Cascadia Bioregion

Northwest Writing and Regional Identity: Introductory Essay


Nestled between the North Pacific Ocean and the Continental Divide of the North American Continent lays a complex region formed from ongoing geological events and continuous climatic factors. Several regional mountain ranges catch the moisture of the Pacific as it passes on its way east. The Columbia, the Willamette and the Frazer rivers with their contributaries and other riparian systems cut through the basalt and granite mountains of this region providing rich alluvium soil. The region can be defined by this great water cycle that is powered and fed back into the Pacific Ocean. All the regional rivers, streams and creeks eventually flow back towards the Pacific. The region's farthest eastern frontiers lay on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains where the spring melt begins its return to the Pacific. This is a region rich in biodiversity, history and cultures. It is a land that is shaped by geologic, oceanic, climatic and perceptional forces. This land is called Chinook Ilahee by the ancient inhabitants and reborn as Cascadia by its youngest offspring.


Cascadia is a bioregion encompassing the territories of the Alaskan Panhandle, British Columbia, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, northern California and western Montana as well as very small portions of other near by states and provinces.

Cascadia is geographically the Columbia River Watershed and the area around the Cascade Range. Cascadia's farthest extent is from northern California to the Alaskan Panhandle and from the Pacific to the Continental Divide. Cascadia Minor tends to be the states of northern California, Oregon and Washington with the province of British Columbia. The Scottish naturalist David Douglas named the Cascade mountain range after the powerful waterfalls that carved out this land and gave it so much biomass.

In Chinook Jargon (Chinuk Wawa) this region is called "Chinook Ilahaee" which means "land of the Chinook speakers" and now perfectly matches the demarcated "borders" of the bioregion called Cascadia.  J.M.R. Le Jeune's "Chinook Rudiments" published on May 3rd 1924 describes the geographical placement of the use of Chinook Jargon and a partial glimpse of the demographics of who were the Chinook Jargon speakers of the time:

"Chinook, for a century the International Language of the Pacific Coast, from Northern California to Alaska, from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains."

"Gradually took shape between 1790 and 1810, becoming t(h)e necessary means of intercourse between natives of twenty-seven different tribes speaking as many different langauges, as well as between natives, whites and orientals."

This mentioning by Le Jeune of who spoke Chinook Jargon also reflects the ethnic diversity in the region that is usually "white-washed" in US American history as just a territory colonized by Anglo-Americans in the name of the imperial expansionism later called "Manifest Destiny". Chinook Ilahee (Cascadia) was a land where Asian cultures, European cultures, African American culture, Pacific Islander cultures came together and mingled and even merged with the cultures of the Native Peoples. This coming together of cultures can still be seen in today's Cascadia even then though it is often a hidden history.

In the 1790s, over a decade before the Lewis and Clark's expedition, the Scottish explorer Alexander Mackenzie had crossed the North American continent north of Mexico in search of the Northwest Passage. The US President Thomas Jefferson originally envisioned the land west of the Lousiana Purchase as a Republic of the Pacific. In Jefferson's original vision this Republic of the Pacific or Pacific Republic was not to be part of the United States, but eventually a great trading partner separate and exploring its own democratic experiment. Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark out as ambassadors to the people west of the Rockies. When the Corps of Discovery (the original name of the Lewis and Clark expedition) reached the Pacific Ocean there had already been European contact and even some settlement in the region. This is not to downplay the Corp of Discovery's epic voyage, but to put it in proper perceptive as a peace-making mission, a scientific expedition and as a trade-seeking venture. The Corp of Discovery in its brief existence perfectly represented one interpetation of the Jeffersonian ideal. All its members including the Native American woman Sacagawea and the former slave York had equal say in the decision making process and the right of vote. The Jeffersonian journey was one that reflected the ideals of Enlightenment with its mission of discovery and quest for knowledge.

The following is a corrispondence from Thomas jefferson to John Jacob Astor (whose name was used for the colony at Astoria) on the founding of a "free and independent empire" In other writing I have heard from second hand sources Jefferson refers to the lands west of the "Stony Mountains" (the Rockies) as a future republic on the banks of the mighty river and as the Republic of the Pacific with the indication that it has its own democratic development.

The following is from Jefferson to Astor:

"To John Jacob Astor, Esq.
Monticello, November 9, 1813.

Dear Sir,—Your favor of October 18th has been duly received, and I learn with great pleasure the progress you have made towards an establishment on Columbia river. I view it as the germ of a great, free and independent empire on that side of our continent, and that liberty and self-government spreading from that as well as this side, will ensure their complete establishment over the whole. It must be still more gratifying to yourself to foresee that your name will be handed down with that of Columbus and Raleigh, as the father of the establishment and founder of such an empire. It would be an afflicting thing indeed, should the English be able to break up the settlement. Their bigotry to the bastard liberty of their own country, and habitual hostility to every degree of freedom in any other, will induce the attempt ; they would not lose the sale of a bale of furs for the freedom of the whole world. But I hope your party will be able to maintain themselves. If they have assiduously cultivated the interests and affections of the natives, these will enable them to defend themselves against the English, and furnish them an asylum even if their fort be lost. I hope, and have no doubt our government will do for its success whatever they have power to do, and especially that at the negotiations for peace, they will provide, by convention with the English, for the safety and independence of that country, and an acknowledgment of our right of patronizing them in all cases of injury from foreign nations. But no patronage or protection from this quarter can secure the settlement if it does not cherish the affections of the natives and make it their interest to uphold it. While you are doing so much for future generations of men, I sincerely wish you may find a present account in the just profits you are entitled to expect from the  enterprise. I will ask of the President permission to read Mr. Stuart's journal. With fervent wishes for a happy issue to this great undertaking, which promises to form a remarkable epoch in the history of mankind, I tender you  the assurance of my great esteem and respect."

The Jeffersonian exploration gave way to the Jacksonian reality of a vision of expansion and the pursuit of rags to riches imagery for those lucky enough to be born of Anglo-American heritage and male. The US presidencies of Jackson and Polk radically changed US foreign policy to an expansionist policy of empire building.


Quickly the land west of the Rockies became part of US American national mythology as "Manifest Destiny". The American newspaper, journalist John Louis O'Sullivan, wrote in "Annexation" (United States Magazine and Democratic Review, 1844) about a national vision of an expansionist United States:

"Why, were other reasoning wanting, in favor of now elevating this question of the reception of Texas into the Union, out of the lower region of our past party dissensions, up to its proper level of a high and broad nationality, it surely is to be found, found abundantly, in the manner in which other nations have undertaken to intrude themselves into it, between us and the proper parties to the case, in a spirit of hostile interference against us, for the avowed object of thwarting our policy and hampering our power, limiting our greatness and checking the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions."

O'Sullivan's vision of Anglo-Saxon American expansionism envisioned a demographic take over of Mexican California. His racist and chauvinistic vision of an Anglo-Saxon dominance over North America is clearly reflected in his vision of an Anglo-Saxon take over of the Spanish territory of California:

"California probably, next fall away from the loose adhesion which, in such a country as Mexico, holds a remote province in a slight equivocal kind of dependence on the metropolis. Imbecile and distracted, Mexico never can exert any real governmental authority over such a country. The impotence of the one and the distance of the other, must make the relation one of virtual independence; unless, by stunting the province of all natural growth, and forbidding that immigration which can alone develop its capabilities and fulfil the purposes of its creation, tyranny may retain a military dominion, which is no government in the, legitimate sense of the term. In the case of California this is now impossible. The Anglo-Saxon foot is already on its borders. Already the advance guard of the irresistible army of Anglo-Saxon emigration has begun to pour down upon it, armed with the plough and the rifle, and marking its trail with schools and colleges, courts and representative halls, mills and meeting-houses. A population will soon be in actual occupation of California, over which it will be idle for Mexico to dream of dominion. They will necessarily become independent. All this without agency of our government, without responsibility of our people -- in the natural flow of events, the spontaneous working of principles, and the adaptation of the tendencies and wants of the human race to the elemental circumstances in the midst of which they find themselves placed. And they will have a right to independence --to self-government-- to the possession of the homes conquered from the wilderness by their own labors and dangers, sufferings and sacrifices-a better and a truer right than the artificial tide of sovereignty in Mexico, a thousand miles distant, inheriting from Spain a title good only against those who have none better. Their right to independence will be the natural right of self-government belonging to any community strong enough to maintain it -- distinct in position, origin and character, and free from any mutual obligations of membership of a common political body, binding it to others by the duty of loyalty and compact of public faith. This will be their title to independence; and by this title, there can be no doubt that the population now fast streaming down upon California win both assert and maintain that independence. Whether they will then attach themselves to our Union or not, is not to be predicted with any certainty."

