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Breakaway Movements of the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Western Canada
Throughout history, people have sought to break away from the political control of their governing authorities and start something new. That this phenomenon is still with us is unsurprising. But, on the face of it, what is surprising is that these sentiments arise within reasonably well-off rich and developed countries. The motivations for these aspirations are varied and many but taken together, they have a great deal to tell us about what lurks just beneath the surface of the cultural and political landscape in the regions in which they arise.
The following is a look at just a few such aspirations to independence from the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Western Canada.
Several regionalist movements presently seek to break a geographic region away from a larger territory in the Pacific Northwest:
Cascadia is an aspirational regionalist movement clustered around environmentalist and progressive liberal to leftish ideas. It aims to break off the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Canada's Pacific Coast into an independent "bioregion." The territorial boundary Cascadians have staked out varies between maps, but spans roughly across all of Washington, most of Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia, part of California, Montana, and the Alaska Panhandle.
Based out of Rural Oregon and Northern California, the State of Jefferson is a movement rooted in America's urban/rural divide. Advocates of this break-away from Oregon and California remain convinced that legislatures in Salem and Sacramento do not adequately represent their interests. More recently, such sentiments have sparked the movement for Greater Idaho. Perhaps America's most successful modern secessionist campaign, Greater Idahoans seek to use the ballot box to cede most of Oregon and part of California to the state of Idaho.
Alberta Separatism is a right-wing populist ethic that has seen multiple resurgences throughout the 20th century. It is primarily rooted in early oil and natural gas development in the province. The most recent manifestation is led by The Maverick Party — or Wexit Canada. Wexit seeks to break the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut off from the east of the country to spread the benefits of Alberta's fossil fuel wealth among a much smaller population.
The Indigenous Sovereigntists
Indigenous sovereignty movements seek the gamut from greater autonomy from the colonial states ruling over them to "land back." Different histories and a wide range of attitudes make this a more complicated area to dig into, but here are some key points:
Both the United States and Canada have a long history of colonial subjugation of the indigenous peoples of North America. As a general trend, this history progressed roughly parallel with white settlement from east to west, culminating in dramatically violent subjugation throughout the 19th century and rampant abuses throughout the 20th. The legal complexities of indigenous sovereignty vary between the US and Canada and often from tribe to tribe. As a result, movements for indigenous sovereignty have arisen through fits and starts.
Some notable points in the history of these movements include the American Indian Movement of the late '60s and '70s, the 1990 Kanesatake Resistance at Oka, Quebec, Idle No More, the 2016-17 Standing Rock Reservation protests opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline, and more recent demonstrations opposing the Coastal GasLink Pipeline on the Wetʼsuwetʼen First Nation territory in British Columbia. In addition, recent discoveries of mass grave sites at Canadian residential schools only add to tensions between indigenous peoples and the state. As a result, indigenous sovereignty will likely be a prominent issue in U.S. and Canadian state sovereignty discourse in the decades to come.
Finally, there are the national aspirations of the Far-Right. These include explicitly white nationalist and right "libertarian" movements. There are two main threads of this in the U.S. Pacific Northwest:
The Northwest Territorial Imperative (NTI) is a U.S. White Nationalist project to establish a white ethno-state in the American Northwest. The NTI seeks to claim the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Western Montana. The violent history of this project began when Christian Identity founder Robert Miles introduced the "White Bastion" concept to American white supremacy in the early 1980s. Not long after, Robert Jay Mathews' terrorist gang, The Order, began a campaign of robberies and assassinations partly supporting such aims. In the Summer of 1986, Richard Butler and the Aryan Nations began encouraging families — like that of Randy Weaver, of Ruby Ridge shootout fame — to make the project a reality. Neo-Nazi Harold Covington's Northwest Front and white power skinhead group Volksfront also played critical roles advocating for this movement.
Based on the writings of survivalist guru James Wesley Rawles, the American Redoubt seeks to establish a Christian-Nationalist enclave in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and the Eastern sections of Washington and Oregon. Like the NTI, Rawles favored this area due to its low population density. However, unlike the NTI, Rawles is nominally opposed to the ideology of racial supremacy, preferring a multi-ethnic Christian traditionalist community instead. The vision of the American Redoubt centers on a back-to-the-land conception for right-libertarian preppers to preserve "Western" culture following future societal collapse.
These are just a few of the various aspirations toward realignments of sovereignty present in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Western Canada. They generally highlight the rough contours of such sentiments in this region. With increased future stressors from climate change and heightened political polarization in America, we can only expect the grievances driving these movements to grow more dynamic in the decades to come. What happens to the ideas that evolve from them is anybody's guess.
• Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia by Douglas Todd
• Elusive State of Jefferson: A Journey through the 51st State by Peter Laufer
• The Pleasure of the Crown: Anthropology, Law and First Nations by Dara Culhane Speck
• Recognition, Sovereignty Struggles, and Indigenous Rights in the United States: A Sourcebook by Den Ouden
• The White Separatist Movement in the United States: "White Power, White Pride!" by Betty A. Dobratz