Lance Foster (hengruh) wrote,
Lance Foster

Bioregionalism, the "9 Nations", and Becoming Native to Your Bioregion

From top to bottom: Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations; Native American culture groups; Native American language groups; North American watersheds.

One of the most famous takes on bioregionalism is Joel Garreau's "The Nine Nations of North America." You can, and should, read the full article by Jason Godesky called Nine Nations: Bioregionalism in North America. Godesky's essay is one of the best, if not THE best, on bioregionalism to be found on the Internet that I have found so far. As an anthropologist, I particularly enjoyed how Godesky brought up the question of "Environmental Determinism", links to nationalism and the Nazi party focused on racial identity,

Godesky discusses his system on comparison to Garreau's "9 nation scheme," in relation to ecological concepts and Native American history and culture areas. Godesky's take:

"1. Mexamerica includes not only much of Mexico (Northern Mexico and the Baja penninsula), but also the territories conquered from Mexico by the United States in one of its most blatant imperialist adventures, the Mexican-American War. Today, the “immigration crisis” on the U.S. side of Mexamerica highlights the folly of trying to drive an artificial border through a bioregion. Garreau pointed to Los Angeles or Mexico City as the “capital” of this “nation,” though Mexico City—built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan and today home to 8.7 million people—is clearly the stronger choice."

This actually is a political definition though. There are many, very different bioregions lumped together here. For example the Great Basin is nothing like the Mojave Desert which is nothing like Utah's Canyonlands or the Sonoran Desert or the Mexican highlands.

"2. The Longhouse is what Garreau called “the Foundry,” including the “Rust Belt,” and much of the decaying, post-industrial northeast U.S. around the Great Lakes. These lands were once home to the Iroquoian-speaking confederacies, complex political structures that tried to bring large groups together and respect individual freedom at the same time. Is it any surprise that this region also produced so many of the “Founding Fathers” of the United States, who espoused the same aspirations? Garreau named Detroit as the “capital” of this “nation.”"

Do they mean the Eastern Woodlands in general? Or just that little part of it? What about the Great Lakes?

3. Atlantica corresponds to Garreau’s “New England.” Atlantica is notable as one of the “Nine Nations” that has made efforts towards regional integration. Garreau named Boston as the “capital” of this “nation.”

I will leave this one to the New England folks to figure out.

4. Dixie is one of the two “Nine Nations” that has ever seriously pursued secession. The old Confederate States of America was put down in the Civil War; while the people of the Longhouse still see that war as a question of freeing slaves, in Dixie, it’s still often seen as a failed struggle for independence from a foreign country. Garreau named Atlanta as the “capital” of this “nation.”

I don't know enough about the South to comment, but I would think the Ozarks are very different from the bayous of Louisiana!

"5. The Breadbasket takes up the Great Plains, and produces a huge percentage of the world’s food. Garreau named Kansas City as the “capital” of this “nation.”
The Islands include the Caribbean islands, parts of Venezuela, and southern Florida. Garreau identified Miami as the “capital” of this “nation.”"

No division between the Tallgrass Prairie and Shortgrass Plains...I have problems with it.

"6. Cascadia aligns well with what Garreau called “Ecotopia.” Cascadia has long had a strong sense of itself as a bioregion, and has done more to align itself bioregionally than any of the others. The long, thin, coastal corridor of Cascadia is very much defined by salmon, both now and in its past. Kwakiutl society was formed around salmon, and today bioregionalists called their land “Salmon Nation.” Garreau named San Francisco as the “capital” of this “nation.”"

I wonder what the people in Vancouver and Seattle think about this?

7. The Empty Quarter was named for Rub’ al Khali, the “Empty Quarter” in Saudi Arabia. It covers most of the Rockies, and holds huge energy reserves. Garreau named Denver as the “capital” of this “nation.”

I really don't like this one. It subsumes several real bioregions, even defined broadly...the Rockies, the Great Basin, the Plains.

9. Québec is the other “nation” that has actively pursued secession, though it has yet to press the matter to the point of civil war. Garreau named Québec, obviously enough, as the “capital” of this “nation.”

Well, even though I think this is part of the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes bioregion, aI agree that the cultural side has enough variation to make a distinction too.

10. Aberrations also appear, and Garreau addresses them: Washington, D.C. inside the Beltway, Manhattan south of Harlem, Hawai’i (which Garreau considered as much an Asian aberration as a North American one), northern Alaska, and southern West Virginia, which seems more like a borderland that shows traits of both Dixie and the Foundry.

Why lump these together as "Aberrations"? Good lord, if this is really about BIOREGIONS why would there be a difference between DC and its surrounding woodland matrix? Northern Alaska focuses on the Arctic shore. Hawai'i definitely is its own bioregion. These aren't "aberrations"...a loaded word if there ever was one!

