Hello all, I am posting a response I made to Peter’s original post here. It is my hope that we can use this discussion to generate something collaboration, rather than more divison.
It was good to see you at Rabbitstick this week, I am glad we made the connection. I have been tossing and turning for the last day or so after reading this post, though, and thought perhaps I had better respond for my own sake.
The community at Rabbitstick is my family more than any others have been in my life. It hurts me to hear them misunderstood, especially the folks at Rabbitstick that I consider my elders. I am a person who does not enjoy controversy and conflict very much, so it is difficult for me to write here. Maybe this can begin a conversation that we can have in person.
I’ve been going to Rabbitstick and Wintercount for nearly seven years now, and though it’s not been all that long, it has been long enough for me to see how Rabbitstick has evolved over time and how conflict has been resolved and community maintained.
I would like to respectfully address some of your comments, pardon my lack of eloquence.
- “…Exemplifies how un-indigenous Rabbitstick feels”.
The structure and environment feels very much like a native community to me, in the experiences that I have had at Celilo Village, Old Masset Haida community, and a few others. The elders make decisions invisibly, things are done slowly and methodically, and there is an evolution to the way Rabbitstick is run. Rabbitstick is very decentralized, with no charismatic leaders, many cultural rules that remain unwritten. Respect is earned by a person’s actions, value to the community, and dedication to the community. Most of the elders have spent a significant portion of their lives both living in one single place as a primitivist and living under the wing of native elders in their own communities. It is true that Rabbitstick’s origins are from anthropologists and has been academic. However, the academics at Rabbitstick are another breed and anthropologists today are very different than they once were.
Elder Margaret Matthewson apprenticed with Pomo weaver Mabel McKay. David Wescott lived in the Arctic in several Inuit and Y’upik villages. David Holladay is a highly respected part of the Tar’hu’mara community in Copper Canyon Mexico. Robin Blankenship regularly visits native communities all over Central/South America, and even old Eastern European communities. Lynx Vilden has lived with the Sami of northern Europe. Sunny Baba lived during walkabout with an aboriginal band in Western Australia for six months. The list goes on and on. These are my elders, and I have nothing but great respect for their collective experiences and understandings of remaining aboriginal cultures.
In addition, many of the younger people at Rabbitstick have traveled extensively and lived with native peoples in their own functioning communities. Tycho Holcombe and Miguel Arrevalo have lived with the Warani hunter-gatherers of Ecuador for fifteen months now, and Miguel lives there currently. Jose Amoedo lives right on the border of an Athabascan village in Yukon and fishes salmon with them. Patrick Farneman is a counselor for the Spokane tribe.
Before I get carried away here, I just wanted to demonstrate that the core group at Rabbitstick are people who are very dedicated to learning about and understanding native and aboriginal cultures wherever they are, and many have spent the majority of their lives putting the lessons they have learned from those communities into practice in their own communities. Indeed, folks from Rabbitstick are some of the only people I have know that have gone out of their ways to get to know the existing native people and communities in their own hometowns.
In addition, I have seen David Holladay give a Tarahumara man the literal shirt off his back. David Wescott has participated extensively in creating programs to help Alaskan Native youth continue to learn their traditional ways. Patrick has literally saved the lives of a few Spokane youth from suicide. When I walk into the home of Hawk Hurst, I see many gifts given to him by tribal elders for the help he has given over the years.
Rabbitstick on the surface does not look like a native village. There are RVs parked next to teepees, and tarps flying in the wind. Even so, it is my village. I live by its rules, and its culture. I trust and respect the elders, who make decisions so carefully and wisely that the way the community functions is invisible. That did not happen overnight, it happened over twenty years with an immense amount of effort on many peoples’ parts. If there is a community anywhere that actually functions in a way feels like an indigenous community, I would call it the Rabbitstick Rendezvous.
- “Primitive skills, as defined as replicating physical artifacts, does not push any real civilized buttons or encourage any kind of social change.”
Within your definition, I would agree. Many at Rabbitstick would say that they use the term primitive skills only because there is not a better phrase to encompass the range that is present at Rabbitstick. For me, primitive skills encompasses the entire range of tools and techniques that humans utilized prior to bronze. This includes such things as language, community-building, trade, resource harvesting, getting along with your neighbors, foraging, herbal medicine, diet, spirituality. Each one of these things was addressed at Rabbitstick directly through a workshop or discussion, except for language, which has not had a workshop for two or three years (and is a gap I would like to fill myself next year).
Lynx Vilden and her students talked about community building a great deal when talking about her primitive living projects this year. The Rabbitstick trade blanket deals with trade, as well as direct trading of hand-harvested materials all week long. Willows, cattails and tules were collected all week from the Rabbitstick site, with Kyle speaking extensively about how to harvest tules without damaging the area. Patrick spoke about connecting with native neighbors this year, and about some of the insights that native people have given him over the years. I taught a small game hunting and coastal foraging class. Cat Farneman taught medicinal harvesting, tincture making all week long. Steve Watts came and had a long discussion about his exceptional experiences with a paleolithic diet during Lynx’s presentation. Star addressed cosmology and spirituality of several Central American groups, I had an unofficial group discussion about animism all week long.
