On June 13 I left the Democratic Party and joined the California National Party. Since then, I have been learning about independence movements across the United States, however, there is a shortage of material on the subject. This series of articles is meant to rectify that.

One of the most intriguing independence movements is in the future nation of Cascadia, which mostly consists of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The idea will sound familiar to many science fiction fans; it was the core premise of ‘Ecotopia’, which was first published in the 70’s and has gone through multiple reprints since.

The Cascadian independence movement has gone through several distinct phases. I interviewed Maxamillion Shuman, the lead organizer for the modern Cascadian Independence Party, to learn that history. One of the first organized expressions of Cascadian nationalism was the Cascadian National Party, which was founded on September 9, 2001. It had a presence in Oregon and Washington and framed itself as an ideologically progressive party that sought to separate Washington, Oregon, and Idaho from the United States. The party “only lasted a couple days,” because “911 happened.”

The vocabulary that the Cascadian independence movement uses says a lot about the movement’s goals. Take Bioregionalism for example: “Political bioregionalism means that if your community is sharing the land and resources, then you have the right to the political decision making process for that land and those resources”, says Shuman. Underlying this concept of ‘bioregionalism’ is a strong commitment to protecting the land and water of the Pacific Northwest.

Two years ago, the Cascadian Independence Party took up the cause where the Cascadian National Party left off. However instead of seeking to establish a nation based on current state boundaries, the Cascadian Independence party proposed creating a new country “based on bioregional boundaries.” Like many modern independence movements, the Cascadian Independence Party’s plans are “modeled after what Scotland did.” Shuman believes that independence will take many years to achieve and will require multiple independence movements across the United States working together. That’s an approach we share.

Not everyone who identifies as a Cascadian is in favor of independence as an immediate goal. Sammy Castonguay, a member of ‘CascadianNow!’, describes his organization as more “about education, culture, environment, camping, hiking,” conservation, and creating community.

Before discussing independence, Castonguay made it clear he’s speaking as an individual and not as a representative of his group, but his positions are still useful for understanding the larger movement’s mindset. He is not strictly for or against independence. Instead he thinks that the Cascadian movement will develop “over a very long time” before the bioregion establishes an identity and a consciousness strong enough to facilitate separation.

Castonguay believes that “bioregionalism is starting to emerge around the country” and points to the local food movement as an example. Ultimately, even though it will “take a long time,” he believes people all over North America will agree that the United States needs to be broken up into separate nations with boundaries based on bioregions.

Catalonia is another common reference point for modern independence movements and Castonguay cites it as a model of how he hopes to see our movements work together. In particular, Catalonia has many independence parties that diverge ideologically, but all of them work together for independence. He explains that parties need a clear identity and that one common cause isn’t enough to become successful. It’s a good point and something we are wrestling with right now as we put together our new platform.

Shuman acknowledges “Cascadia cannot achieve independence on its own,” and believes that independence movements can only obtain a legally binding self-determination referendum if we win support in Congress. And that, Shuman said, is what will unite our movements.

This article is part of an ongoing series that will document independence movements across the United States.

4 Responses

  • For many of us Cascadia (which is a bioregion) is about paradigm shift. Its not about creating nation-states or a mini-US on the west coast. Its about decolonization and resistance to empires (political and/or corporate).

    The concept of the modern nation emerged in during the Age of Enlightenment, the industrial Revolution and out of the German Romantic Movement with J.G. Herder redefining a nation as a people with common language and ethnicity. Herder’s vision was to break up the imperial states of Europe and celebrate the diversity of language and ethnicity. In the 19th century, Ernest Renan refined nation as any people finding commonality, but Renan was also extremely racist as he was for the French Second Empire’s colonial adventures in Africa. The word today is often bastardized in popular culture hence the idea of a fast-food nation or a other misuses of the word. The Czechoslovakian political theorist Karl Deutsch gives the best definition of nation “A Nation is a group of persons united by a common error about their ancestry and a common dislike of their neighbors”.

