cultural myths and misery

Brent Ladd laddb at
Tue Dec 4 10:12:00 EST 2001

John Schinnerer wrote:

>  Who among us has ever had the actual life experiences of
> any of these peoples we make such sweeping assumptions about?

I have attempted this-- at least as close to a native lifestyle as I could attempt in
this modern world. I spent over three years living in the bush as a "wildman". I
experienced extremes in climate from 100 F down to -40F and six months of winter with
over 200 inches of snow, bears, otter, eagles, wolves, in hundreds of square miles of
National Forest. At one period I lived without any steel or modern implements at
all-only bone, stone, and wood. You can read an account of this ("Realities of Going
Primitive" ,written half-way through my journey) at

It was the most spiritually deep, expansive, and satisfying ways of living I have
experienced and at the same time the most grueling and physically demanding. I will
state here that I was at the pinnacle of health and vigor during this time (in my
previous life I was raised on a farm and was an athlete). Other than a bought of
"water sickness" after my second week in the bush, I was never ill. My diet consisted
of mainly meat from wild animals and berries and greens and mushrooms when I could
harvest them and combined with rice and beans-this combination is what I ate every
day. When I returned to modern life I became very ill and caught all the bugs for
nearly two years. On the other hand, my lungs are now compromised due to the amount of
exposure to smoke (I lived by the power of fire). Living primitive is just one of many
ways to live, it isn't the be-all end-all. I imagine that some native people from the
distant past lived long and happy lives, while others hada  short, brutal existence.
Maybe not so different from us today.

IMO there are a lot of myths perpetuated about indigenous lifeways. Often we get the
view of the conquerers, who usually saw native peoples when they were at their lowest
(on the run from the invaders, massacred, dying from biological warfare-don't forget
the smallpox on the blankets trick). For a more unbiased Anglo account of the Ojibway
(Norther Great Lakes people-the area I lived in) before Western expansion by whites, I
highly recommend  Kitchi-Gami : Life Among the Lake Superior Ojibway by Johann Georg
Kohl, Lascelles Wraxall (Translator) and Mishomish Book : The Voice of the Ojibway by
Edward Benton-Banai. The other perspectives on native lifeways from books I can
recommend (however, still accounts of a "life in great transition" period) include
Black Elk Speaks : Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux, Lame Deer
Seeker of Visions by John Lame Deer, Richard Erdoes, and Voices of the 1st Day :
Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime by Robert Lawlor.

I don't think there is a solution to this argument of "who has it better". Perhaps the
treasure that is found in this way of life, and explored in these books, is that it
lends a deeper understanding of the cycles of life and of Mother Earth than any other
way of life possibly could.
Brent Ladd
Water Quality Specialist, Agricultural & Biological Engineering
Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1146
Ph: 765-496-6331  Fax: 765-496-1356
Email: laddb at

Safe Water for the Future Web Site:

"If there is magic on this planet it is surely found in the spirit of water"-Loren

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