The Story of Cascadia's "Really Big One" Has a Lot to Do with Colonial Hubris


You've equated, and therefore confused, "indigenous" observation of phenomena with "colonial" scientific understanding.

If you're so hard pressed to find offense in everything you'll find life to be pretty miserable.

This doesn't even make any sense. Because colonial explorers were a-holes to native americans, that some how relates to earthquakes?? What are talking about?
This is about the scientific process of investigation not following valid leads to catalog phenomena. Thanks for pointing it out.
@1 thanks for posting; on stories about race, its always good to hear what racists think.
People heard about the Big One (more than 300 years ago) from the indigenous people, but no one could tell them a date (no calendars). They figured it out by asking the Japanese (who were hit with the Cascadia tsunami) and converted the date from their calendar.
This article is pure dipshit white guilt. Oh, giant surprise that we didn't necessarily place a huge amount of stock in a history handed down through oral tradition steeped in mythology and mysticism. We had, at our fingertips, a bunch of wise old black men–– uh, I mean wise old native americans, and we ignored them in favor of what we could actually observe! Fucking science!
They told us they had a great flood and put all the animals on the ark. If only we'd listened.....
When will scientists accept the simple truths about trickters raven spirits, or volcanoes blowing up because of anthropomorphic volcano love triangles?

It's pretty simple: just as Columbus (or pre-Columbian vikings - or heck the Chinese for that matter) didn't actually "discover" anything - the indigenous peoples already inhabiting the Americas certainly knew of its existence - conversely, post-Columbian colonialists tended to grossly disparage, de-value, and frankly underestimate native peoples' ability to rationally engage in what we would consider modern scientific pursuits.

They built great civilizations: Olmec, Zapotec, Mississipian, Anasazi, Toltec, Inca, Aztec & Mayan; engaged in extensive trade throughout the continents; created written languages, highly accurate calendars, and sophisticated mathematics giving them the ability to observe, but also to predict celestial phenomenon such as lunar and solar eclipses and the relative motions of planets for centuries into the future; developed sophisticated urban infrastructures that rivaled the largest cities of Europe (even Cortes, butcher that he was, remarked that Tenochtitlan, a thriving metropolis of some 100,000 inhabitants at the time, was "one of the most beautiful cities of the world", right before he murdered most of its population, destroyed their written histories and scientific literature, and ransacked every ounce of gold he and his troops could carry away). They achieved remarkable accomplishments in materials fabrication: weaving and looming, paper-making, and metallurgy. The Mayans actually discovered the process for "vulcanizing" rubber some 3,000 years before Charles Goodyear received his patent for a similar invention. They were adept horticulturalists, developing a wide variety of hybridized staple foods capable of feeding literally millions of people, and many of which we continue to make use of to this day: potatoes, corn, tomatoes, peppers, avocados, peanuts - just to name a few.

In short, while one could argue the pre-Columbian civilizations lagged behind the West by several centuries, particularly in purely technological terms, they were nevertheless in many respects on-par with, and in some instances (e.g. astronomy & engineering for example) far exceeded the accomplishments of their so-called "superior" Western European conquerors. It is only our Western hubris and "manifest destiny" prejudice held over from our colonialist past that prevents us from recognizing the remarkable accomplishments of these peoples.
@9, and then there's the racist stereotype of the "noble savage" somehow more in tune with nature than their European counterparts.

The mesoamerican and south american civilizations had fuck all to do with the Salish, and even though they had calendars and engineering and astronomy, no, it wasn't more advanced than Europe's.
Hold on, I think you are saying the Natives know a big one is coming, and the Colonists are too haughty to take heed of the signs.

But they you can ask, why are the all-knowing Natives hanging around?

If any Nisqually or Duwamish tribesman wants to sell me his land at a bargain price so he can hightail it out of Washington, I'm all ears!

@4 Resolving everything to "racism" is a contemporary (but no less temporary) social privilege of the weak-minded.

Because Darwinism.

The technology & global age doesn't give a shit about your provincial concerns and ancestral yesteryears.

Good to know that mysticism is a valid method of observation as long its derived from one those cool, exotic cultures and not those evil, ignorant Western ones.

