Our Mission is to promote cultural and environmental resilience through the education of earth-based arts, traditions, and technology.
Rewild Portland is a nonprofit organization based in Portland, Oregon. Our mission comes to life in the form of educational workshops, community-building events, art shows, and ecological restoration. Rewilding means “to return to a more wild or self-willed state.” This encompasses a large spectrum of nature connection, from learning about native plants to full-on living off grid in the style of earth-based hunter-gatherer-gardeners. 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 in a regenerative manner, not extracted and 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 hunter-gatherers and pastoralists, to more sedentary fishing and permaculture communities, to the revitalization of indigenous peoples and customs, our vision of the future looks as diverse as humanity’s “prehistoric” past.
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, donors, employees, and members 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 (but equally amazing) organizations out there.
We follow the nonprofit organizational model.
Our organization is structured like a nonprofit because we are a nonprofit. 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.
We live on Chinookan, Kalapuya, and Molalla land.
We recognize and acknowledge all that we have learned about this place through our Native allies and community members. Portland sits on top of land that belongs to the Chinook, Kalapuya, and Molalla Indians. These cultures have been here since time immemorial. They are now part of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
We take cultural appropriation seriously.
Cultural appropriation is a serious issue that we do not take lightly. Most of the skills we teach can be found around the world and bridge human cultures. We generally teach the archaeology and cultural aspects (if available) from ancient and modern cultures. If and when we teach a skill that originates from the Native people in this place, we have Native people teach it, or non-native people who have been given permission by Native elders who taught them. Lineage and cultural significance are important to us.
Social justice is essential to the rewilding movement.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are vitally important to our organization and to the rewilding movement as a whole. One of our main objectives as an organization is to actively work toward diversifying the movement, removing obstacles to rewilding, and finding ways for all people, especially those in underserved populations, to participate freely and comfortably in earth-based learning. This is an ongoing process that we are continually trying to improve.
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 and enslaved the majority of life on the planet. This artificial separation has wreaked havoc on the land, indigenous peoples, and the hearts and psyches of those humans living within this culture. The knowledge and skills that we teach at Rewild Portland keep us connected to nature and historic human cultures.
Environmental or “nature” education is foundational to human existence.
Humans are an integral—not separate—part of nature. 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 privilege. 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 are a form of therapy and lead 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 with the natural world, and most importantly, listen to the natural world.
Unstructured time, or “free play,” in nature is an essential element of environmental education.
Children and adults alike learn through play. If learning didn’t feel good, we wouldn’t do it. Real learning is fun and playful, though it can also be uncomfortable and challenging. In order to encourage interactive play, we provide our students with unstructured time in nature to explore and have their own 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 hike. 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 and social cooperation, and opportunities 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 to 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 teaches many children that knowledge 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.
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 and 8 Shields.
We believe that culture is the best teacher. Hunter-gatherers are able to teach their children many things about the natural world, so much so that by the age of nine, most children in these cultures would be able to survive on their own if they had to. This means they can procure shelter, water, food, and fire. They know how to avoid predators and how to attract prey. All of this by the age of nine, without schools or educational institutions of any kind. In these cultures an “invisible” educational model is at work, with various cultural elements engaging the children in intense educational experiences. Our organization works with this model as well. We infuse our students’ free play with traditional cultural elements to set certain parameters and guide their play towards intended lessons.
Our programs strive towards authenticity.
This means we shy away from industrial products like plastics, and gimmicky marketing related to the latest pop cultural motif, 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 iPods at our camps because we are Luddites who hate technology (we’re not); we do this because we believe there is value in making our own music and 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 “most hardcore” school or summer camp 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 in 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 staff’s 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 everyone: the collective group of communities around each organization, including ours, make connections and build a broader community, while the individual organizations retain their unique personalities.
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 ancestral skills. We must see those skills come to life with stories and beauty. Those simple “tools” must become living, breathing artifacts of beauty, rich with meaning and heavy with significance. We don’t breathe life into the lifeless; we see and reveal the inherent life in what some deem inanimate. 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 the 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.
If you are excited about what we do, pleaseSupport Us!
Rewild Portland is a project of Mythmedia. Mythmedia is a nonprofit 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, initiated 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 Mythmedia.
Since 2009, we have run a free monthly skill-share (our Free Skills Series) focused on topics that fall into three overarching themes: Food (for example, acorn processing, ethical foraging practices, dandelion for food and medicine), Craft (archery, friction fire, shoemaking, etc.), and Culture (grief ritual, rites of passage, storytelling, etc.). We have gained a reputation around Portland for our innovative English ivy basketry classes. In 2013 we began restructuring our Board of Directors and continue to clarify our vision and 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 this beautiful, rich land.
We owe a great debt to the many teachers who have influenced our rewilding philosophy as well as the way we teach. We send our greatest thanks to Tom Brown Jr. and the Tracker School; Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael; Jon Young and Wilderness Awareness School; Martín Prechtel and Bolad’s Kitchen; Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass; 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
• The Disobedience of the Daughter of the Sun and other books by Martín Prechtel
• The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
• Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer • Limited Wants, Unlimited Means by John Gowdy
• Dirt by David R. Montgomery
• Keeping It Living by Douglas E. Deur and Nancy J. Turner
• Tending the Wild by M. Kat Anderson
• Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young, Evan McGown, and Ellen Haas
Rewild Portland does not and shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations. These activities include, but are not limited to, hiring and firing of staff, selection of volunteers and vendors, and provision of services. We are committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all members of our staff, clients, volunteers, subcontractors, vendors, and clients.
Rewild Portland is an equal opportunity employer. We will not discriminate and will take affirmative action measures to ensure against discrimination in employment, recruitment, advertisements for employment, compensation, termination, upgrading, promotions, and other conditions of employment against any employee or job applicant on the bases of race, color, gender, national origin, age, religion, creed, disability, veteran’s status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
Rewild Portland is a project of Mythmedia, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation.