Sunday, July 08, 2007

Bad Publicity: The Teaching Drum in Stevens Point (WI) Journal

The reporter on this story, Shenandoah Sowash, was kind enough to contact us for a statement before publishing this account of the Teaching Drum Outdoor School. Unfortunately, the Stevens Point Journal does not allow anonymous sources, so we declined. Part of our strategy is to keep Tamarack Song (Dan Konen) and staff guessing at all times who our many contributors are.

Overall, we find the story satisfying. The legendary, come-apart Yearlong class of thirteen is highlighted with special emphasis on the dysfunctional nature of throwing mostly white kids together in the woods with total strangers for 24/7.

Note how both Luke and Jacob Brault blame themselves (and other students) for Tamarack's failures, as if sitting around all day and thinking about yourself and your problems is going to solve this culture's chronic narcissism, a narcissism readily apparent in both Tamarack's hokey, fake-lore writings and teaching style.
"I wanted to fulfill these dreams of pursuing alternative learning," said Jacob Brault, who participated in the 2002 program for five months, "but I had a romanticized idea of living off the land, a hippie dream, the Native American way."
Yes, that is the essence of our apartheid, white supremacist society, isn't it? A romanticized view of Native Americans. Now, who do we know girls and boys who peddles in his books and essays a romanticized view of Native Americans? That's right. Tamarack Song. And every other Twinkie-fied, white New Ager in this country writing about Native American "way" (as if there is some unified Pan-Indian way in the first place), while having next to zero contact or relationship with contemporary indigenous peoples and their struggles. Tamarack Song gasses on and on about relationships, but does he or anyone at his school actually have a committed relationship to Ojibwe people and resistance in his area?

The answer, of course, is no.

Our assessment of this article is mostly positive. Clearly, the Teaching Drum Outdoor School has been stung enough by our and others' criticisms that they are on the defensive now. After reading the story, please check out for yourselves additional eyewitness testimony from another student in the disasterous 2002 Yearlong.

To affirm the not-so-veiled undertone of this story: Yes, if you take part in the Teaching Drum's Yearlong, you may very likely end up in the woods with crazy people.

Posted July 8, 2007

Wilderness school builds self-knowledge

By Shenandoah Sowash
Central Wisconsin Sunday

Winter is the "White Season." Earth is the "First Mother." Fire is a male being. Welcome to the Teaching Drum Outdoor School in Three Lakes.

"On the surface, it looks like we might be just a primitive skills school, but we're truly about exploring the inner self. These skills mean nothing unless they're integrated into honoring relationship," said Tamarack Song, founder of the school.

Relationship is a term one hears often when speaking of Teaching Drum. Song believes relationship refers not only to the self, but to others, plants, animals and the earth.

"We want to guide people in the Old Way. So if someone asks a question, you ask a question in response," said Luke Brault, a staff member from Fond du Lac.

Founded in 1987, Teaching Drum offers a year-long immersion experience called the Wilderness Guide Program.

For one year, participants (also known as Seekers) learn vital survival skills and explore the Old Way, a reference to a Native American spiritual path. Alcohol, tobacco, firearms, caffeine, domestic animals and drugs are prohibited.

"I wanted to fulfill these dreams of pursuing alternative learning," said Jacob Brault, who participated in the 2002 program for five months, "but I had a romanticized idea of living off the land, a hippie dream, the Native American way."

Brault, who is Luke's brother, experienced physical difficulties during his time in the program, including an intestinal disorder referred to as Drum Disease.

"Being exposed to the elements 24/7 was really hard. Some of the things your body goes through are difficult," Jacob said.

Luke experienced comparable challenges in the program, though his were of a more emotional nature.

"The yearlong program takes you on an inward journey. I left because I ran into a wall of full personal depression. I couldn't deal with it out there," said Luke, who completed eight months.

According to Luke, the 2002 program started with 13 participants and only two completed the full year.

"It was a strange mix of people, a dysfunctional group," he said.

All volunteers or program participants must sign a liability waiver and agreement stating a licensed medical doctor has verified their physical health though a doctor's signature is not required, nor is there any mention of mental health history or status.

Despite Luke's experience in the program, he currently serves on staff as a carpenter and assists in running the school.

"What separates us from other schools is that we learn how to live as a clan," Luke said.

In such a setting, conflict and personal growth are inevitable.

"People come to the program with so much history that they're sifting through. Their personal history is hidden. There will always be tension when you put a group of people out in the woods together," Jacob said.

Still, the Braults believe such conflict should be worked though, not ignored.

Jacob looks back fondly on his experience, but not without ambivalence.

"When you're faced with it, you realize pretty quickly that it's not as romantic as you dreamt it would be," he said.

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