Team Science everybody.
I wonder if disaster porn secretes endorphins.

Actually, evidence now strongly suggests there was a rather extensive and far-reaching trade network in existence on the continent, particularly along the West Coast, connecting Mesoamerica and northern tribes ranging from central Mexico to modern-day British Columbia. Archaeological findings have established one of the largest permanent trade centers was located at the present-day Dalles along the Columbia River, with a secondary center just west of Portland, among others. It's difficult to estimate population size, but the evidence strongly indicates that, at their height, these hubs supported several thousands, if not in fact tens of thousands of permanent and semi-permanent residents; hardly insignificant in terms of their impact on the surrounding populations. So, while the contact may have been sporadic, it was certainly far more extensive than most people realize.


Which was pretty much how things went in Europe until Galileo and a couple other heretics began the very slow, incremental process of knocking the underpinnings out from under the culturally dominant mysticism of the Catholic Church. Even Isaac Newton, whose name is synonymous with Enlightenment Age scientific inquiry, was an unabashed believer in good, old-fashioned medieval alchemy and mystic Kabbalism. But, hey, he was a white European, so clearly his indiscriminate mixing of science and religion was SO much superior to that of the Mayans or Incas, yes?
I think there is a little bit of disconnect here. To deride early (pre-20th century) colonials for not paying attention to local stories about earthquakes is a bit of a stretch. Colonials absolutely have plenty to answer for worldwide, but given that as late as the 1890s some scientists believed earthquakes were caused by underground explosions, what exactly should/could/would they do with that information. It's not like the NW was the only place in the world with earthquakes, an until the 1930s there wasn't any way to even begin to compare them.

The story is different beginning in the 80s when the debate over the possibility of a Cascadia megaquake really got going, and the tribes said yes, it did, here's our history. At that point there's no excuse for not taking that into account with the other evidence that was accruing.
God you people are concrete bricks. To assume that the sciences are simply value-free and without a point of view is pretty stupid. YOU ALL are the ones who assign "mysticism" to oral history by Native communities. Being impervious to the information about scientific subjects that have been passed on down in oral history is an opportunity lost. Get your white panties out of a fucking knot already.
This is the kind of thing I wish writers would talk to geologists and seismologists before penning an article. (Or at least be clear what the article main thrust is about because that lack of clarity and context may be why there is a disconnect #16 mentioned.) They will find scientists and historians have been collecting these observations for some time now. Writers and readers would also take note of how scientists have been able to match oral history of NA to the written Japanese accounts across the sea with regards to theses historic mega quakes and tsunamis. So you have both physical (sediments and tree rings, etc.) and historical corroboration instead of histrionic here
god damn, how many fucking ways are white men going to fucking murder us jesus god damn christ
And lets not forget the Mystical nature of the word Science, that some people, who like to prove anything to do with them being right, give the word when they say they believe in science, are a part of team science and don't happen to be scientists. It's like saying your team Catholcism. You don't have to know everything about it. You don't even have to be a scientist or a priest. But you he to feel smart and a part of all things accomplished. It also means you are complicit in the mistakes, or whatever is considered science at one time. The word Science is a vague and varied in meaning as the word Mysticism. So, saying you "believe" in one of those, based on whatever is deemed that, by people other than yourself doesn't seem based in an observationally acquired scientific finding.
Scientists could not have proven we were geologically unstable a hundred years ago, whether they took tribal stories of earthquakes seriously or not (and I don't know what evidence we have that they did not). That's not how science works. You could say the public at large should have paid more attention to historical accounts prior to science proving they were right - but hell, people don't pay attention now, decades after it was proven right.

Science cannot really value the kind of knowledge you are referencing, either among native or colonial populations - it's an observation, with no hypothesis or theoretical framework behind it. Scientists really didn't have the knowledge to study earthquakes at all until surprisingly recently. We didn't even really grasp plate tectonics until the 50's-60's. We knew there were earthquakes, and probably knew there had been earthquakes here, but we had no idea why or what it meant. Proving we are on a fault line had to wait.
Plate tectonics started off as an early 20th century theory and was poo-poo royally. It wasn't until 1960's that it finally was taken seriously as science and that took collected evidence. In context, this is still a rather young scientific area, ripe for research and more discovery, especially ways we can predict, prepare, and built infrastructure to withstand and survive these big ones. As I look at my wimpy preparedness kit, this is where we must have a lot of faith because I think we are not prepared locally.

If this helps, OSU researchers (Prof. Goldfinger's team) surmised there's a 40% chance a major earthquake, the equivalent of the 2011Tohoku quake which devastated Japan, will hit the Coos Bay, OR area in the next 50 years. This was a large comprehensive 13 year study and concluded the southern part of the fault is more vulnerable for such an earthquake than the northern part.…–-and-earthquake-risk-looms-larg

In other words, those "Indians" really knew their shit, and [white] people nowadays don' know jack. Yeah, man!
Has anyone asked why the indigenous Pacific Northwestern people would choose to stay in a region that they supposedly knew -- or understood/sensed/intuited -- was a catastrophe waiting to happen?

This article is idiotic.
Thank you, Sydney, for recently moving here and educating all of us on our indigenous cultures. What would we do without you? Forget to ask permission to kayak to shore?
@ 4 regard #1 and #2:

Ever notice how bigots in general (especially racist, more racists than anything else) NEED to shit on any representation or story of evidence of racism they come across. Its pathological for them. Its not even trolling. They KNOW being a racist is extra-normative. They KNOW they cant openly embrace their hate in public. And they KNOW, more than anything, they are wrong...and when you lay out historical, anecdotal, and academic evidence of why they are wrong they have no retort other than circumstantial evidence or 'hiding behind the bushes'.

Your typical bigot NEEDS to vent his hate. And they cant settle for venting to other bigots, because seeing how stupid their pals are reinforces how stupid they feel about themselves. Hence they find media and liberal outlets to troll. Like a street flasher, they need you to acknowledge their disturbed state. Its how they get off.

Take #1. Bet you every dollar in his bank account he wouldnt say that shit to an actual native american, let alone a group of them. Even (especially) in a public discourse setting. The same goes with most 'online aryan warriors'. Its not just cowardice, its self loathing. They find comfort in their own ignorance. They arent proselytizing it here, just waving it around like their little white dicks hoping to get any reaction from someone.

The psychology of a bigot....of a racist especially, is an amazing, yet sad thing to behold. They cannot reach intellectual enlightenment, because they hold on to ignorance they know is ignorant.
I'm pretty sure that no one in Seattle has ever considered that indigenous people lived here before us. Thank the Maker that Tim Keck and his Millennial Brigade are here to help us.
Yeah, I always hated it how my astronomy classes did not even mention the jaguars holding up the sky. Fucking racists.
@28 you sound just like my phrenologist

Team Science!
Sorry but this article is bs. Have you read full rip 9.0? The science behind understanding the regions earthquake zones is very new, as in 1980-2000 new. In the 1980s the nuclear companies where pushing the idea the WA had little dangers of earthquakes, and major scientists where with them. It took a few willing to challenge the norm and it took cold hard data to go up against these strong interest. In the 90s scientists reached out to the native community, but really until the 1980s the science just wasn't there.
@9 Thank you. European-Westerners, and particularly Americans, suffer from nearly terminal cultural myopia/chauvinism. We big-shot "modern" people are exactly the fuck the same in terms of absolute intellectual potential as our relatives who crossed the Bering Land Bridge several millennia ago. Aztecs, Incas and Mayans had thriving urbanized, communicating civilizations, and the infrastructure to support them, at a time when Europe was mired in the Dark Ages.

