Welcome to the evergreen revolution

Public administration prof launches lecture series on Cascadia as a cross-border region


by Matthew Gauk

Provided photo
This map focuses on the Cascadian urban corridor, or “megacity,” formed by the expansion of the cities of Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.

The next time you undergo a three-hour wait at the delightfully misnamed Peace Arch and the ensuing cavity search, try to remember that we’re all in it together.

Who’s we? Us Cascadians, of course.

Cascadia is the greater region of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, and the term carries with it the idea that the people of these divided regions have common values and cultural traits.

It’s also the subject of a new lecture series put together by UVic public administration professor Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly. The series, entitled “Cascadia: The Emergence of a North American Cross-Border Region” includes seminars conducted by historians, anthropologists and economists, among others, on different aspects of this transnational entity.

The exact geographical boundaries of Cascadia are a matter of contestation. Some believe Cascadia includes just the Georgia Strait and Puget Sound Basins, while others say it incorporates all the land between the Alaska Panhandle and Northern California.

The word “Cascadia” comes from the Cascade Mountains, a mid-sized volcanic range on the continent’s west coast, and “Cascade” itself is a reference to the range’s waterfalls.

There is some argument over whether there’s a historical precedent for Cascadia, but proponents point to pre-European aboriginal (Coast Salish) cultures and settler proto-nations such as the State of Jefferson.

Brunet-Jailly is from France and approaches his study of Cascadia from a unique perspective. In his PhD paper, he compared the cross-border region of Detroit-Windsor with a somewhat similar region on the French-Belgian border, but then he realized how little research had been done on Western regions.

“The Canadian and American leaders, people who are responsible for major private and public organizations, have become aware of the fact that as time goes by they’re becoming more and more involved with each other across the international border,” said Brunet-Jailly of the respondents in a research survey conducted by the Policy Research Initiative last winter for his project.

Brunet-Jailly’s key idea is that the ties between B.C. and the American Pacific Northwest have been solidified through free trade, common environmental values and international security arrangements, despite what many see as a divergence in the post-9-11 world.

An example of the security arrangements is the Integrated Border Enforcement Team (IBET), a Canadian organization born in the Cascadian region that works with American security agencies to create well-informed networks and use the same technology for effective control.

“It was not a matter of controlling the borderline as much as it was a matter of knowing what was going on in the border region,” Brunet-Jailly said.

Economic forces are also an important concern for those researching this emerging cross-border region. One of the most sophisticated Cascadia business groups is the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, a Can-Am lobby group. Brunet-Jailly finds the group very interesting because it “bridges the public and private sector with the politics of free trade.” Technology industries (Microsoft is headquartered in Redmond, Wash.) and brands such as Starbucks make the region an economic powerhouse.

A major part of this cohesion comes in the form of transportation infrastructure, furthered by cross-border groups including the Cascadia Center, which supports the development of expanded and integrated transportation systems in B.C., Washington and Oregon.

The region is also supported by cross-border environmental groups such as the Cascadia Wildlands Project, which tries to look after the ecosystems of the Cascadia bioregion.

Brunet-Jailly sees no possibility of Cascadia emerging as an actual political entity. The leaders of industry and society questioned in the process of his research indicated no concern that Cascadia may be a threat to the sovereignty of their respective governments and indeed seemed to think that their cross-border co-operation reinforced federal government policy.

But not everyone feels that way. There are a dozen websites calling for a free and independent Cascadia, and while some are clearly satirical (with Sasquatch militias and endangered tree octopuses), others reflect a heartfelt, grassroots interest in secession.

One such site is, run by Brandon Letsinger of Seattle, a used bookstore employee in his early 20s.

Letsinger started his group, the Cascadian Independence Project (CIP), with three other people about five months ago. The organization originally began as a joke.

“I thought it’d be kind of funny, because I myself was getting pretty dissatisfied with the current political situation in America,” said Letsinger. “Then I actually started looking into it, and the more and more I looked into it, the more and more the idea set.”

When people first hear of Letsinger’s ideas, they usually crack a grin. But once he explains CIP’s emphasis on the environment, health care, education, social justice and personal freedoms, Letsinger says his audience is usually pretty receptive.

“We spawned out of the belief that local direct democracy will always be better than having someone rule our area from a foreign seat of power,” said Letsinger. “That’s the basic gist of the group.”

CIP is currently focusing on community work—organizing food drives, first aid training, neighbourhood beautification and education outreach. They’re trying to create partnerships with community centres and churches, and there is talk of forming student groups at post-secondary institutions in Washington and Oregon states. Letsinger and the CIP are also attempting to make contacts in B.C. in order to extend their network.

“Ultimately we are a secession-based group, but we do feel that community involvement and building our communities to decrease our dependence on the federal government is the way to do that.”

The next lecture in the series is on Nov. 9 at 11:30 a.m. in the Elliot Building, room 162. The topic is “Borderland and Security.”