I said earlier I had been thinking of a Ã¢â‚¬Å“modelÃ¢â‚¬Â for reviving hunter/gatherer culture. First I should explain what I mean by that. Modern rewilders seem to have come up with several methods for reaching the same goal, which is to revive hunter/gatherer culture. These methods, or ways, could also be called models. As I see it, there are just a few basic models in practice today:
This includes rendezvous, rewilding camps, knap ins, and the like. This model follows the basic pattern of a hobbyist convention. Gatherings typically occur at a park or group campground, although smaller gatherings may be held in private homes or in the backcountry. Gatherings present enormous logistical challenges. There are usually admission fees, lunch lines, and port-a-potties involved. The activities are usually carefully scheduled, and lead by an organizer. Gatherings can be organized without fees, in which case donations and/or dedicated volunteers are necessary. Such gatherings can to be a great way to build a sense of community and exchange knowledge. But are gatherings leading us to our desired lifestyle?
The gathering model has obvious drawbacks. Since gatherings remove their participants from the systems that support them, the organizers become responsible for the health and safety of the participants. Organizers are thus forced to use conventional methods to feed everyone, deal with their waste, ext. In doing so, gatherings perpetuate contemporary social and environmental problems.
This includes classes and workshops, and other institutions where learning and teaching are the primary goals. Such schools follow the basic pattern of the schools that we all went to as kids. There is a clear student/teacher relationship, a curriculum, a graduation, and ext. The school model is often integrated with the gathering model. Some dedicated teachers find ways to operate without fees, but most need income to sustain their teaching careers. Classes and schools are a decent way to keep valuable skills and knowledge alive. However, there are criticisms of this model, many of which carry over from the criticisms of conventional schooling.
Schools tend to divorce skills of their intrinsic value, and isolate them from their context. A career teacher must have many students to support them, and such a teacher must spend more time teaching a skill than actually practicing it. Skills become commodities, and learners come to believe that tuition and grades, rather than personal drive, pave the path to success. Teachers are forced to curb their own enthusiasm for their subject in order to cater to their many students. And so schools breed laziness and disinterest. Large schools face even greater logistical challenges, and perpetuate the same social and environmental problems that gatherings do.
This leads one to wonder if the only sustainable model for student/teacher relationships is the natural relationship of a youth with an elder. In a community, an elder can guide a youth within the context of the system that supports them both. Such an elder is motivated to teach from paternal or maternal instinct only. The youth in this case is motivated only by their natural inclinations to observe, mimic, and experiment.
The Survival Trek:
This model is far less formal, and perhaps more genuine than the above models. This is Ã¢â‚¬Å“dirt timeÃ¢â‚¬Â, generally what teachers would rather be doing. A survival trek happens when one person, or a group of friends, get some time off and flee into the woods for a weekend or even a whole summer. A trekker, often integrating modern gear with Stone Age gear, attempts to recreate a primitive lifestyle to some degree. This is probably the best way to learn survival skills and push them to the next level. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also a great way to ground oneself and connect with nature. But how close does this actually get us to our goal of reviving hunter/gatherer culture?
For a number of reasons, it seems unlikely that survival treks will morph into sustained primitive communities. Treks are usually made on remote and rugged public lands, which are regulated to facilitate temporary hunting, fishing, and camping trips. Even though a trek may run for a very long time, trekkers seldom become established enough in the environment to support a community. Treks are generally too rigorous for children and the elderly. These age groups are less concerned with testing themselves and more concerned with living comfortably. The young adults that conduct survival treks typically create models of primitive living that appeal primarily to their own age group. Treks are temporary because they are difficult and difficult because they are temporary. If itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s community weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re after, we need something a little more accessible, yet long term.
The Intentional Community:
Idealists, perhaps disillusioned with other models, often resort to this one. It is the most extreme model. Communes and compounds are examples of intentional communities. Intentional communities are high commitment; most assume a set of common ideals, and a permanent lifestyle change. This the first reason most of us will never join one. There are shining examples of successful intentional communities, but we know that most of them fail. Because only a small number of people ever join a particular intentional community, some of whom are crazy, the members eventually get sick of each other and abandon ship. If people donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t like each other, no amount of shared belief will keep them together.
It turns out that most successful communities are unintentional. A set of common beliefs may bring people to a church, but it is the circles of friends within a church that make it a community. It seems very odd that we would use the intentional community model to revive primitive culture, considering how primitive cultures epitomized fluid membership and nomadism.
My criticism of the above models, and my study of the indigenous people of my area, the Columbia Plateau, inspired me to develop a more appropriate model.
Because of their unique sustenance strategy, anthropologists have called the indigenous people of the Columbia Plateau Ã¢â‚¬Å“semi-sedentary hunter/gatherersÃ¢â‚¬Â. In the winter, people occupied large villages on the river. In the summer, people dispersed to seasonal camps, which were located where wild foods were abundant. Membership of both the winter villages and seasonal camps was fluid. Families pitched their lodges wherever they pleased. They might choose to change villages every year, or stay in the same village for their entire lives. A family or group of families might even decide to pitch their lodges away from the main villages.