Yes, we brought other skills and technology to the ballgame when we showed up, but it's utter foolishness to discount what their own capabilities and accomplishments were.
Also it should be noted that the scientists who pushed against the idea of WA being earthquake safe did use japanese historical records, which had dates so the could be correlated to the data they found.
I'm not one to go easy on Colonialists, but the article seems a bit harsh. No one in the 19th century had a clue about seismology (this branch of geology didn't even get a foothold until the1970s), and probably none of them had experienced much in the way of earthquakes or tsunamis. Assuming the white settlers could understand what they were being told by natives about an event that happened 150 years prior to white settlement in the NW, how would they be able to differentiate between these tales about massive floods and the hundreds of other mythical creation stories, many of which include cataclysmic events? Such a story, being true, would nevertheless have been completely beyond the comprehension of these people. So I don't think hubris has anything to do with it. Does the author actually believe that 'if they had only paid attention' to these stories we'd all be the wiser about earthquakes and tsunamis?
Anecdotal evidence, even when it comes from European white men, is still just anecdotal evidence.
@33, @34, you're missing two important points from the "this is totally racist" crowd: #1, stories about otherwise undocumented cataclysmic events that have been passed down in an oral tradition through a dozen generations are never exaggerated and can be evaluated completely objectively, and #2, it is never a good idea to ignore the wisdom of a noble savage. If you disagree with this it is because, as @26 points out, u so racist.


So, you would agree then with the position that the mythology incorporated into, say, the Biblical stories of the flood, or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, burning bushes, the sun halting in the sky, etc., etc., might - just MIGHT - have been exaggerated, and therefore should be taken with a grain of salt (pun intended)? Good to know. We'll make sure to pass that along to all modern-day Westerners who SWEAR on a stack of actual Bibles, that it's all absolutely true and happened exactly the way it was described.
"Yup, big earthquakes here for sure-sies -- great grandpappy said so"

While this is anecdotal evidence of a sort, it's not the stock and trade of science, it has no predictive power, low reliability, can't be put to actual use for anything like design of structures, does nothing to explain the intricate mechanisms of regional seismicity, slip rate, or help with ground motion predictive modeling, etc. So Sydney's point is what -- this hearsay data is put on the shelf in favor actual rigorous data-collection, of developing predictive algorithms that are actually useful for - you know - designing buildings/bridges/dams, tsunami effects, slope stability, et cetera, and this is evidence of --- racism? Really? 'Cause it sounds like a big fuckin' stretch.
...and we've been aware of EQ's in the region for quite some time, from about 1700 onwards. Native and White man accounts of "yup, that sure seemed like a big one to me!" does little to predict where/what/how often, and how big an EQ the CSZ is capable of producing, or how to incorporate those facts into life-safety design issues -- we've really only begun to figure it out in the last 30 years, largely because of increased detection/exploration methods and the rapid gains in computing power. Sheesh. Sometimes it's just not about white men keeping everyone down - it just isn't.
I see the hubris is alive and well. Let us be clear: There is absolutely NO WAY paying attention to ancient oral traditions could save lives in modern times...…
Out of the Enlightenment’s certainties, new binaries were born: Europeans and their colonial offspring had art, science, and history, while the “natives,” whether in India, the Congo, or British Columbia, had corresponding (and, in the imperial mind, inferior) categories of craft, superstition, and myth.

That's really rich, coming from the arrogant folks who brought their own religious voodoo, Organized Superstitions, hatreds & fairy tales to the New World.
@39 Japan has some of the most high tech earthquake detection system in the world. They have been dealing with earthquakes for ages and have been recording records for ages as well, with dates and as much data's as they can. That's why the scientist who where trying to prove the CSZ reached out to them in the 80s.

Living with earthquakes is part of the culture in Japan:…

So yes they have a oral ancient story that helped saved lives, but they also have a culture of extreme awareness when it comes to earthquakes.

Seattle on the other hand did not have much experience with earthquakes, which is why there was such a big school of thought that earthquakes weren't an issue here.
@36 I apologize for not making my sarcasm more obvious.
Must Read ....
You would not take a chance with a cupcake, why would you with the future of your kids? Think of it as bubble wrap for the future of your children…
#safety #TheReallyBigOne #lifeshellproject
While I actually do get your point, I think it is fairly obvious that scientists would take word of mouth as a last resort. This seems to be an example of turning anything you can into a race issue for click bait, when you could have been a bit more honest with yourself and made a good point.

I'm not saying you are completely wrong here, but your presentation of the information absolutely is. Scientists rely on geology, not myth, and while I am a big fan of myth, I am not so naive I would think it could be other wise.