Naturalist to lecture on survival skills of Cherokee people

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Naturalist Mark Warren deeply believes today's society can — and should — learn some valuable lessons and skills from the Cherokee people who inhabited the southeastern part of the United States hundreds of years before European explorers ever landed on its shores. 

The owner of Medicine Bow Wilderness School in Dahlonega has been teaching the survival skills of the Cherokee for more than 45 years and will be presenting "Lunch and Learn: The Ancient Ways of the Cherokee and How We Can Use Them Today" Monday from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in the Nathan Dean Meeting Room at the Cartersville Public Library at 429 W. Main St. 

Warren will be discussing how some of the most common native plants and trees were used by the Cherokee for food, medicine, shelter and fire and will bring along live specimens of these plants as well as some crafts. 

"There is a lot of interest in the Cherokee tribe, given our location, and there are many patrons I speak with who have Cherokee heritage," adult services librarian Miranda Clody said. "I thought this would be a unique opportunity for our patrons to learn more about their culture and survival skills."

Clody said she met Warren about a year ago when he did a similar program at the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library.

"I was an intern at the library and helped set up the program," she said. "I also had the opportunity to attend the event, and it was fascinating."

Warren said there were two reasons he wanted to do a lecture at the Cartersville library. 

"One, all of us who live in the northern third of Georgia reside on land that once belonged to the Cherokees," he said. "While these native people led lives of intense daily interaction with their natural surroundings, most folks today have reduced nature to a backdrop of scenery. The great deficit in this scenario is our lack of understanding that we still depend upon nature. That dependency is largely hidden to us, especially to the new generations that come along to take over the 'rules' of how we behave with nature — air to breathe, water to drink, energy to consume for our daily actions. These are commodities that are easy to take for granted. If taken for granted, humans will have no reason to respect and conserve the pieces of the puzzle we call ecology."

The environmental award winner said he hopes to help parents, Scout leaders, camp counselors and school teachers learn how to "deliver adventure and meaningful experiences in the wild for the sake of their wards."

"I do this by exploring the skills of the Cherokee: creating fire by spinning a stick, obtaining a medicine from a familiar plant, consuming an edible plant, building a rain-/cold-proof shelter, approaching wild animals by stealth, purifying water, reading tracks of animals and so on," he said. "All these resources still exist around us. The adventure to explore them waits for us at our nearest strip of wildness, even if only a vacant lot trying to return to its original diversity."

His second reason for doing the presentation stems from the nearby Booth Western Art Museum promoting an interest in Native Americans, "albeit the Western tribes," he said.

"My sense is that many will want to know more about the tribe that called north Georgia home," he said.

During the program, Warren said he will explain "how this land actually shaped the Cherokees by plant and animal diversity and by the terrain itself."

"If the library has an appropriate outside area, I’d like to do a short walk to introduce some of the useful plants that the Cherokees found to be invaluable," he said. "Back inside, I want to introduce the audience to ways of engaging their children and grandchildren in the natural world. I have hundreds of original activities designed for this purpose. I’ll introduce a few."

The naturalist said there are three lessons he hopes his audience will learn and remember from his presentation: "the impressive and comprehensive knowledge of the forest that the Cherokees accrued, the urge to get outside to explore these ways and, above all, ways to engage their young ones in nature."

"Such a legacy from parent to child will be the hope for our planet," he said.

Warren's interest in the Cherokee people grew from his innate love of the forest.

"My mother allowed me to visit the woods every day of my childhood and early teen years as long as I showed up for supper each evening," he said. "But it was not until my college years that I became serious about learning the details of the things I was seeing in the woods. I quickly learned that to know the forest well, I needed to study the people who had lived their lives connected to it — the Cherokees. That revelation occurred 52 years ago. All my academic study immediately turned into a very physical study — learning the Cherokee skills. Now I teach those skills at my school, Medicine Bow." 

Warren has packed his four-plus decades of knowledge about the Cherokee way of life into a four-volume series of books titled "The Secrets of the Forest," which he said he wrote with three purposes in mind: "To provide clear instructions in primitive survival skills for anyone wanting to better his/her self-sufficiency in the wilderness . . . by learning the old Indian ways of living comfortably in the forest; to offer parents, teachers, Scout leaders and outdoor educators a guide to engage their students in nature . . . at a time when our young ones so desperately need this connection, as does nature itself; [and] to win over a new generation of environmental advocates who will look after this world."

"Volume 1 contains a treasury of plant information, with photos of 100 local plants, and also a survival-skills section on shelter, water purification, primitive hunting, cooking without pots and pans, traps and snares and cordage-making," he said. "Volume 2 covers pyre building, fire creation, fire sustaining and the value of storytelling and ceremony. Volume 3 includes stalking, tracking, hide tanning, leather crafts and forest games that range from the adventurous to around the campfire."

Warren will be selling the first three volumes — Volume 4 on archery, different types of weapons and whitewater canoeing will be released in October — for $34.95 each plus tax, and he will autograph them.

The lecture is free and open to all ages, and patrons are welcome to bring their lunch and eat while they learn. 

For more information, call 770-382-4203 or visit www.bartowlibraryonline.org.