Cascadia (independence movement)

Cascadia (independence movement)
Proposed Country of Cascadia
Proposed boundaries in respect to political territorial entities (British Columbia, Washington State, and Oregon)
Proposed boundaries in respect to political territorial entities (British Columbia, Washington State, and Oregon)
Capital Undetermined
Largest city Seattle
National language English (de facto)[b]
Demonym Cascadian
Government Bioregional (Representative Parliamentry Monarchy)(proposed)
 -  2009, 2010 census 15,000,710 
GDP (PPP) 2006 estimate
 -  Total $618.5 billion[1] (22nd)
 -  Per capita $40,217[1] (8th)
GDP (nominal) 2006 estimate
 -  Total $618.5 billion[1] (18th)
 -  Per capita $40,217[1] (16th)
Drives on the right
^ a. *Statistics are compiled from US and Canadian census records by combining information from the states of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. If the entire Cascadian bioregion was taken into account, GDP and population would be much higher.

Cascadia is the proposed name for a bioregional political entity and/or an independent nation located within the Cascadian bioregion of the Pacific Northwest of North America. Proposed boundaries differ, with some drawn along existing political state and provincial lines, and others drawn along larger ecological, cultural and economic boundaries.

The nation would be created by secession of British Columbia from Canada, along with Oregon, Washington and portions of other states from the United States. At its maximum extent Cascadia would extend from the coastal Alaskan Panhandle to the north, extending into Northern California in the south, and inland to include parts of Alberta, the Yukon, Idaho and Western Montana.

As measured only by the combination of present B.C., Washington and Oregon statistics, Cascadia would be home to 15 million people, and an economy generating more than $750 billion worth of goods and services annually, which would place Cascadia in the top 20 economies of the world.[2] Its largest city, Seattle, itself has an economy slightly smaller than Thailand, but larger than Colombia and Venezuela.[3] By land area Cascadia would be the 20th largest nation in the world, with a land area of 1,384,588 km² (534,572 sq mi), placing it right behind Mongolia. By population, Cascadia would rank as the 65th largest, just above Malawi and just below Niger in population, or about the size of Sweden and Finland's population combined.


Description of the movement

There are several reasons why the Cascadia movement aims to foster connections and a sense of place within the Northwest region and possibly eventually secede. The main reasons stated by the movement include environmentalism and bioregionalism,[4] a dissatisfaction with governments in the eastern part of the continent that continue to become more impersonal, secretive and non-representative, a strengthened social safety net, fiscal responsibility, and a strong devotion to human rights.[4]

Historical background

19th Century

Columbia District

Thomas Jefferson said he viewed Fort Astoria "as the germ of a great, free, and independent empire on that side of our continent".[5]

The Columbia District and the related Oregon Country are precursors to Cascadia.

An 1813 letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Jacob Astor congratulated Astor on the establishment of Fort Astoria (the coastal fur trade post of Astor's Pacific Fur Company) and described Fort Astoria 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 from this side, will insure their complete establishment over the whole." He went on to criticize the British, who were also establishing fur trade networks in the region: "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."[5][6] The same year of Jefferson's letter, Fort Astoria was sold to the British North West Company, based in Montreal.

John Quincy Adams agreed with Jefferson's views about Fort Astoria, and labeled the entire Northwest as "the empire of Astoria",[7] although he also saw the whole continent as "destined by Divine Providence to be peopled by one nation."[8] As late as the 1820s James Monroe and Thomas Hart Benton thought the region west of the Rockies would be an independent nation.[8]

Elements among the region's population sought to form their own country from the very beginning. Oregon pioneer John McLoughlin was employed as the "Chief Factor" (regional administrator) by the Hudson's Bay Company for the Columbia District, administered from Fort Vancouver. McLoughlin was a significant force in the early history of the Oregon Country, and argued for its independence.[9] In 1842 McLoughlin (through his lawyer) advocated an independent nation that would be free of the United States during debates at the Oregon Lyceum.[9] This view won support at first and a resolution was adopted. When the first settlers of the Willamette Valley held a series of politically foundational meetings in 1843, called the "Wolf Meetings," a majority voted to establish an independent republic.[10] Action was postponed by George Abernethy of the Methodist Mission to wait on forming an independent country.[9]

In May 1843 the settlers in the Oregon Territory created their first “western style” government as a Provisional Government. Several months later the Organic Laws of Oregon were 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, with an opposing faction led by Osborne Russell favoring 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.

British claims north of the Columbia River were ceded to the United States by the contentious Oregon Treaty of 1846. In 1860 there were three different statements from separate influential individuals on the creation of a "Pacific Republic".[11]

Civil War

When the Southern states of the U.S. seceded to form the Confederate States of America, some Oregon Territory settlers reacted to the instability of the union as another opportunity to seek independence.

Californians unsympathetic to the Union also pushed for the reestablishment of the Republic of California as an independent entity.[citation needed] The leader of California's federal forces at the outset of the Civil War was himself a supporter of the Confederate cause, but that movement proved weaker than its opposition. For his role in convincing Californians to remain in the Union, Thomas Starr King was honored as one of the two "heroes of California" in the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection.[12]

While independence movements during this time failed to take root, the Pacific Northwest continued to foment a radical and aggressive form of regionalism. This is exemplified by Adell M. Parker, president of the University of Washington Alumni Association, in his speech at the groundbreaking of the Seattle campus:

That the West should un-falteringly follow the East in fashions and ideals would be as false and fatal as that America should obey the standards of Europe. Let the West, daring and unprejudiced, discover its own ideals and follow them. The American standard in literature and philosophy has long been fixed by the remote East. Something wild and free, something robust and full will come out of the West and be recognized in the final American type. Under the shadow of those great mountains a distinct personality shall arise, it shall adopt other fashions, create new ideals, and generations shall justify them (“With Due Formality” 1894).[13]

20th Century

State of Jefferson

Proposed flag of the State of Jefferson.

After attempts in the mid 19th century at forming a State of Jefferson prior to becoming Oregon and then again in the 1930s, citizens attempted the best known of such movements in the region. During 1940 and 1941, organizers attracted media attention by arming themselves and blockading Highway 99 to the south of Yreka, California, where they collected tolls from motorists and passed out proclamations of independence. When a California Highway Patrolman turned up on the scene, he was told to “get down the road back to California”. The movement was created to draw attention to the area by proposing that Southern Oregon and Northern California secede from their respective state governments to form a separate state within the United States.[14] A perceived lack of attention and resources from their state governments led to the adoption of a flag design bearing a gold pan and two X's, a "double cross".[15] The movement quickly ended however after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Stanton Delaplane's coverage of the State of Jefferson won the 1942 Pulitzer Prize for Reporting.

In 1956, groups from Cave Junction, Oregon and Dunsmuir, California threatened to tear Southern Oregon and Northern California from their respective state rulers to form the State of Jefferson.[15]

Cascadia as Columbian watershed

The term "Cascades" was first used for the Cascades Rapids, as early as the Astor Expedition.[16] The earliest attested use of the term for the mountain range dates to 1825, in the writings of botanist David Douglas.[17] During geological explorations in the early 1900s the term was first applied to the region.

In 1970 the term "Cascadia" was adopted by David McCloskey, a Seattle University sociology professor, to describe the region.[18] McCloskey describes Cascadia as "a land of falling waters." He notes the blending of the natural integrity and the sociocultural unity that gives Cascadia its definition.

McCloskey is the source of the proposed Cascadian boundaries that include the complete watershed of the Columbia River, including the territories of what is now Idaho, western Montana, and smaller parts of Wyoming, Utah, and even northern Nevada. Although relatively common on maps of Cascadia, this definition is much larger than that used by many people in the Cascadia movement.

According to McCloskey, this "initial" Cascadia included parts of seven jurisdictions (Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Western Montana, British Columbia, and South East Alaska), running in the north from the top of the Alaska panhandle to Cape Mendocino, California in the south–and covering all the land and "falling waters" from the continental divide at the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. McCloskey, founder of the Cascadia Institute and co‐chair of Seattle University’s New Ecological Studies Program, saw Cascadian identity as something which transcends political or geographic definitions; it is more a cultural, ideological identity.[citation needed]


Ernest Callenbach's environmental Utopian novel Ecotopia (1975) follows an American reporter, William Weston, on his tour through a secretive republic (the former Washington, Oregon, and northern California) 20 years after their secession from the U.S. At first wary and uncomfortable, Weston is shown a society that has been centrally planned, scaled down, and readapted to fit within the constraints of environmental sustainability.

The self-published book was a best-seller. Some of Ecotopia's exotic environmental strategies (recycling bins, an emphasis on locally grown food, a bicycle sharing system, etc.) have become commonplace. More importantly the book has had a surprisingly long-lasting impact, as a required text in universities, and as direct influence on the German Green Party. "Almost immediately absorbed into the popular culture," the concept of an Ecotopia has influenced perceptions of the Northwest.[19] Callenbach produced a prequel, Ecotopia Emerging, in 1981.

While other conceptions followed, this first "enviro‐branding" has had significant staying power thanks to being followed shortly by Joel Garreau's Nine Nations of North America (1981). Garreau’s Ecotopia, one of the "Nine Nations", included the Pacific Northwest coast west of the Cascade Range stretching from southern Alaska in the north to coastal areas of British Columbia, down through Washington state, Oregon and into California just north of Santa Barbara. According to Garreau, Ecotopia is a land of individualism and the environment. For Garreau, these "nine nations" provided a more accurate way of understanding North American society. The concept is very similar to Cascadia, though not identical, as it is Bay Area-centric as opposed to centering around the Cascadian Corridor from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, BC. Also, Ecotopia was defined as including only the coastal region, up to about 120 mi (190 km) inland; Cascadia is usually defined as including large areas east of the Cascade Range.

Regional identity

The idea of Cascadia as an economic cross-border region has been embraced by a wide diversity of civic leaders and organizations. The "Main Street Cascadia" transportation corridor concept was formed by former mayor of Seattle Paul Schell during 1991 and 1992.[20] Schell later defended his cross-border efforts during the 1999 American Planning Association convention, saying "that Cascadia represents better than states, countries and cities the cultural and geographical realities of the corridor from Eugene to Vancouver, B.C."[21] Schell also formed the Cascadia Mayors Council, bringing together mayors from cities along the corridor from Whistler, BC, to Medford, Oregon. The council last met in May, 2004.[22] Other cross-border groups were set up in the 1990s, such as the Cascadia Economic Council and the Cascadia Corridor Commission.[23] These groups were established to focus on transportation issues, and have not advocated secession or independence.

The Oregon Country as claimed by the United States. The Columbia District extended much farther north.

The region is served by several cooperative organizations and interstate or international agencies, especially since 2008 with the signing of the Pacific Coast Collaborative which places new emphasis on bio-regionally coordinated policies on the environmental, forestry and fishery management, emergency preparedness and critical infrastructure, regional high speed rail and road transportation as well as tourism[24]

Under some definitions, Cascadia is energy sufficient, due to the high propensity for renewable energy resources (mostly hydroelectric and geothermal) and supplies many other western states such as California and Idaho with some electricity.

The area from Vancouver B.C. down to Portland[25] has been termed an emerging megaregion by the National Committee for America 2050, a coalition of regional planners, scholars, and policy-makers. This group defines a megaregion as an area where "boundaries [between metropolitan regions] begin to blur, creating a new scale of geography".[26] These areas have interlocking economic systems, shared natural resources and ecosystems, and common transportation systems link these population centers together. This area contains 17% of Cascadian land mass, but more than 80% of the Cascadian population. Programs such as the enhanced drivers license program can be used to more easily cross the border between Washington and British Columbia.[27]

Public support for the movement

A research study by the Western Standard in 2005 found that support for exploring secession from Canada sits at 35.7% in British Columbia, and 42% in Alberta.[28] While difficult to gauge support specifically in Washington and Oregon, because no research has been done for those states, a nationwide poll by Zogby International in 2008 found that 22% of Americans now support a state's or region's right to peacefully secede from the United States, the highest rate since the American Civil War.[29] However, none of these studies are specifically about forming an independent Cascadia. The movement saw much discussion in the 1990s,[20] and while the increase in security and American nationalism after 9/11 set back the movement's momentum for some time, the concept has continued to become more ingrained into society and the public consciousness.[20]

Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders games are a central point for the Cascadia movement and the Doug flag is commonly spotted there.[citation needed]

Cascadia as an integrated bioregion

A map of one of the definitions of the Cascadia Bioregion

Cascadian bioregionalism is closely identified with the environmental movement. In the early 1970s, a vision of bioregionalism began to be formed through collaboration among natural scientists, social and environmental activists, artists and writers, community leaders, and back-to-the-landers who worked directly with natural resources. A bioregion is defined in terms of the unique overall pattern of natural characteristics that are found in a specific place. The main features are generally obvious throughout a continuous geographic terrain and include a particular climate, local aspects of seasons, landforms, watersheds, soils, and native plants and animals. People are also counted as an integral aspect of a place’s life, as can be seen in the ecologically adaptive cultures of early inhabitants, and in the activities of present day inhabitants who attempt to harmonize in a sustainable way with the place where they live.[30]

The Cascadia Bioregion has been defined in several different ways. One definition is all the watersheds of rivers that empty into the Pacific Ocean in North America's temperate rainforest zone, from northern California to Prince William Sound in Alaska, and extending inland to the continental divide. This definition includes all of Washington, most of Oregon and Idaho, part of British Columbia, and smaller parts of California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska.[31][32] Another definition limits the bioregion to the coastal region west of the Cascade Range and Coast Mountains in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.[33] Sometimes this definition is extended conceptually from northern California to Alaska.[34] In some cases this coastal definition of the bioregion is extended north and west to Kodiak Island, Alaska.[35]

International cooperation

The idea of Cascadia as a political secessionist movement has received a degree of attention; however a more common idea of Cascadia is that of a cross-border region whose shared culture and interests transcend the international boundary—a region integrated in terms of ecology, economics, culture, and political cooperation;[36] one that many Cascadia movement supporters consider more important than secession.[citation needed] Many cross-border regions exist on Earth today, including Frisia, Kurdistan, and Lapland. Despite a degree of shared cross-border history and cooperation, national connections are presently much more powerful than international ties within Cascadia;[37] but polls have shown that people in British Columbia have more in common with people in Oregon and Washington in terms of values and culture than they do with people from eastern Canada, and people in Oregon and Washington share similar culture and values with western Canadians more than they do with people from the eastern United States.[citation needed]

Cascadia exhibits binational and regional cooperation, governing bodies as well as cross-border NGOs. These ties continue to be strengthened through initiatives such as the establishment of a cross-border state ID card in 2006, the 'Pacific Coast Collaboration' agreement (PCC) signed by the governors of California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska and the premier of British Columbia in 2008, the bioregional 'Cascadia Mayors Council' founded in 1996 and the establishment of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region in 1991, a regional U.S.-Canadian forum in which all legislative members and governors are voting members, along with a consortium of the regions most powerful non-profit, public and private sector companies.[38][39] PNWER is recognized by both the United States and Canada as the “model” for regional and bi-national cooperation that provides the public and private sectors a cross-border forum that legal scholar Andrew Petter, a former BC cabinet minister and President of Simon Fraser University,[40] describes as one of North America's most sophisticated examples of "regionalist paradiplomacy".[41] PNWER is the only statutory, non-partisan, bi-national, public/private partnership in North America.[42] However, none of these bi-national efforts promote secession.

Secessionist activism

Cascadian secessionist movements generally state that their political motivations deal mostly with political, economic, cultural and ecological ties, as well as the beliefs that the eastern federal governments are out of touch, slow to respond, and hinder state and provincial attempts at further bioregional integration.[43] These connections go back to the Oregon Territory, and further back to the Oregon Country, the land most commonly associated with Cascadia, and the last time the region was treated as a single political unit, though administered by two countries.[43] Some have asserted that political protest in the wake of the 2004 presidential election appears to be the primary reason for renewed separatist movements throughout states with substantial Democratic majorities, such as Washington and Oregon.[44][45]

On September 9, 2001, the Cascadian National Party website was launched on Angelfire,[46] but faltered quickly.

Currently, the primary organization promoting regional sovereignty is the Cascadian Independence Project, with members in cities such as Vancouver BC, Victoria, Bellingham, Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, Walla Walla, Spokane, Olympia, Portland, Eugene, and Salem.[47]

Other groups discussing the Cascadia concept, such as The Sightline Institute, Crosscut, and Cascadia Prospectus, see the concept as one of a transnational cooperative identity, not secession. Still others, such as The Republic of Cascadia, are whimsical expressions of political protest.


While mainstream coverage of the Cascadia movement has been traditionally positive,[citation needed] several strains of criticism have arisen, especially through personal discourse and opinion. These reasons include American nationalism, Canadian nationalism, and the opinion that Cascadia is a pipe dream,[48] and is unlikely to happen because of the supposed stability of the United States and Canada.[48] Cascadians argue that with the massive debt and loss of public trust in the American government (in 2011, only 11% of Americans claimed to trust Congress[49]), continuing resentment towards the Canadian government (2008 polls show 32-42% support for secession in Western Canadian provinces), and an increasingly regionally dependent economy and identity, the possibility for Cascadian autonomy continues to grow.

Critics who cite the stability of the United States in particular as making Cascadia unlikely as a reality cite the popular academic opinion that the Civil War showed that states had no right and/or power to leave the Union[50] and thus all present states will always be part of the US. Because of this, proponents of Cascadian Independence focus on building regional identity and awareness, highlighting distinct social, economic, environmental and cultural features that make Cascadia unique. Because of the historical context of secession within the United States, as well as a general anti-militaristic sentiment embodied within the movement, organizers envision a peaceful democratic process towards independence through the use of popular vote or a referendum by the people. In a reversal of this, in Canada, the recent failure of Quebec to secede by a margin of less than .5% highlighted the growing sense of alienation many provinces feel from a federal government increasingly viewed as distant, and unrepresentative of citizens needs and beliefs. Supporters of Cascadia also point out that the United States has changed significantly in the past 150 years since the Civil War, and that the recent Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements have shown that change can occur rapidly, in an unprecedented fashion, in ways no experts or analysts predicted.[citation needed]

Another point of contention within the Cascadia movement is the perceived ideological difference between the western portion, often viewed as progressive liberal, and east of the Cascades and Coast Mountains, which tends to hold viewpoints more in line with libertarian conservatism. Principles of human rights such as gay marriage, the death penalty, racial equality and environmentalism [51] have been raised as possible debates. As Cascadia incorporates many green principles, it could be difficult to obtain local consent for inclusion of eastern Oregon, eastern Washington, and the BC Interior, and inclusion against the popular will would compromise social values emphasized by supporters of the movement, unless the politics in those regions shifted. Other Cascadian ideas such as a decentralized government, increased transparency, and local representation may find more support, and polling data suggests there are distinct cultural values within the Pacific Northwest commonly found on both sides of the Cascade mountains.

While some supporters of the Cascadia movement cut off Cascadia at the crest of the Cascades for this reason, making it a long, narrow coastal region, others claim that while eastern Cascadians may have many conservative viewpoints, many of them also share the ecological values and other cultural traits, such as being relatively irreligious, with their neighbors west of the mountains and in the progressive cities.[weasel words]

References in popular culture

"Doug" flag
  • The "Doug" Cascadian flag appears to be the most commonly adopted flag of the movement.[52] Designed by Portland, Oregon native Alexander Baretich in 1994, its blue represents sky and the Pacific Ocean, the white represents clouds and snow, and the green represents the forest.[53] As of 2010 the "Doug" has also been adopted by the Portland Timbers Timbers Army, sometimes of giant size.[54] In 2010, Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland introduced Secession Black IPA with the Doug flag as part of its label.[55] Hopworks has since dropped the "Black India Pale Ale" idiom in favor of the more etymologically correct moniker Secession Cascadian Dark Ale.[56]
  • Eric Hoffer in The Temper of Our Time (1967) proposed "a pilot state made up of a slice of northern California and a slice of southern Oregon" in which "the main purpose of life would be for people to learn and grow." Hoffer feared that, as meaningful work was automated away through technology, rootlessness would become a societal problem unless channeled in other directions such as education and personal growth, and proposed this region for his pilot state in part because it had good potential for work restoring ravaged soils and forests, work which would result in "the simultaneous reclamation of natural and human resources".
  • The 2005 North American Science Fiction Convention (or NASFiC), Cascadia Con, presented itself as a Cascadian convention, using material from The Republic of Cascadia website, a previous year's Norwescon Science Fiction Convention doing the same thing, and other sources.[57]
  • In the Crimson Skies universe, the nation of Pacifica is formed out of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
  • The band Fleet Foxes put the Doug flag on the back of their 2008 album.[58]
  • In January 2011, Time magazine included Cascadia on a list of "Top 10 Aspiring Nations", though noting it "has little chance of ever becoming a reality".[60]
  • Since 2004 the Vancouver Whitecaps, Portland Timbers, and Seattle Sounders soccer teams have competed for a fan created cup, the Cascadia Cup. Fans of the Cup series wear buttons adorned with the Doug flag, and the flag is flown by fans at stadium goal ends, particularly in Seattle.

See also


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  59. ^ Fish Brewing Co. of Olympia, Washington. Retrieved 09 June 2007.
  60. ^ "Top 10 Aspiring Nations". Time. 10 January 2011.,28804,2041365_2041364_2041373,00.html. 

Further reading

  • Todd, Douglas. "Cascadians: Shared Cultural Traits, Values." The Vancouver Sun. 7 May 2008.
  • Abraham, Kera. "A Free Cascadia." Eugene Weekly. 9 September 2006.
  • Fleming, Thomas. "America's Crackup." National Review, 28 June 1997, Vol. 49, Issue 14
  • Gauk, Matthew. "Welcome to the Evergreen Revolution." The Martlet, 9 November 2006.
  • Henkel, William B. "Cascadia: A state of (various) mind(s)." Chicago Review, 1993, Vol. 39, Issue 3/4
  • Jannsson, David. Divided we Stand, United We Fall (2006) - CounterPunch, 20 December 2006
  • Ketcham, Christopher. "Most Likely to Secede - Interviews with a few prominent figures who actively promote self governance." Good Magazine, January 2008.
  • Nussbaum, Paul. "Coming together to Ponder Pulling Apart." Philadelphia Inquirer, November 2006.
  • Overby, Peter. "We're outta here." Common Cause Magazine, Win92, Vol. 18, Issue 4
  • Crane, David, Paul Fraser, and James D. Phillips. "Western Regionalism: Views on Cascadia." Canada-United States Law Journal, 2004, Vol. 30, p321-347, 22p
  • Powell, Mark W. "The Americas: British Columbia's future may not lie with 'Old Canada'." Wall Street Journal. Jun 9, 1995. pg. A11
  • Todd, Douglas (2008). Cascadia, The Elusive Utopia: Exploring the Spirit of the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver, B.C., Canada: Ronsdale Press. ISBN 978-1-55380-060-6. 
  • Will, Gudrun. "Cascadia Rising." Vancouver Review, 2006.
  • Woodward, Steve. "Welcome to Cascadia" The Oregonian, 14 November 2004.
  • "Welcome to Cascadia." The Economist, 5/21/94, Vol. 331, Issue 7864

External links

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