The Question of Cascadian Nationhood

Cascadia flag, Cascadian flag

The social and cultural awareness movement in support of Cascadia is both young and small. It is also still solidifying its foundation for support as there are wide ranges of opinions on what Cascadia actually is—in terms of more than just a physical location—and what it should be. One of the most contentious questions supporters within the Cascadia movement haven’t been able to agree upon yet is this: should Cascadia (and the Cascadian identity) be understood as a nation?

I, for one, believe yes, Cascadia should be understood as a nation and, thereby, Cascadian our nationality. I would like to take a few moments to explain why.

Nation ≠ Country

First, let me begin with clarifying the difference between a nation and a country, which confuses many in Canada and, more-so, the United States. A nation speaks to a common sense of belonging whereas a country or state simply refers to a collective body of some sort having a degree of control over public policy. A nation does not necessarily equate to a state or country. For many countries around the world, their citizens would consider themselves a nation as well as a state, but the two concepts are separate.

So, for those of you hesitant to claim Cascadia as a nation for the sole reason that you don’t support the idea of secession, you needn’t worry. You can, if you choose, embrace the Cascadian identity as your nationality while simultaneously rejecting the idea of secession.

The Old Definition of Nationhood

There are many different definitions of what constitutes a nation. All of them speak to one common notion: a shared sense of civic belonging. Where they differ is what comprises that shared sense. Many self-proclaimed nations around the world use a common trait in ethnicity, race, or religion as the basis for defining their nationhood. This is one way of understanding nationalism; it is not the only way of doing so.

If you are one who shares this understanding—that a nation is or should be defined by an auxiliary human construct such ethnicity, race, or religion—I would ask that you do the following: take that definition, metaphorically write it down on a piece of paper in your head, light it on fire, and watch it burn away into nothingness (in good Cascadian fashion, don’t actually waste a piece of paper doing this). We need to overcome this notion of what a nation is because, while it’s widely accepted in many other areas of the world, it’s worthless and very dangerous.

Nationhood speaks to a shared civic belonging: being a member of a shared society. When you use ethnicity, race, or religion as the defining qualifier of a nation, you’re saying that only persons which have this auxiliary characteristic belong within that society—that these persons and only these persons belong together because their ancestral bloodlines are common, or because the pigmentation of their skin is similar, or because the origin stories of their belief system are the same.

Furthermore, you’re saying that other persons who don’t share this one qualifying characteristic don’t belong in the same society solely because of reasons equal or similar to their great, great, great grandparents were born in a different region of the world, or their facial features look slightly different, or they have an alternative understanding of how the world came to be millennia ago.

You’re saying that society cannot function optimally or peacefully solely because of these reasons, as if someone’s ethnic, racial, or religious background is the ultimate determining factor in that person’s character, values, and general worth.

Any sane and sober-minded individual in the United States or Canada knows these assumptions are utterly false. We all know other individuals from all different racial, ethnic, or religious backgrounds that fit in and are just as valued members of society as any other. By defining a shared nationhood using these types of qualifiers, you’re saying this reality either isn’t possible or isn’t desirable (the latter being much, much worse than the delusion of the former).

Clinging to this old, arcane definition of a nation is what causes prejudice, hatred, and war. It needs to be destroyed, and quickly.

A Better Definition

What’s the alternative definition of nationhood that doesn’t rely on xenophobia or religious persecution to hold it together? A shared sense of civic belonging needs a focal point of some kind to be maintained; it cannot rely on nothing.

Cascadia’s shared sense of civic belonging has never come from race, ethnicity, or religion. Nor has it ever come from similar auxiliary characteristics such as language, political philosophy, or class. Cascadia’s shared sense of civic belonging has always centered on one aspect: the physical nature of the region itself. The region has always been the one factor which has held the common traits of Cascadian society together.

