Cascadia: Into the 20th Century

This is part three of an essay series on the history of Cascadia as a region and idea. See below for the first two. 

It wasn’t until the next century, during geological explorations in the early 1900s, that the term “Cascadia” came into use to describe the region. The name was given to a mythical landmass located in the northeastern corner of the Pacific Ocean, just beyond the exist­ing shoreline. This landmass was thought to have eroded, depositing sediment upon what is now Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. While geologists and historians continue to debate the origin of Cascadia’s soils, the name has remained a permanent descriptor of the region.

These earlier attempts towards independence in the Pacific Northwest continued to be well documented. In a 1916 article in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, author Dorothy Hull helps capture these earlier sentiments:

To fully understand the political tendencies of the West it is necessary to understand the Western spirit, for political platforms are but a more or less clear reflection of the spirit which animates those who frame them.

She continues “The West has always been the home of democracy. The Western movement in the United States from its first inception was a democratic movement. The fur traders who blazed the trail to the West, and the ranchers and farmers who followed in their wake forging the broader path for civilization were not aristocrats, but the common people – rugged, self-reliant and ambitious… seeking cheap lands, and a chance to work out their political and social ideas free from the aristocratic organization of the East. Hence in the West democracy, social and political, became the dominant force”.

“The early isolation of the West, and the completeness of its geographic separation from the political center of the nation fostered an intense feeling of local independence. It was not surprising then that in times of great public danger when vital sectional interests were believed to be at stake, this spirit of local independence should find expression in the doctrines of popular sovereignty, states-rights, nullification and even secession”.

In the 1930s, the State of Jefferson movement came into being and is, to date, the best known of such movements in the region. During 1940 and 1941, organizers attracted massive media attention by arming themselves and blockading Highway 99 to the south of Yreka 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 form a separate state. As this is historically a depressed area, many locals placed the blame on the governments of Salem and Sacramento. For that reason, a flag bearing two X’s and a gold pan was adopted. The two X’s represented the so-called “double crosses” from Sacramento and Salem.

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 Shasta. Several of the organizers involved took one step further and threatened the federal government with armed resistance unless demands were met.

The Recent Notion of Cascadia

The notion of Cascadia as we think of it emerged in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and was championed by authors such as Ernest Callenbach, sociologist David McCloskey and Joel Garreau, as well as embraced by the newly emerging field of bioregional study.

Two novels by Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia (1975) and Ecotopia Emerging (1981), are fictional futuristic portrayals of the secession of the region from the United States. Callenbach’s novels include Washington, Oregon, and the northern half of California in the new country (with the dividing line between northern and southern California drawn roughly through Santa Barbara and Bakersfield). The novels describes the Northwest as a ‘ecologically sensitive country’ with a female president and spawned a wave of interest from environmentalists and idealists. Several magazines such as Seriatim were founded throughout the late 70’s which also promoted the secession of the region along the lines portrayed by Callenbach.

David McCloskey, a Seattle University Sociologist and founder of the Cascadia Institute, coined the term Cascadia in the late 1970’s. According to McCloskey, this “initial’ Cascadia included parts of 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 Mendicino, California in the south – and was the first to adapt the area to follow ecological boundaries over preexisting political ones. In his words, they covered all the land and “falling waters” from the continental divide at the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and he viewed Cascadia as something which transcends political – even geographic – definitions; it is more an ideological notion rooted in bioregionalism and a respect for the environment.

Author, journalist, law scholar and sociologist Joel Garreau built on these sentiments in his seminal work The Nine Nations of America. In this book, he argues that there are several distinct regions within North America that are unique both culturally and geographically. He dubbed those along the Pacific rim ‘Ecotopia’ in reference to earlier novels by Ernest Callenbach, and according to Garreau, is a land of individualism and the environment, and is necessarily different from surrounding areas, as well as the rest of the country both economically and ecologically.

Unrelated to any of the other secessionist movements and regarded with near-universal hostility among residents of the Northwest was the Northwest Territorial Imperative, a secessionist proposal promoted by the Aryan Nations during the 1980s.

In more recent years, a more organized movement calling for the re-unification of the original Oregon Country (which included the area of the modern day southern British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and Idaho into a single entity for the purpose of gaining independence from both the United States and Canada has come into being under the name of Cascadia. Supporters of the Evergreen Revolution hope to one day achieve the independence of Cascadia through peaceful means, through a referendum of the people and much the same way as was done in the former Czecho-Slovakia’s Velvet Revolution in 1989.

In the 1990′s the idea of Cascadia as an economic cross-border region became 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. 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.” 

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. Other cross-border groups were set up in the 1990s, such as the Cascadia Economic Council and the Cascadia Corridor Commission. Another report commissioned at this time went so far as to claim:

Cascadia is a shared notion, and one in active evolution. We’re still inventing ourselves as a regional culture. Cascadia is a recognition of emerging realities, a way to celebtrate commonality with diversity, a way to make the whole more than the sum of it’s parts. Cascadia is not a State, but a state of mind. But a state of mind can have important practical consequences.

Cascadia also 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. 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, describes as one of North America’s most sophisticated examples of “regionalist paradiplomacy”. PNWER is the only statutory, non-partisan, bi-national, public/private partnership in North America.

The area from Vancouver B.C. down to Portland 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”. 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.

On September 9, 2001, the Cascadian National Party website was launched on Angelfire but faltered quickly due to the terrorist attacks on September 11th.

Cascadian movements and organizations 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. 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.

While support for the movement is difficult to gauge, a research study by the Western Standard in 2005 found that support for exploring secession from Canada was at 35.7% in British Columbia, and 42% in Alberta. 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 and a number that has probably significantly increased over the past 6 years. In addition, studies from 2012 have shown 81% of Americans feel that their country is on the wrong track, 9% approve of the US congress (the lowest in recorded history), while support for the democratic and republican parties each sit at roughly 30%.

From 2005-2010, the primary organization promoting regional autonomy and independence was the Cascadian Independence Project.

The majority of their organizing was done through online platforms such as Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, and the group served as a central hub, embracing a non-traditional, non-hierarchical, horizontal organizing model. By 2007 the group had 2,200 members on Myspace, 5,600 readers on the Cascadia Subreddit, 2,000 on Facebook, with dozens of members actively working within chapters, groups or as regional coordinators in more than 35 cities throughout the Northwest, including Vancouver BC, Victoria, Bellingham, Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, Walla Walla, Spokane, Olympia, Portland, Eugene, and Salem, San Francisco and Fairbanks, Alaska.

In 2014, the group officially merged into CascadiaNow!, deciding to embrace a educational role about Cascadia and Bioregionalism, and shift from a political movement, into a broad based social and cultural one that focused on a positive and inclusive organizing strategy and vision.  These efforts are reinforced by an emerging trend by non-profits, academics, business leaders as well as government planners to embrace the idea of Cascadia to help strengthen the Pacific Northwest and towards increased cooperation between elected official and representatives within the Cascadia bioregion, as regional economies continue to realign and become more important in a 21st global economic environment. This trend includes the establishment of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PWNER) in 1991, the Cascadia Mayors Council in 1996, the establishment of a cross-border state ID card in 2006 and the Pacific Coast Collaboration agreement signed in 2008.

Efforts such as the Pacific Northwest Economic Region were the first of their kind, notable as a regional US-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. PNWER is recognized by the both the United States and Canada as the ‘model’ for regional and bi-national cooperation that provides public and private sectors a cross-border forum that legal scholar Andrew Petter, a former BC cabinet minister and president of Simon Fraser University described as one of North America’s most sophisticated examples of ‘regionalist paradiplomacy’. PNWER remains the only statuatory, non-partisan, bi-national, public/private partnership in North America.

The Pacific Coast Collaboration Agreement was similarly impressive. Signed on June 30th, 2008 by the governors of California, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska, it was the first of its kind to bring together Pacific leaders as a common front to work co-operatively on a range of dynamic challenges facing the Cascadia bioregion. The agreement established a formal basis for cooperative action, a forum for leadership and information and sharing on issues faced by the Pacific Northwest with the overall goal of innovation, sustainability, and maintaining a high standard of living for all residents of the Northwest. It’s primary goals are “regional economy, regional transportation, clean energy, energy conservation and innovation”. Their website also notes the incredible potential possible from a united Cascadia bioregion, noting: 

With a combined population of 52 million and a GDP of $2.5 trillion, Alaska, British Columbia, California, Oregon and Washington are poised to emerge as a mega-region and global economic powerhouse driven by innovation, energy, geographic location and sustainable resource management, attracting new jobs and investment while enhancing an already unparalleled quality of life.

Most recently, officials from British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California have come together to form the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange (WCX), which brings together governors, treasurers and key development agencies help meet critical infrastructure needs over the next 30 years to fund infrastructure needs estimated at more than $1 trillion. The shared goal: Make vital public works and energy projects more feasible in order to improve economic competitiveness and to maintain the region’s unparalleled quality of life. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer and Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler unveiled the nonprofit entity, along with representatives from Washington, British Columbia.

Other groups discussing the Cascadia concept, such as the Sightline Institute,, and Cascadia Prospectus, see the concept as one of a transnational cooperative identity, not secession. Still others, such as The Republic of Cascadia which runs the Save the Pacific Northwest Octopus Campaign and Sasquatch Militia, are whimsical expressions of political protest.

Written and compiled by:

By Brandon Letsinger, Abram Goldman-Armstrong, Alexander Baretich


  1. Malcolm Clark, Jr. Eden Seekers
  2. Victor, Frances Fuller River of the West vol. II the Oregon Years
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