I like much of what bioregionalism intends, and certainly it is vital to connect with one's querencia, "home", which is a big part of why I returned not just to Montana, but to the Helena Valley. However as Taoism asserts, there is always yin in the yang, and the yang in the yin. Bioregionalism holds much promise, but it has dangers of its own too.

I distrust group-think...of ANY kind. While I am very much into my home in the valley, and as a Montanan...I am also an American. As much of my identity is American, in all the shaded meanings, as it is Montanan or Helenan or Ioway Indian.

I guess I am just a contrary. When everyone jumps on a wagon, I jump off. When America was all about selfishness, greed and Starbucks in the 80s and 90s, I was a sad and angry critic. As I now watch our American system falter, I feel my American identity coming to its defense. We need to recapture our common ground as Americans as well... our knowledge of the Constitution, of the rights AND RESPONSIBILITIES of our citizenship, our "civic religion" of the Founding Fathers and One Nation Under God, and our common mythology of Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed. I won't be fleeing to Canada or some other country. I will be going down with the ship if that's how it works.

Even though I don't go with Godesky's classification of bioregions, he is RIGHT ON in his discussions about "Learning the Names" and "Becoming Native." One can learn many of the names, even if the tribes are long-gone, from the animals themselves. As one Koyukon said, "“I like to listen to [the loon] all I can and pick up the words it knows.”

There are some important points Godesky makes about "Becoming Native" too. I am not a native Montanan because I wasn't born here. I am a Montanan, I have no idea what else I could be, but some would argue that. People who have lived in Helena since the 1880s for example or an eastern Montana rancher whose family has owned the place since 1910. But in a real sense, even the "native Montanans" who have lived here for 5 generations, aren't as Native as the Blackfeet. Me, I am not be native Montanan in that sense, although I suspect my Native American ancestors were pretty familiar with the sight of the Rocky Mountain Front, Heart Butte, and the Gates of the Mountains 12,000 years ago. And even my Indian ancestors aside, most of my white ancestors were in America before 1700, more than 250 years before many "native Montanans" great-grandparents came over from Sweden or Norway. The more you look at it, the more complicated it gets.

But I do like what Godesky has to say about "Becoming Native", and in what he reports others have said, in these excerpts from his essay:

The great challenge that bioregionalism poses, the challenge that humanity must either meet or perish, is to become native. ...Can an immigrant plant ever become native—in the biological sense? Yes, after thousands of years. No one can give a precise time, for the moment a plant enters new territory, the forces of evolution begin: any time the new environment (including, remember, animals and other plants) favors one genetic trait of the newcomer over another, natural selection begins.

...To live in defiance of the ecology that gives you life takes a great deal of energy, and as civilization fails, we will be forced to become native, or die. Invasiveness is, itself, unsustainable. We can see what the development of languages in sustainable communities will look like. Even though most groups will more likely “stumble” into sustainability than consciously pursue it, sustainable life involves a close relationship with the living world, and an appreciation for the modes of speech used by other forms of life. Influenced by the same ecological soundscape, the sustainable cultures of the future will no doubt develop many of the same phonemes, sound symbolism, and speech patterns of “old growth cultures” that lived in the same ecologies before them. They will no doubt continue to have great difference in vocabulary, grammar, and other elements, but the basic sound of the various Englishes that will cover North America in a hundred years will start to sound very much like the various Native American language groups that once filled the country.

...Becoming native is a daunting challenge, but our culture can be made into an ally in that cause, rather than the warden that keeps us forever invasive. We must reintegrate ourselves into our ecologies, find our place in our bioregions, and become rooted in a soil and a living landscape that can sustain us, physically, socially, psychologically, and yes, even spiritually. Without that, there can be no life.

What then, in essence, is it to be native? To describe a person as a native is not only to say of them that they were born in a particular place—since this after all can be said of everyone—but that they belong to that place, that they are made of its matter and imbued with its distinctive character. To be native is to have one’s identity shaped by the place to which one belongs: one is a creature of its topography, its colours and textures, saps and juices, its moods, its ghosts and stories. As a native, one has one’s taproot deep in a particular soil: one has grown in that soil, and continues to be informed and sustained by its essence. One is kin to all the other beings who arise out of and return to that patch of earth, and one draws one’s substance and one’s templates for meaning from it. The native is thus one born into a world which prefigures, predetermines, her being in every detail. She grows into the space that has been prepared for her, as a chick grows into its shell. She respects that space, never jeopardizing the perfect fit between herself and her world by taking radical initatives or assuming hard-to-accommodate shapes of her own. The world as it is given affords material sufficiency, mythic inexhaustability and a rich vocabulary for both pragmatic and imaginative purposes.</>
Tags: bioregion, native american

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