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Singing to the Plants has a new website!
Please head on over to the new website to read all about my new book, Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon. Read a free excerpt!
If you want to jump right to the blog, just direct your browser here. The entire blog has been ported over to the new site, including all the more recent comments.
Please let me know how you like the new website, and, as always, feel free to leave lots of comments on the blog posts.
PERMALINK to: The Website Has Moved
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We live in a culture that is hierarchical — that is, in which people have power over other people. We accept this as being normal and natural, as if there were no other way to live. We create spaces — classrooms, offices, courtrooms — that express this hierarchy architecturally. But there are consequences to this way of living that are worth examining.
Hierarchy is essentially unstable. In our culture, people with power over other people seek to maintain this power primarily by using punishment and the threat of punishment. This punishment can take many forms — as many forms as there are ways people can harm other people. We assert and maintain hierarchical relations by public shaming, verbal abuse, physical injury, intimidation, reduction in status, and denying basic social goods, such as education, employment, the right to vote, and liberty. We swim in a punitive ocean without even realizing it is there. We do not realize the extent to which we think in terms of punishment in our workplaces, our schools, our justice system, and our relationships with our children. We think that punishing people is normal.
In addition, power relationships are constantly being negotiated. We think that negotiation is a fair way to decide issues of power. That means that we view relationships with other people in transactional terms. When people are in apparent conflict with each other, we expect them to handle it transactionally — to negotiate, bargain, compromise. This is reflected in one of the key strategies of our criminal justice system — the plea bargain. We are constantly seeking to craft outcomes rather than deepen relationships.
Then we wonder why these fixes are so temporary. We see our solutions discarded, our carefully negotiated agreements abandoned in cycles of violence. We try to force people to behave, and then we are bewildered when they do not. The result is a culture in which people are oppressed by the power that others have over them — a culture in which we all oppress each other, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
The punitive foundations of our culture, like most cultural foundations, are expressed in myth. In our case, the foundation myth is what theologian Walter Wink has called the myth of redemptive violence — believing that a harm can be made right by humiliating or physically harming the offender, that violence is a necessary and appropriate response, even that such violence is healing for the victim. It is normative in our society to seek vengeance for a harm done to us. Anyone brought up in our culture has seen thousands of hours of movies and television in which the schoolyard bully is finally beaten and humiliated by his victim, or the ruthless outlaw is shot dead by the gentle sheriff. The schoolyard victim and gentle sheriff are empowered and healed by this response, and often given a sexual reward for their violence. We are all constantly tempted to reenact this mythology.
When a harm has been done in a punitive culture such as ours, founded on the myth of redemptive violence, there are, I think, four consequences.
First, it is completely rational for the person who has done the harm to try to evade responsibility for it — to lie, hide, deny, and blame others. What is the point of being accountable, if all that you get for it is punishment? What is the point of accepting responsibility for a harm you have done, if your own needs — to apologize, to make things right, to repair broken relationships — are not going to be met?
Second, a punitive system focuses on the past at the expense of the future. A punitive system is obsessed with the fact component of stories — who did what to whom in what sequence — because it is looking to single out the blameworthy participant for punishment. This means that a punitive system ignores the other components in the stories of the participants — how they feel, what they need. The system thus leaves all the participant with their stories untold, and their primary, most basic need — the need to be heard — unfulfilled. Moreover, the emphasis on punishment for the acts of the past means that the system largely ignores how to go forward into the future, how to make things right, and how to repair and restore broken bonds of trust in the community.
Third, a punitive system imposes a kind of Manichaeism — a belief that the world consists of two powers, good and evil, light and dark, easily distinguished, in constant battle. This Manichaean mythology pervades our criminal justice system and most of our thinking. We worry about the facts because we believe the facts will show us how to apportion blame. When people are in conflict, we attempt to punctuate their ongoing relationship, and thus determine who is the one to be punished.We feel compelled to distinguish bad guys from good guys, because only in this way can we make sure that bad guys get what they deserve. And, if we fail at punctuating the interaction, we often throw up our hands and punish both.