Prominent people in the village led the seasonal hunting and gathering excursions that provisioned families with their winter food store. Participation in these excursions was also fluid. While most of the village harvested roots from one patch, a smaller group might decide to harvest at a smaller patch, or harvest some other kind of food, somewhere else. Adventurous people might even decide to travel to the territory of a people who spoke a different language, to net salmon, hunt bison, or dig camas. Places of abundant wild food, like the Kettle Falls fishery, or the Kittitas root ground, often served as cross-cultural gathering places, attracting hundreds or even thousands of people. And so families and individuals made their living, by traveling from one gathering to the next, at their whim. With harvesting going on all over the region, people stayed only where the best food and company were to be found.
This, I think, is the model we need to emulate. Of course, it needs some tweaking for the modern scenario. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve done lot thinking about it, and I think IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve worked out most of the bugs.
Want to revive hunter/gatherer culture in your region? Here is what you do:
1. Locate a source of abundant wild food. Preferably this food is high in calories, a staple. It can be a traditional wild food like camas, but it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to be. It could be something like a grove of wild apple trees, or a canal where carp spawn. There could be multiple food sources. Be creative. There should also be good places to camp nearby, a water source, and a place to dig a latrine. This could be on public or private land. Ideally, it is a place that people have to ditch their cars to get into. Even if that means parking a short distance away, you want the campers to arrive creatively- on foot, paddling, biking, on horseback, whatever.
Research your resource. You will be responsible for developing sustainable harvesting methods and teaching them to others. What time of year is the food harvested? What tools will you need? How will you process the food? Can people sustain themselves entirely on the site, or will they need supplementary provisions? What are the conditions like? What should participants bring with them? What activities and technologies are inappropriate for the site? If your food source in on public land, what are the legal issues that apply? Should harvest limits be set? How will the impact of your activities be mitigated? How many participants is too many? How will you interact with the public? There are many questions to answer, many of which will be unique to the resource and the site.
You are a now a chief. Like the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Salmon ChiefsÃ¢â‚¬Â of old, you are now a Ã¢â‚¬Å“Carp ChiefÃ¢â‚¬Â or an Ã¢â‚¬Å“Apple ChiefÃ¢â‚¬Â according to the resource you steward. Having done all the research, you now invite people to your camp, and inform them of what to expect and what to bring. If nobody likes you, nobody will come. If all goes well, some of your friends and a few strangers show up.
Now you are a real hunter/gatherer. Some of your guests wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know what the heck theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re doing, so youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll have to teach them. You all plan camp there for a matter of days or weeks, but people can come and go as they wish. Shelters may get closer together or further away. The idea is to subsist primarily on of the food you are harvesting, or on supplies of wild food harvested beforehand, or food from home gardens. But there is no reason to be puritanical about this. People will have their candy bars and such. The profound differences between good food and bad food make themselves apparent enough (What on earth does one do with a plastic wrapper where there is no garbage can? Why did I ever pay good money for a salad? How many animals die to feed me?). Some campers may wish to preserve a portion of their harvest and take it with them. But remember, as a hunter/gatherer, you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be expected to work for more than three or four hours a day. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll want to fill the greater part of the day with pre-television amusements like games, crafting, napping, romancing, and storytelling. Camp life should be a vacation from the civilized world. If itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not ten times more pleasurable than the nine-to-five lifestyle, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re doing it wrong.
ItsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ contagious. If people enjoyed your camp, they will come back next year. They may decide to start their own. You and your friends might even create a series of camps, harvesting different foods throughout the year, so that you can bounce from camp to camp all summer long. Hard core primitivists would no longer have to live in isolated intentional communities- they could travel the camp circuit year-around. Whole families could work conventional jobs in the winter, and spend their summers foraging. Or maybe some people attend just one camp a year. If you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t like the people at one camp, you can start your own or attend another. We could start camps all over the country and throughout the world.
Using natural resources will teach society to take better care of them. If somebody is using a camas meadow, it is less likely that a K-mart will get built there. People who subsist on wild foods will find ways, not just to protect them as they exist, but to restore them to their former glory, even expand their range. If enough people were foraging on public lands, land management agencies would be forced to alter their management practices to accommodate foragers. Awareness of wild foods would spread. Wild foods would become carefully mapped and protected. Widespread foraging could put destructive industries, like the salad and berry growing industries, out of business.
This model is flexible. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s accessible. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s low commitment. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s replicable. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s realistic. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in context. And itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fun. I think the old hunter/gatherers would approve.
Of course, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m very interested in your feedback and criticism. Are any of the six steps incomplete? Should there be another step? Are there intrinsic flaws? Is this model not accessible to someone like you?