    The term nationalism was coined by J.G. Herder at the closing of the 18th century. Nationalism is a politicize ethno-lingustic identity seeking territory often at the expense of other nations or identities with those territorial claims.

    Sadly the word “nation” has been applied to many Indigenous Peoples who historically would have been grouped as bands, tribes, clans, kin and other familiar and spiritual affiliations. The US and other colonial powers that emerged out of the Age of Enlightenment imposed the term “nation” on Indigenous People as means of acknowledging them in the very limited European construct of political systems. Because of the very nature of the legal system by dominant society its important to recognize the term “nation” in regards to Indigenous People and to distinguish as different from the European Romanticized version of “nation.”

    Bioregions are not nations. Bioregions may have many Indigenous Nations within them. Many of us in the Cascadian “movement” are very much opposed to the Europeanized version of “nation” and viscerally opposed to nationalism. We see bioregionalism as opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is anthropocentric while bioregionalism is biocentric, kin-centric, eco-centric and/or Gaia-centric. Even the pushing of regional identity without deconstruction and decolonization ends up being a form of neocolonialism. In bioregionalism it is crucial that we decolonize and deconstruct the power systems that we have inherited as colonies of the Atlantic-centered empires of the US and Canada.

    Alexander Baretich, designer of the Cascadian Flag Aka the Doug

    • You might not have noticed, but that the only time the word “nationalism” appears in the article above is in reference to the defunct Cascadian National Party. Everywhere else the author talks about Cascadian bioregionalism and varying levels of support for independence from the United States within that spectrum of thought. Nothing in this post calls the Cascadian movement nationalist or claims you support ethnic nationalism of any kind. That is deliberate.

      As to your points about nationalism as a whole, the critique is certainly valid for ethnic nationalism, but that is not the only kind of nationalism. A national identity can also be based on shared values and a shared dedication to a place; and the civic nationalism of movements like the Scottish SNP and the Californian CNP are overtly and intentionally welcoming to people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. In fact for us in the CNP, a commitment to celebrating diversity is one of our core shared values as California’s radical diversity is a huge part of what makes our nation so special.

      Of course you don’t need to agree with or adopt our definitions any more than we need to adopt yours. Part of the point of interviewing folks and writing about other movements is to learn about and highlight the diversity of approaches and ideas in modern independence movements (as I mentioned, respect for diversity is one of our core values). We are glad your approach works for you and wish you nothing but success with it.

      Best regards,
      Jed Wheeler
      General Secretary
      California National Party

  • Nation state of Cascadia? Nope. As Cascadia truly exists and folks here are truly Cascadians under Oppression of the colonial power of the United states we suffer and exist within their system In occupied Chinook Illahee. We build communities and interdependent self sustaining systems to insure our survival. This is fact. Political pleas to those that oppress us have destroyed communities and peoples. We do not accept that model.Or Reich wing nationalism

    • Thank you for mentioning Chinook Illahee. The name Chinook Illahee (meaning land of the Chinook speakers) is the name for the region in Chinook Jargon which was the trade language that was geographically from Northern California to the panhandle of Alaska and from the coast to the western side of the Rockies. The language was spoken throughout the bioregion. It was/is a trade language using words from Indigenous languages, French, Chinese, English, Gaelic, Metis, Hawaiian and even Russian and Spanish loanwords. Chinook Illahee is (and should be) synonymous with the name Cascadia. The name “Cascadia” was applied to the whole region by the geologist Bates McKee in his geology text book with that name in 1973. Sadly Bates McKee died in a plan crash the following year. McKee used that name as a tribute to earlier uses of the name Cascadia to a geology theory about a possible off shore sunken continent which was a theory to explain sea floor silitation. it was used also by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) as another name for Oregon Rural style in architecture in the 1930s. And it was the name of a small town near Sisters Oregon founded in 1892.

      To honor the Indigenous People we should use Chinook Illahee along with Cascadia. This would be also a means to beginning the decolonization process.

      Thank you Stacey

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