Fourth, our culture views punishment in transactional terms. The very terms we use — giving people what they deserve — embodies a transactional view. Being punished for having harmed someone is very much like a business transaction. The punishment is frequently negotiated. For example, punishment may be lessened in exchange for an admission or an apology — often a meaningless apology, with no intent to repair the harm or make things right. The transactional nature of punishment is also captured in the saying, Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Think about the converse: If you can do the time, then hell, you might as well do the crime.
This means that the decision to harm another person is reduced to a calculus that does not involve the other person at all — only the harmer and the justice system. This means, too, that someone who has harmed another person is not put face-to-face with the harm that has been done — the physical injury, the fear, the loss of safety, the inconvenience suffered by the person harmed. The harmer does not have to deal with the person harmed at all. The harmer is involved only in negotiating with the justice system for the best possible deal.
This is our current culture of punitive justice. But there is an alternative — a culture of sacred justice, which focuses on repair, restoration, and healing. We will discuss this in Part 2.
PERMALINK to: Sacred Justice, Part 1
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Someone carelessly tossed a machete in the bottom of the boat, your barefoot friend stepped on it, and now he has a laceration that is bleeding all over the place. Do not panic. Here are the steps to take.
Step 1. Protect yourself. The first step in wound care is to protect yourself from blood-borne pathogens, including HIV and Hepatitis B.
Wash your hands before and after any wound contact, either with soap and water or — even better — an alcohol gel, such as those made by Purell or Lysol.
Carry some exam gloves in your medical kit, and put them on for any anticipated contact with nonintact skin, blood, body fluids, mucous membranes, or contaminated items. Wash your hands immediately after you remove the gloves.
Protect your own mucous membranes — eyes, nose, and mouth — from blood splash. Tie a bandana around your face, and put on your glasses.
Step 2. Stop the bleeding. The second step in wound care is to stop further blood loss. Apart from an obstructed airway, nothing else matters until the flow of blood is stopped.
Do not use a tourniquet. Tourniquets kill limbs. There may be occasions when a tourniquet is necessary, such as massive shrapnel wounds, but using a tourniquet is a deliberate decision to sacrifice a limb in order to save a life.
Step 3. Clean the wound. The third step in wound care — especially in the jungle — is to make sure the wound is as clean as you can possibly make it.
Clean the skin around the wound with soap and water or a topical antiseptic such as povidone iodine. Scrub gently with a sterile gauze pad. The idea is to remove any dirt that might seed the wound with bacteria. Avoid getting soap or antiseptic in the wound itself. Scrub in a spiral pattern away from the wound rather than toward it.
Allow the wound to open naturally. If necessary, spread the wound edges apart using a pair of sterile forceps.
If the wound has become infected, pus has probably collected in pockets, so gently probe the deeper parts of the wound with a sterile instrument to make sure that all such pockets are drained.
Irrigate the wound copiously with a high-pressure stream of purified water to remove clotted blood, pus, debris, and other contaminants. Use an irrigation syringe and splash shield; in an emergency, you can use any sort of clean plastic bag with a pinhole punched in it, or melt a pinhole in the top of a standard water bottle, but protect yourself from blood splash.
Always follow any debridement with additional high-pressure irrigation. The wound should be clean and pink.
A dressing is any material applied to a wound to control bleeding and prevent contamination; a bandage is any material used to hold a dressing in place. Think about dressings and bandages in layers. Immediately next to the skin should be a nonadherent base — Telfa, Second Skin, Xeroform, a piece of sterile gauze impregnated with petroleum jelly — that will not stick to the wound. Above that should be a gauze sponge to absorb wound discharge. Those two layers should be held in place by bandaging material that either sticks to itself or is attached to the skin with adhesive tape.
Dressings and bandages are often sold as a combined adhesive wound covering. A simple Band-Aid is a good example — neat, versatile, and sterile.
A goal of the dressing is to keep the wound moist and create an environment that encourages healing. Current nonadherent dressing materials — including sterile gauze impregnated with petroleum jelly — are designed to provide such an environment. You can also apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment, which helps keep the wound moist, and may — or may not — provide some additional protection from infection. Bear in mind that no amount of antibiotic ointment can compensate for inadequate wound cleaning.
Antibiotic ointments designed for wound care usually combine antibiotics effective against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. The antibiotic bacitracin targets gram-positive bacteria; neomycin and polymyxin target gram-negative bacteria. Triple antibiotic ointments — brand names include Neosporin and Mycitracin — contain all three. However, some people have allergic skin reactions to neomycin, so some antibiotic ointments, such as Polysporin, contain just bacitracin and polymyxin, which provide the same coverage. Some antibiotic ointments add the topical analgesic pramocaine. Check the ingredients before you buy.
Movement may cause bleeding to recur, so severely injured limbs should be immobilized before evacuation. Elevation of an infected wound can reduce swelling and pain.
Step 5. Watch the wound. The fifth step in wound care is to change the dressing periodically and examine the wound carefully.
Be alert for signs of infection.
Infected wounds should be drained and washed, as described above, two or three times a day.
Infected wounds benefit from warm compresses for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day. The warmth causes the blood vessels to dilate, increases blood flow to the area, helps the body fight the infection, and loosens clots, scabs, dried serum, and pus. For an injury to a finger or toe, it is possible to immerse the wound in warm, sterile water to which an antiseptic such as povidone iodine has been added. You can make a hot compress by bringing a piece of cloth to a boil in water to make it hot and sterile, then wringing it out, folding it, and placing it against the wound.
Step 6. Consider evacuation. Once you have done everything you can to clean and protect the wound, the sixth step in wound care is to consider whether the wound is beyond your skill and requires evacuation to definitive care. Seriously consider evacuation in cases of
Severe animal bites, especially from potentially rabid animals
Deep puncture wounds, dirty wounds with embedded foreign material, and wounds that contain crushed, shredded, or ragged tissue, where there is high risk of infection
Wounds involving joints, severed tendons, or fractures
Infected wounds that do not respond promptly to treatment
Severe blood loss
PERMALINK to: Jungle Survival Tips: Wounds
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In 1985, at Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo — at that time called San Juan Pueblo — in New Mexico, a young filmmaker named Kenny Ausubel watched a Native American farmer take some bright red corn seeds from a little clay pot that had been embedded in the mud wall of his adobe home. This was the sacred red corn of the Pueblo, which no one had grown in forty years. The old farmer planted the sacred seeds, renewing an ancient contract between the people and the earth. For Ausubel, the moment was revelatory.
The term bioneer is intended to indicate a biological pioneer — one who sees the solutions to contemporary global problems not in technology but in a biological model of interconnectedness, in what Ausubel calls true biotechnologies, based on biomimicry, natural design, and the restoration of natural capital.
Bioneers states several interconnecting goals for its annual conferences — to cultivate and disseminate environmental solutions to national and global audiences; to inspire and equip people toward effective action; to develop and spread model economic strategies for ecological agriculture, environmental restoration, and community self-reliance; to strengthen traditional, indigenous, and restorative farming practices; to revitalize our cultural and spiritual connection with the natural world.
And, in fact, the conference has over the years brought together a remarkable array of visionary activists, organizers, and speakers on such topics as restoration, ecology, bioremediation, alternative health, indigenous land practices, green medicine, natural capitalism, relation to place — and the role of sacred and psychoactive plants in world renewal.
The Bioneers propose that there is a profound intelligence in nature, and that, in our present moment of predicament and opportunity, we must learn and follow that intelligence. It is in this context that speakers at the Bioneers conferences have addressed the issue of sacred plants and fungi, and their role as guides both to the reality of the natural world and to the ways in which we can learn to live in harmony with it.
Fourteen of these presentations, taken from conferences held between 1990 and 2004, have been collected in the book Visionary Plant Consciousness: The Shamanic Teachings of the Plant World. In the book, twenty-three leading ethnobotanists, anthropologists, artists, and medical researchers — people such as Terence McKenna, Wade Davis, Alex Grey, Kat Harrison, Paul Stamets, and Luis Eduardo Luna — present their understandings of the nature of psychoactive plants and their significant connection to humans.
The Bioneers conference is traditionally held in San Rafael, California, in the Fall — the 2009 conference will run from October 16 to18 — and is also carried by satellite feed to other locations. Here is an example — environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist, and best-selling author Paul Hawken, introduced by Kenny Ausubel, addressing the final plenary session of the 2007 Bioneers conference:
PERMALINK to: Bioneers
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According to several recent news reports — here, here, here, and here — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently conducting a large-scale undercover investigation targeting people who are illegally buying, selling, or receiving bald and golden eagle feathers.
On March 12, federal agents arrested four men — three from Washington and one from Oklahoma — for killing eagles and selling their feathers. One of the men, Reginald Dale Akeen, an enrolled Kiowa, is accused of traveling the powwow circuit under the name of J. J. Lonelodge and selling illegally obtained feathers to dance competitors for use in their regalia.
There are a number of federal laws addressing the protection of eagles — the Lacey Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The federal agency charged with this protection is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and its regulations governing the religious use of eagle feathers by Native Americans are found at 50 CFR § 22.22.
Under these regulations, you can legally possess an eagle feather only if you are "an Indian who is authorized to participate in bona fide tribal religious ceremonies" and have received a government-issued eagle permit. To be an Indian you must have the appropriate Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood, and you must be an enrolled member of one of the 562 entities officially recognized by and eligible to receive services from the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Those convicted of possessing eagle feathers without the appropriate permit face imprisonment and fines — as much as two years in prison and a $250,000 fine for a second offense, which is a felony.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains tight control over eagles and eagle feathers. The agency has established a National Eagle Repository at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Denver, Colorado, to provide Native Americans with the feathers of golden and bald eagles needed for religious purposes. The repository serves as a collection point for dead eagles, most salvaged by state and federal wildlife personnel, and most either killed by electrocution, vehicle collisions, or illegal shooting and trapping, or dead from natural causes.
Under the current law, the repository is the only legal source of bald and golden eagle body parts. In order to get an eagle feather legally, you must first obtain an eagle permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service, authorizing you to receive and possess the feather from the repository for religious purposes. Then you have to apply to the repository for the feather. There is currently about a three-and-a-half-year waiting list. More than 5,000 people are standing in line for the approximately 1,000 eagles the repository receives each year.
These rules can have surprising consequences.
The rules also make it illegal for anyone — including enrolled members of federally recognized tribes — to possess an eagle feather that has simply fallen on the ground from a live eagle. The rules make it illegal to trade or barter feathers. The rules make it illegal for a Native American to give an eagle feather, as a sign of honor or respect, to a non-Native American, or to a Native American who is not an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe, or to an enrolled tribal member who does not have a permit. It is illegal for a Native American to give an eagle feather to a non-Native spouse.
And, in some cases, as among the Northern Arapaho of Wyoming, feathers from an eagle killed by an automobile, for example, or by flying into power lines, or by poison, are not considered pure, and cannot be used in the Sun Dance. Instead, the feathers must be from an eagle acquired personally by the sponsor, as a gift of the Creator. The current rules make that impossible.
Moreover, under both the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, there is every reason to accommodate Native American religious use of eagles and eagle feathers. At the same time, there are legitimate questions raised by restricting that accommodation to a group defined first in racial terms and then by a quintessentially political act of regulatory legitimation.
Courts have differed on whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires the government to open the application process for eagle feathers to Native Americans who are members of tribes that lack federal recognition. Two cases illustrate this conflict. In both, the government argued that it had a compelling interest in preserving the eagle population, and that limiting eagle permits to enrolled members of federally recognized tribes met that goal with the least possible impact on Native American religious practices.
In U.S. v. Hartman (2002), the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that the government had not presented sufficient evidence to show that expanding the permit system to a member of the federally unrecognized Chiricahua Apache would threaten the eagle population. In fact, the court said, expanding the pool of applicants while the number of permits issued remained constant would at worst add to the delay to applicants, with no effect on eagles.
