnic makeup directly with its common cultural traits, stereotypically or otherwise. The problem is when we make this connection, either consciously or subconsciously, we’re saying a society’s common cultural traits are due directly with auxiliary human characteristics, as if there’s something genetically inherent in a given ethnic or racial background which forces an individual of that background to behave a certain way. Likewise, we’re saying there’s an inherent connection in action and belief between an individual of a given background living in a country like the United States or Canada and individuals living in the ancestral homeland of that background.
I’d like to claim unequivocally that this commonplace understanding is factually incorrect and wrong. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know many people of many different human-centric backgrounds (ethnicity, race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, economic standing, political ideology, etc.) that fit in seamlessly with the common ways of life and common values of where I live and have lived previously. I’m fairly certain that observation holds true for many of you reading this. That’s not to say everyone thinks the same way or believes the same thing, but that we all find commonplace in our society’s shared cultural traits.
If the understanding of nationhood as I described previously were factually correct, then this reality of a coherent society made up of a diverse array of human characteristics would not be realistically possible. Under that premise, people of given backgrounds behave a certain way, each in a distinct manner, because their labels force them to. The chances for widespread cohesion and commonplace among a diverse group of persons is, consequently, highly improbable.
It is, therefore, I call “BS” on this common misconception. With it, Cascadia as an identity shared by many people of all different types of human-centric backgrounds—as it does in reality—doesn’t exist. Or, if it does, it has no sense of inherency and is completely subjective. This just isn’t the case.
Shared Identity Through Place
The Cascadian identity many of us already subscribe to comes from a sense of shared cultural values and shared ways of life, just as many other national identities do. Yet, these shared traits do not come from any human-centric characteristic or identifier. Where do they come from? The answer is our bioregion itself.
Bioregionalism, in its most basic sense, states that a society’s collective identity and overarching sense of values and character—its ethos—is directly influenced and shaped, at least in part, by the environment that society inhabits. When Peter Berg helped define the term in the 1970’s, he wrote of an inherent “terrain of consciousness” present in any bioregion. He was referring to this phenomenon of the ecological and environmental characteristics of a place influencing the practices and beliefs of human communities.
In other words, our Pacific Northwest values and ways of life shared by most throughout our bioregion regardless of human-centric characteristics (intrinsic and non-intrinsic alike) exist because they’ve been forged through generations of living in this place. They thrive and are right for an environment of mountainous terrain, temperate climate, evergreen forests, gray skies, and the seemingly ever-present precipitation during certain parts of the year. Hence, the Cascadian identity comes from our shared bioregion at its most foundational point.
This is why Cascadia as a shared identity is inherent to the region itself. This region has experienced a couple centuries of relative rapid change in outward demographics and cultural identifiers—specific cultural traits commonly identified as being of the Pacific Northwest—through the course of human events to their present conditions. Despite this, Cascadia’s ethos of (among other things) innovation, unbound curiosity, communal strength, non-conformism, and reverence towards nature has held true for thousands of years. It’s done so because its bioregional makeup has maintained through all this time.
Our shared identity and sense of unity comes from our shared natural resources, rivers, and climate. Our bioregion of Cascadia, sculpted from countless centuries of ecological evolution and geological change, designed and outlined by the force of nature itself, is one whole coherent foundation for human communities to build themselves off of. We may share similar traits and values with others on this continent within our two countries which exist in the present, and we most certainly are not opposite of or unfamiliar with such traits and values. But, if bioregionalism as I have described it is true, as I believe it to be, there exists a fundamental disconnect, or a point(s) of differentiation, between the ethos (plural) of our societies on this continent defined by our bioregions.
This is why the Cascadian identity exists and why it has the potential to thrive throughout the entire region. If you identify as Cascadian, this is why you feel connected with other parts of region even if you haven’t physically been before. This is why you should care about bioregionalism even if environmental issues aren’t your thing. Cascadia as an idea only exists because its unique bioregion exists—the two are inherently intertwined and cannot be separated from one another. And so long as our bioregional makeup is sustained, so will its corresponding ethos which drives the actions and interconnectivity of human communities inhabiting it.
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