The British crown and the United States jointly occupied the Oregon Territory at first. A series of meetings in Champoeg (just south of modern Wilsonville, Oregon) called the Wolf Meetings were arranged to focus on "vermin" and pests as well as an inheritance case. The meetings eventually made US American settlers realize that their rights were not covered by any of the judicial systems that protected British subjects and used for Native Peoples. The growing number of US American settlers applied pressure to form a government that represented American citizens and protected their property. There was fear by non-US citizens that US American settlers would push for territorial annexation to the United States. Non-US residents in the Oregon Territory had lots of reasons to be concerned about US expansion with sentiments and rhetoric similar to journalist John O'Sullivan that publicly voicied anti-European presence in the Western Hemisphere, racial chauvinism and plenty of examples of American expansionist policies using emigration as a method. At the same time there was pressure by Hudson's Bay Company (the British representation in the region) to block such a vote using French Canadian and British settlers in the region. In May of 1843 the European settlers in the Oregon Territory created their first "western style" government as a Provisional Government. Several months later the Organic Act (5th of July 1843) was drawn up to create a legislature, an executive committee, a judicial system and a system of subscriptions to defray expenses. Members of the ultra-American party insisted that the final lines of the Organic Act would be "until such time as the USA extend their jurisdiction over us" to try to end the Oregon Territorial independence movement. George Abernethy was elected its first and only Provisional Governor, but the opposing "party" led by Osborne Russell favored Independence. Russell proposed that the Oregon Territory not join the United States, but instead become a Pacific Republic that stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Continental Divide. Many favored the idea of Independence (especially north of the Columbia River).

John O'Sullivan continues in his "Annexation" by focusing his geopolitical hunger for securing the Oregon Territory and California by using the new innovations of commerce and communications of the era in the forms of the railroad and telegraph:

"Unless the projected railroad across the continent to the Pacific be carried into effect, perhaps they may not; though even in that case, the day is not distant when the Empires of the Atlantic and Pacific would again flow together into one, as soon as their inland border should approach each other. But that great work, colossal as appears the plan on its first suggestion, cannot remain long unbuilt. Its necessity for this very purpose of binding and holding together in its iron clasp our fast-settling Pacific region with that of the Mississippi valley -- the natural facility of the route -- the ease with which any amount of labor for the construction can be drawn in from the overcrowded populations of Europe, to be paid in die lands made valuable by the progress of the work itself -- and its immense utility to the commerce of the world with the whole eastern Asia, alone almost sufficient for the support of such a road -- these coast of considerations give assurance that the day cannot be distant which shall witness the conveyance of the representatives from Oregon and California to Washington within less time than a few years ago was devoted to a similar journey by those from Ohio; while the magnetic telegraph will enable the editors of the "San Francisco Union," the "Astoria Evening Post," or the "Nootka Morning News," to set up in type the first half of the President's Inaugural before the echoes of the latter half shall have died away beneath the lofty porch of the Capitol, as spoken from his lips."

In the mid 1970s Ernest Callenbach envisioned an emergence of environmental awareness that would lead the Pacific NorthWest to form the country of Ecotopia. In the 1990s David McCloskey formed the Cascadia Institute. McCloskey describes Cascadia as "a land of falling water".

Historically a nation is a group of people with common symbolism such as language, culture, religion and etc that unify them as a group. The group identity called nationalism emerged out of the Industrial Age as a new form of political group identity and as a result has became chauvinistic in many respects to any other form of group identity. Nationalism with all its chauvinism has become yet another stumbling block to finding harmony between people and Nature. As an emerging identity "Cascadian" may evolve into a "nation", but the terms "national" and "nationalism" are limited and chauvinistic in their regards to the Cascadian love for diversity. This new approach to identity through diversity in thinking, in human experience and ecology is bioregionalism. "Bioregions are geographic areas having common characteristics of soil, watershed, climate, native plants and animals... A bioregion refers to both the geographical terrain and a terrain of consciousness -- to a place and the ideas that have developed about how to live in that place." Peter Berg. If Cascadians should ever awake to the ideas of creating an autonomous political entity on the global political area then hopefully Cascadians should never seek the nation-state model, but instead have the insight to embrace the model of diversity as a bioregion.

Cascadian Flag



Cascadian Bioregionalism


Ecology, Equality and Equity


Respect, Reverence and Responsiblity