Social Change: Sunny Baba spent an entire day dedicated to working with people individually to help them learn how to overcome their own personal challenges to live their lives more locally and sustainably. You yourself, Peter, had an excellent discussion about social change in an urban environment. Woniya and Patrick hosted a Social Change and Primitive Skills Forum, and ironed out many details about specific actions taken on both personal levels and in a larger Pacific Northwest context.
I would say that Rabbitstick lends itself to opportunities and acts a catalyst for direct personal and community social change on an action (rather than talk) level than any other single gathering in the United States.
- “You made a bow and some arrows? Cool. But do you know which deer to kill to strengthen the ecosystem? You canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t separate ecology from hand-made tools.”
In the world we live in today, most nearly everyone has not grown up in a native cultural context with the old wisdom. We are forced to relearn and reinvent our relationship to the land, and a new land at that, and the people at Rabbitstick are people that are actually pursuing that relationship directly.
I would have to say that knowing which deer to take requires actually spending time watching deer through the seasons on one’s stomach and in the trees. The only people I know that actually are out there and are close enough to watch the deer and their patterns are actually hunters. Most nearly every successful bowhunter I have ever met actually knows their quarry well. They know where the deer go, where the weak ones are, which ones the wolves will take away. That kind of understanding in my experience has only come from the passion of hunting, and particularly from bowhunting with primitive weapons.
The only people i have ever met that have been successful primitive hunters have been at Rabbitstick. Even at Rabbitstick, there are not enough with a lot of experience. When I teach Small Game Hunting at Rabbitstick, I encourage people to do everything they can to actually get out there and hunt. I encourage them to learn how to cook game well, how to marinate their meat. Those are the things that make them get out there. I encourage them to work hard on their bows and make them fast, because their pride in their weapons gets them out there.
Any of the things I have learned about harvesting animals in my years that have not come from directly watching deer themselves, has come from other people at Rabbitstick. I have learned that there are many places in the continental U.S. where as much as a third of the deer don’t make it through the winter, dying from starvation.
I been learning how to harvest cattails by harvesting extensively from several areas and watching the effects. Sometimes I make mistakes, and overharvest. Even so, it directly affects my life, and so I pay attention to my actions. I then carry that information with me and pass it down wherever it is appropriate, sharing and learning from other primitive skills practitioners for whom cattail harvesting is not about theory, but about a way of life.
Indeed, there are article in the Society of Primitive Technologies Bulletin about proper harvesting techniques, both as observed in the past and through direct experience today. We have so much to learn, which we will never master in our lifetimes, but I watch the young ones that have grown up in the Rabbitstick family and know that they will be standing on our shoulders when their own families are living close to their land.
- “For those who dream of a culture of rewilding, Rabbitstick does not look like the place.”
This may well be true depending on what is meant by rewilding, of course. I do know that the only rewilders I have met that have actually had experience rewilding and living close to the land have all come through Rabbitstick, learned as much as they could, and come back and shared their experiences. Lynx’s program brings many of the dedicated, as does Wildroots in North Carolina, both associated with Rabbitstick and Wintercount.
Rabbitstick is one of the only primitive skills gatherings that is less bioregional specific. This is mostly due to history-- Rabbitstick began the primitive skills movement more than twenty years ago, and without it, none of the other bio-region specific gathering would exist. Here are some bioregional specific gatherings, all founded and maintained by either long time Rabbitstick or Rivercane (East Coast Rabbitstick equivalent) core members: Echoes in Time, in Oregon, NativeWays in Minnesota, Falling Leaves in Georgia, Northern Lights in B.C., Rain’s End in Oregon, Rattlesnake Rendezvous in California, WinterCount in Arizona.
I think that one of the major differences between the rewilding movement and the primitive skills movement might be that rewilding is a culture based on ideology, and primitive skills is a culture based on ancient ways of life.
There is less philosophical discussion in primitive skills circle precisely because primitive skills exists as different things to different people-- it is a way to learn the tools and techniques of living in close relationship to the land. Most folks involved in primitive skills are less inclined to speak about a philosophy of living close to the land, because they have already made their decision. They are looking for the how, and sharing their experiences.
I would have to agree with you Peter, in that the way the primitive skills movement is today, there is a need for more emphasis on the invisible skills of cultural change, especially in terms of language, storytelling, social structure. It is my hope that rather than looking at the Rabbitstick Rendezvous as a place where gaps in a larger context are lacking, you see an opportunity to bring your own expertise into a rapidly growing culture and that together we might make something our children can grow into with pride.