I believe bioregionalism—the notion that the environmental characteristics of a naturally-defined region play a defining role in shaping the identity of society—plays into the answer we’re looking for. This is not to say bioregionalism is equal to nationalism, but they are not mutually exclusive. Bioregionalism is an ecological concept which centers on the importance of environment whereas nationalism is a human concept which centers on the importance of community. They are different, but the definition of nationalism we need uses the concept of place and its power to give coherence to society.

In this sense, we can understand Cascadian nationhood as a civic concept in which the people of Cascadia voluntarily uphold and consent to the natural value of the Cascadian region itself. This is similar to the predominant form of American or Canadian nationalism in that they rely primarily on popular sovereignty rather than an auxiliary characteristic such as ethnicity. However, it differs in that Cascadia as a nation is permanently grounded in, and particular to, the physical bioregion of Cascadia itself and cannot expand past its bioregional borders.

By using this as our model, we can understand Cascadia as a nation where anyone in the region can adapt to our shared sense of civic belonging and regional culture by recognizing the importance of our natural region and staying true to its inherent, intangible value. A person of any race, ethnicity, religion, or similar characteristic can do this so long as they then choose to participate in Cascadian society in ways which uphold this value. Cascadian nationhood, in this sense, cannot be limited to a set of auxiliary human characteristics.

Addressing Structural Racism and Imperialism

You may be reading this and think it’s a nice ideal, but still be skeptical that this model of Cascadia as a nation can manifest itself in a just and egalitarian manner. You are right to be cautious, especially if you are a member of any historically marginalized group of people in the United States and/or Canada.

I’m a white male. I’ve benefited from living in a society which has largely given me the benefit of the doubt and allowed me to succeed in my own way to establish a comfortable life for myself. It’s very easy for me to sit behind a computer screen and write about this beautiful ideal without having been subjected to many of the injustices and structural obstacles present in our existing paradigm.

I, nor anyone else in my position, can fix this. What I can do—and what I think we all need to do if we’re to actually transcend the reality we know now—is acknowledge the impacts structural racism and imperialism (or colonization) has had in our society. More importantly, I and anyone else can help empower those who have been unjustly marginalized by listening to their stories and affirming their worth.

These are the steps we must take if we are to ever reconcile the society we have now with the society we wish to see in Cascadia, and that’s true regardless of what political ideology or belief system you hold. In doing so, we can establish a reality in which the marginalized aspects of various minority cultures are no longer feared, but are allowed to thrive in their own ways according to our bioregional nature and as a rich, equal part of Cascadian society.

The Answer We’re Looking For

The old definition of nationalism perpetuates a paradigm where members of one ethnic, racial, or religious group see persons of a differentiated group as “the other.” This is most prevalent, I believe, with indigenous peoples which currently live under a “nation within a nation” model. This allows for certain aspects of tribal sovereignty to be upheld, but it also allows a stark “us versus them” mentality to thrive. It allows persons of a marginalized group to suffer injustice while everyone else maintains indifference.

This reality was born out of fear, distrust, and violence. It does not have to be this way. We should strive for a new national model which fosters the opposite of this: unity, trust, and peace.

I am not claiming we remove the rights or entitlements marginalized groups have under the existing system, especially for indigenous groups who’ve been in Cascadia since long before anyone else showed up. What I am claiming is that, in order to achieve this new reality, we all must adapt a new understanding of what constitutes our shared sense of civic belonging; it comes from our bioregion.

By accepting this, we will foster a reality where we look at this region’s history, to the communities which have been here for thousands of years, and be able to connect with it—its people and values—regardless if we’re of the same bloodlines or not. As a non-indigenous person myself, I do not wish to cheapen or exploit this history; I wish to be able to embrace this history as my own because I am of this region.

The essence of Cascadia as a nation comes from Cascadia itself. By embracing Cascadian nationhood in this manner, we can collectively embrace our diversity, acknowledge the wrongdoings produced by harmful foundations, and focus on solutions based in our shared sense of place. This is why I believe in Cascadia as a nation and our shared sense of civic belonging.

Interested in learning more about Cascadia? You can buy your copy of Towards Cascadia today: