Rewild Portland is a non-profit organization based in Portland, Oregon. Our purpose is to promote cultural and environmental resilience through the education of earth-based arts, culture and story. This mission comes to life in the form of educational workshops, community-building events, art shows and ecological restoration. Rewilding means returning to a more wild or natural state. This is a large spectrum of nature connection; from learning about native plants to full-on living off grid in the style of our nature-based ancestors. Resilience is a culture’s ability to withstand or bounce back from large scale environmental and social changes. Rewilding creates resilience because it is about getting the things you need to live from the land you live on, not shipped from thousands of miles away. Our goal as an organization is to provide a full-spectrum model of education and implementation; from students who come to a single introductory course, to partners of a collective using regenerative design land management principles to live off the land together.
As we adapt to the needs of the future, from the energy power-down, environmental devastation, population growth problems, economic shifts from global to local, we see grass-roots communities of rewilding forming all over the world to meet the needs of the environment and the people. From bands of nomadic neo-hunter-gatherers and pastoralists to more sedentary fishing and permaculture communities our vision of the future looks as diverse as our prehistoric past. Wandering Free Families!
Our Guiding Principles
There are many amazing and unique outdoor and environmental education organizations in Portland, Oregon, the United States, and around the world. We have outlined our education philosophy to allow potential students and families to understand our own unique approach and decide if we are the right match for you. This is the “fine print” so-to-speak that identifies our own organizational “personality” and shows how we differ from some of the other different but equally amazing organization out there.
We follow the non-profit organizational model.
Our organization is structured like a non-profit, because we are a non-profit. There is a board of directors who protect and drive the mission and who oversee the work of the executive director. The executive director oversees the day to day operations of the organization. The other staff are paid instructors and volunteers who are dedicated to rewilding and building the community of rewilding.
Environmental or “nature” education is foundational to human existence.
Humans are not a separate part of nature, but an integral part. In order to learn how to integrate our culture into the landscape in a way that is regenerative rather than extractive, we must learn the ways in which the natural world works to regenerate itself. We must follow the physical laws of nature. Our existence depends on how well we understand our place. Nature education teaches us to understand this.
Environmental education should be available to everyone.
We live in a system of disproportionate wealth and privileges. Many people live without the means to receive education about nature that can deepen their relationship with the land; many educational programs are too expensive, serve only particular ethnicities, or are too far from population centers. In order for humans to learn to live sustainably, we all need adequate access to affordable environmental education. One of our driving objectives as an organization is to make this possible.
Environmental education and immersion is a form of therapy and leads to well-being.
With all of our modern, technological distractions, we’ve traveled far from our evolutionary nature. Psychological stress associated with disconnection from nature and the therapeutic results of nature education have been well-researched and documented by many mainstream educators, particularly Richard Louv who coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder”. Environmental education is not just essential for human cultures to continue, it is essential for the individual human psyche.
Environmental education is more effective when it is interactive.
Learning through doing accesses the three learning styles: auditory, visual and kinesthetic. By fostering direct engagement with the environment we create authentic experiences that will have enduring effects at the individual and collective level. We don’t talk about the natural world, we go out and talk to the natural world.
Unstructured time, or “free play”, in nature is an essential element to environmental education.
Humans learn through play.If learning didn’t feel good, we wouldn’t do it. Real learning is fun and playful, but can still be uncomfortable and challenging. In order to encourage interactive play, we provide our students unstructured time in nature for them to explore and have their own exploratory experiences with nature.
It is impossible to set benchmarks on play.
Playing in the woods teaches immeasurable amounts of information. A person may learn spatial awareness and navigation through balancing on logs and hiking through rough terrain or during a moonlit night hikes. They may learn basic unconscious engineering techniques while building a “fort” made from sticks and leaves, or they may learn the physics of friction, tension and force while making a fire from natural materials. Interaction with nature in a group setting provides constant, spontaneous lessons in problem solving, social cooperation, and provides opportunites to demonstrate care for others and develop leadership skills.
Education should not be another disposable product.
The fallacy of setting benchmarks on nature play is that people expect to learn new things at every class, rather than build their fluency. This is unfortunate as it leads towards disposable programs–many students learn to identify a plant during a program, and move on to the next theme, thinking they will retain the knowledge they gained in one class. This is particularly true of children. We have heard dozens of students at programs say things like, “I already know this” but when we quiz them on the subject, they either get half the answers incorrect or can’t answer them at all. What they actually mean is “I already experienced this lesson”. They are conflating knowledge and fluency with experience. Modern education is teaching our children that knowledge and experience is consumable–something to hear and then forget but think you know it because you have heard it once or twice before.
We value fluency over consumable education.
Environmental education is spontaneous by nature.The same course, taught in different locations, with different participants, by different staff will yield different outcomes. However, repetition and application are important aspects of becoming fluent in a skill. We encourage students to take our classes multiple times in an effort to build proficiency. Camp used to just be that; camp. There were things like archery, knot-tying, swimming, cooking on coals.
We create meaning beyond our programs.
Our goal is to make an impact that will last beyond our programs. Fluency is a way of doing this, but in our shorter programs where the time requirement for becoming fluent may not be possible, we wish to create a deeply moving experience that will leave our students inspired to learn more and connect with the natural world on an even deeper level. The impact of environmental education is not just about the things you learn, but the experience, the feeling, of being connected to the land.
Our educational pedagogy is rooted in Jon Young’s “Art of Mentoring”.
We believe that culture is the best teacher. Hunter-gatherers were able to teach their children many things about the natural world, so much so that by the age of nine most children in traditional cultures could survive on their own if they had to. This means they could procure shelter, water, food, and fire. They knew how to avoid predators and how to attract prey. All of this at the age of nine. They did this without schools of any kind. They had an invisible system of education in which cultural elements wrapped the children in intense educational experiences. So, while we may call it “free” play, we can still set the parameters of the play and in doing so, guide students towards our intended lessons.
Our programs strive towards authenticity.
This means we shy away from industrial products like plastics. This means we shy away from gimmicky marketing relating to the latest Disney movie or technology. We avoid corporate logos and imagery. We want to wrap students in an authentic experience of nature and natural culture. We don’t forbid iPod’s at our camps because we are luddites who hate technology (we’re not), we do this because we believe there is a value in making our own music, telling our own stories, and these are the values we want to teach and promote.
There is no one right way.
We don’t claim to be the “best”, “coolest”, or “more hardcore” school out there. We do not believe this, because we do not believe we have the one right method. No one does. This applies not only to teaching methods, but also to teaching philosophies. We respect diversity and are proud of the various unique methods of teaching and programming that exist and teach nature education. It is through our unique qualities as organizations that we can reach more people who are attracted to the individual characteristics of the different organizations and schools in Portland and beyond.
This also applies to our staffs’ various methods of teaching, or their methods for creating the crafts that they fashion. Experiences lead to different opinions of “how to do something”. The old adage says, “Two of a kind will never agree”. We think that is great. One organization might fit the needs and personality of an individual much more than another organization. “Birds of a feather, flock together.” Diversity is key.
Fundamentalism is never fun.
The enemy of diversity is fundamentalism. All of our guiding principles are goals, not steadfast rules.
Collaboration trumps competitiveness
We often collaborate with other organizations. These joint projects succeed by combining philosophies, resources, and diverse orientations to topics of shared interest.. This benefits the collective group of communities around each organization by making connections and building a broader community while retaining our individual “personalities” as organizations.
Cultural education, not formal education
We do not merely teach people about the natural world; we teach people how to communicate and move through the natural world in life-giving ways. It is not enough to simply teach what people refer to as “primitive” skills. We must see those skills come to life with stories and beauty. Where simple “tools” become living, breathing artifacts of beauty, rich with meaning and heavy with spiritual significance. We don’t breath life into the lifeless; we see and reveal the inherent life in the things that others carelessly deem inanimate. Where they merely see objects, we see relatives: brother stone, sister cedar, uncle nettle, and cousin raccoon. We help people remember what it is to be a human, in a more-than-human world.
Regeneration is the key to resilience
To keep the world alive and thriving we must continuously regenerate our bodies, our culture and our land. We can’t endlessly extract resources without leading to a calamitous outcome. We give back through restoration of the land, understanding our place, and by navigating the terrain of grief and praise, sun and rain, vitality and poetry. By giving gifts of beauty to the forest, the water, the fire and the air.
All humans have ancestors that lived rooted to the earth.
For the majority of human history, we have lived intimately in nature-based cultures. It is only recently, within the last several thousand years that civilization has distinguished itself as separate from nature. This artificial separation has wreaked havoc on the land, indigenous peoples, and in the hearts and psyche of those humans living in this culture. The knowledge and skills that we teach here at Rewild Portland keep us connected to nature, and historic human cultures.
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Our Organization’s History
Rewild Portland is a project of Mythmedia. Mythmedia is a non-profit that was founded in January of 2002. For years our focus was solely on the production of video and film in the areas of environmental sustainability and grassroots storytelling. We operated the first and longest running open-mic style independent film screening in Portland. For five years, “Broadcast” connected storytellers once a month, on the full moon, to share their thoughts and visions on a big screen, in front of an interactive audience.
We also held a writing workshop for unschooled and homeless youth, writing workshops and lecture events with author Derrick Jensen, hosted a yearly party called the Nuclear Winter Formal, ran apocalypse survival summer camp for adults, and produced a comedic short film titled, “The Adventures of Urban Scout.” In 2009, after taking a break for a couple of years we re-emerged in 2009 to create Rewild Portland, the environmental education arm of Myth Media.
Since 2009 we have run a monthly skill-share focused on various topics involved in rewilding; archery, flint-knapping, permaculture, friction-fire, cordage, basketry, animal processing, and much more. We have gained a reputation around Portland for our innovative English Ivy basketry classes. In the beginning of 2013 we began a re-structuring of the Board of Directors and have been in the process of clarifying our vision and our values. We are happy to be expanding our programs to meet the needs of Portlanders and all those who inhabit the surrounding rural and wild areas of our beautiful and rich land.
We owe a great debt to many teachers who have influenced our rewilding philosophy as well as the way we teach. We would like to send our greatest thanks to Tom Brown Jr. and the Tracker School, Daniel Quinn author of Ishmael, Jon Young and Wilderness Awareness School, Derrick Jensen author of Endgame, Martin Prechtel and Bolad’s Kitchen, Joseph Campbell author of the Power of Myth, Nancy Turner author of the Earth’s Blanket, M. Kat Anderson author of Tending the Wild, Michael Green creator of The Afterculture, and Jason Godesky creator of Anthropik and the Fifth World.
• Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
• Books by Martin Prechtel
• The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
• Limited Wants, Unlimited Means by John Gowdy
• Dirt: the erosions of civilization
• Keeping it Living by Nancy Turner
• Tending the Wild by M. Kat Anderson
• Coyote’s Guide to Connecting Children and Nature
Rewild Portland is a project of Myth Media a 501(c)(3) Not-for-profit corporation.