For the Native people of our country, survival wasn’t something extraordinary as it is being portrayed today. It was just something they did every day. In our modern times, due to the abundance of TV shows, magazines and online information, survival has become a complex way of life. The survival lessons passed to me by a Cherokee elder in North Carolina will show you that survival shouldn’t be as complicated as some would like you to believe.
In order to be a survivor, many recommend buying this or that because you won’t be able to make do without those items. Many of the folks out there will try to learn a thing or two about preparedness or survival. They will be overwhelmed by the amount of information available online. Most of these learning journeys will fail and people will just give up because everything seems too complicated, it costs too much or they don’t have the guts for it. Survival is not only about buying the best rifle or about having the best bushcraft knife. It’s about having the right concepts and use them in your favor.
Most of these survival lessons I’ve learned from my Cherokee friend. They are simple enough for the average Joe and everyone could benefit from their teachings.
Survival Lessons from the Native Americans:
It is all about common sense
The best survival tool that one can use is his own mind. Great things can be achieved by exploiting this tool. Every year, all across the globe there are many people who die in survival situation because they didn’t use common sense. They found themselves in nasty situations and because they didn’t use their head, they ended up dead. My friend told me something that I will never forget: “people today don’t know how to live with the land and they are afraid, they panic and they stop to think”. This is mostly our fault because we stopped exploring and we are used to do everything with just one click. Instead of going camping teenagers today organize “gaming parties”. Instead of promoting basic survival lessons, we make fun of people trying to teach us how to become self-sufficient.
In order for people to survive in dangerous situation, the first thing we need to do is slow down and think. You can’t do this if you are used to just give up and turn off the computer or if you just Google the solution to your problems. In the wilderness, most situations can be dealt with logic and common sense. If you work with the environment and know your surroundings, you will succeed in overcoming any obstacle. If you know your surroundings you know where to forage for food, where to find water and how to put up a shelter. Even more, if you explore your surroundings, you will discover where the escape routes are located and which dangerous obstacles you will need to face.
Adapt or perish
Adaptability is the key to survival. It doesn’t matter if you use this skill to survive at your daily job or to survive out in the wilderness. In life, you can’t control all the situations thrown at you, but you can adapt and overcome them. Adaptability requires a good learning process and this process never stops, you learn something new until you die. When I had a desk job and I was in charge of a small team, every once in a while we would get an intern over the summer. Some of them had a hard time adjusting to their new jobs due to various reasons. I used to discuss with all of them and I often told them that “no one knows everything, but everyone knows something”. I was doing so in order to comfort them and boost their confidence.
My point here is that you need to keep your eyes and ears open and act like a sponge. Soak in all the information and keep your mouth shut. This is one of the survival lessons that can be applied every day, regardless of your environment. The same goes for the wilderness and listening and not speaking during a survival situation can keep you alive.
Use all the resources at hand
Being resourceful is one of the survival lessons that we should all learn. Using the materials we have available at hand is key to survival in any environment. Native hunters used to travel light when going out hunting into the woods. They used to carry only the things that they couldn’t do without. Everything else they made from what was available on the field. They were exploiting all the materials found in the woods. These survival lessons can be applied even in our modern world because we live in a throwaway society and we are used to waste precious materials. Many of the things we throw away have a second life waiting for them and they can still be used.
Repurposing materials is an important stage in emergency preparedness and a vital step when it comes to survival. The list here can be long and many of the articles found on this website will teach you how to reuse common objects. In a wilderness situation knowing how to make cordage from plants, knowing which plants are edible and which are poisonous will provide you with knowledge that can save your life. The wilderness provides an incredible amount of resources if you know where to look for them.
Out of sight out of mind
Native Americans knew how to hide in plain sight. Blending with the environment was a skill passed from one generation to another. Most of their clothing had shades of brown, gray and green and it helped them move unnoticed in any environment. Camouflage is great and it helps you stay out of sight as long as you wear what needs to reflect the environment you are in. Many mammals can’t see colors, but humans can. If a survival situation requires you to stay under the radar, you will need to be able to blend in with your surroundings. There are a lot of survival lessons about camouflage online and you may find some of this information useful. For the Native Americans, mastering camouflage techniques was crucial knowledge. It meant they were able to provide food for their families or defend their lands from invaders.
Suggested reading: Bugging out without leaving a trace
Respect as a way of life
I come from a big family with a mixed ethnic background. I’m proud to say that I’ve learned about the old ways of living from my grandparents. They taught me how to hunt and fish and how to forage for wild edibles, but most of all, they taught me about respect. Something that is becoming less common in today’s world. For the Native Americans people, life is a spiritual thing and respect is key to survival. They have respect for the others, respect for the animals and respect for the Earth. They believe that in this world everything is connected spiritually and one thing affects the other. To take a life to sustain a life meant to show respect for the lives you intend to take.
It seems that in today’s modern society, taking a life, any life is as easy as pulling the trigger. We lost respect for others and we lost respect for ourselves and the effects of our actions can be seen in the decadence of our society. The first settlers and pioneers learned about respect from the Native Americans and they were able to pass it on. Respect helped them unite communities and helped them survive through harsh times.
The way of the fire
If you search online, you will find dozens of articles about primitive fire starting techniques. Starting a fire is one of the most discussed survival lessons and there are many trying to master this skill. When I discussed with my friend about starting a fire, he laughed and he told me that starting a fire should be practical. He said that many of his ancestors would have loved to use a lighter if they had one. The point here is that there is a time and place for the ability to start a fire using primitive techniques, but you should be practical in a survival situation. Rubbing two sticks should be your last resort and you should always rely on common sense and adaptability. If you have a lighter or a fire starter you should use it and experiment later with sticks and stones.
Suggested reading: Starting a fire against all odds
Food and water from your surroundings
Obtaining food and water has been, and always will be a priority in a survival situation. If you find yourself in the wild, foraging for food will be an ongoing task. You need to grab things you can, keeping in mind about common sense and respecting the environment. One needs to use all the available resource and the woods and fields can become an improvised grocery store if you know where to look for foods. You need to understand your environment before going hunting or foraging for wild edibles. The environment you find yourself in can sustain your life without difficulties. However, it can take it away just as easy if you pick the wrong plant or if you go hunting without keeping an eye out for predators.
Water procuring in the wild has its challenges and once again, you need to know about your environment. One of the survival lessons you learn in the wild is that water shouldn’t be taken for granted. You need to find a good water source, you need to make canteens of available materials and carry it with you. You also have to make sure you stay out of intense heat during the day and move out only in the early morning or late afternoon. When being stranded in the wild, one should conserve energy and water.
Suggested reading: Ready To Drink Natural Water Sources
Nature can also give you a helping hand because there are plants that conserve water while other plants only grow near water. Native people knew how to find water because they knew how to look for specific plants. They were also able to track the actions of large animals that will eventually lead them to water. Collecting morning rainwater and morning dew coming off the leaves of plants are also survival lessons that we should learn from the Native Americans.
Navigate using the old ways
Today, without a GPS or a map, many of the people exploring the great outdoors will get lost and probably, never heard of again. While it is important to learn how to use a map and compass, these are considered modern techniques when compared to how Native people used to navigate their way through the wilderness. They were used to find their way by using the sun and the stars because they were always there. Every day the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, while on a clear night people can navigate by using the North Star.
Native Americans used running waters in order to figure out their direction. On the east coast most of the major rivers flow towards the east, the direction of the Atlantic Ocean. On the west coast the rivers flow toward the west and Pacific Ocean. Water mainly runs downhill and it is at the mouth of these waterways where you will find human settlements. For Native Americans, the rivers were highways used for trade. Navigation survival lessons should be learned by anyone who plans to adventure into the wilderness.
A last word
The survival lessons left by the Native people listed in this article are just a few of their many teachings. I just scratched the surface and my intention was to show you that everything described above can still be used today by the modern man. Native people had to face survival situations that very few can think of. We should think about these lost ways when faced with a problem. We always have something to learn from those who managed to survive by only relying on the environment. Personally, I have a great respect for them and their legacy.
Article written by Dan Mowinski for Prepper’s Will. Dan comes from a family that is a mix of Native American (Piqwacket), English and Polish, and he is an avid supporter of the lost ways and wilderness living.
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