On the other hand, in U.S. v. Antoine (2003), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act did not require the government to grant an eagle permit to a member of the federally unrecognized Cowichan Band of the Salish Indian Tribe in British Columbia. "RFRA requires least restrictive means to avoid substantial burdens on religion," the court stated.
But, in this case, the burden on religion is inescapable; the only question is whom to burden and how much. Both member and nonmember Indians seek to use eagles for religious purposes. The government must decide whether to distribute eagles narrowly and thus burden nonmembers, or distribute them broadly and exacerbate the extreme delays already faced by members. Religion weighs on both sides of the scale. The precise burdens depend on how many nonmember applicants there would be, but not in any illuminating way: Fewer nonmember applicants means shorter additional delays for each member if the restrictions are removed, but also fewer people burdened if they are left in place.
Given this uncertainty regarding Native Americans who are acknowledged members of historical tribes that lack federal recognition, it appears unlikely that the permitting process will be opened any time soon to applicants who are not Native Americans at all.
But the organization does not address a further issue. If enrolled tribal members are willing to poach eagle feathers and sell them for money, as is alleged of Reginald Dale Akeen, an enrolled Kiowa, there seems to be little to stand in the way of enrolled tribal members selling Certificates of Religious Participation to outsiders for money as well. While this may reduce poaching — at least for those non-Native Americans actually willing to stand in line for years to get a legal feather — it will, as the Ninth Circuit pointed out, just make the line longer, and increase the wait for everyone.
I would like to think that there is a fair solution to these issues, but I sure don't know what it is.
PERMALINK to: Eagle Feathers
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On March 25, 1916, a man of unknown name died of tuberculosis in California. He was known as Ishi, but that was not his real name, which no one knows; the word ishi means man in the Yahi language.
Ishi was the last surviving Yahi. His people had been destroyed by mining silt that poisoned their salmon streams, livestock that competed for grazing with deer, epidemics of alien diseases. His people had been hunted down and killed by white ranchers.
In the early 1860s, the Yahi started to steal cattle in order to survive. The cattle ranchers responded by slaughtering Yahi, who were apparently less important than cows. The Three Knolls Massacre in 1865 left only thirty members of the people alive. The ranchers used dogs to find the survivors, and killed another fifteen. The remainder fled into the hills, where they hid for more than forty years. By 1911, the man known as Ishi was the only one left. The whole story is here.
Ishi was caught, apparently trying to steal food, in Oroville, California, and came to the attention of two anthropologists, Alfred Kroeber and Thomas Waterman, who arranged for him to live at the new University of California museum of anthropology in San Francisco. Ishi survived by working as an assistant at the museum, demonstrating the living skills of the Yahi, identifying the Yahi artifacts that had been taken from his people. Spectators paid money to see him make arrowheads.
Kroeber's wife, Theodora, later wrote two popular books about Ishi, which are still in print. Their daughter, Ursula Le Guin, is a respected science fiction writer, whose work constitutes a sort of speculative anthropology of culture contact. In her novel Always Coming Home, for example, she describes the culture of the Kesh, inhabitants of the Napa Valley in California long after some unnamed catastrophe has sunk the cities of the coast. The book is a collage of autobiography, verse, tales, reports, drawings, music, and even the recipes of a minutely constructed egalitarian matriarchal culture that had — much like Ishi — survived contact with a group of hierarchical and murderous outsiders.
When Ishi died, the museum staff apparently tried to give him a traditional Yahi funeral. They cremated him along with bow and arrows, acorn meal, shell beads, tobacco, jewelry, and obsidian flakes.
But there was one last Yahi artifact to be plundered. Someone took Ishi's brain, presumably so that it might be studied someday, like a Yahi basket. The brain then disappeared.
Under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a group of Maidu Indians from the Sierra Nevada region sought to reclaim Ishi's ashes and bury them in his tribal homeland near Mt. Lassen. Duke University anthropologist Orin Starn helped them — finally — locate the missing brain in an obscure Smithsonian storeroom. Starn has written a poignant and outraged book about his quest.
Today is the anniversary of the death by tuberculosis of a man with a name no white person ever knew. He has gone to join his people.
PERMALINK to: The Last Man
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