The first time I met Mark and Marci Johns-Colson was at a showing of the film Wake Up! in a Pacific Northwest theater. Mark, his family and home, were featured in the film, and because they lived only about an hour from the theater, they joined the star and the producer for the “meet and greet” that followed.
Mark and Marci were warm and humble beings, and I liked them immediately. I learned that Mark is the hereditary spiritual leader of his tribe, the Chehalis, and Marci is of the hereditary leadership bloodlines of the Skokomish tribe. Their lives together and as a family are devoted to their spiritual practices and traditional way of living. While I had lived in the Pacific Northwest since 1986, they were the first true Native American leaders in the region to speak openly with me. I appreciated this the most and was hungry to know more about their lives, their culture, and their traditions.
Insomuch as the SuperConsciousness editors were generating content focused on Interconnectedness for this issue, I thought Mark would be a great person to offer a Native American perspective on the theme. But how should I approach him with the idea?
After about a month of contemplation, I decided to contact him and share a little bit of myself with one of my previous elk bow-hunting adventures. Perhaps relating to him how I understood my experience within the context of my own spiritual training would become a conversational ground-breaker between us. Once I did, we ended up spending half an afternoon on the phone sharing stories and began to get to know each other. We decided that it would be best for me to spend some time in his world to capture an interview.
Another month passed before my schedule cleared. I suggested that I visit for a day to talk before we formally recorded an interview. Mark agreed, and a couple of days were scheduled in early December. I asked him what kind of activities he had in mind for the first day so that I could pack appropriately, and like music to my ears he said, “Let’s go out and see if we can stick an elk.” Oh, my God: I had just been invited to go out elk hunting with a traditional Native American spiritual leader and I was ecstatic!
On the day planned, I pulled up to Mark and Marci’s house about 6am. We loaded up his rig, pulled into his favorite espresso shop, got some coffee, and made it out to his hunting area well before dawn. As we were driving along a logging road, suddenly a large doe jumped immediately before us on the driver’s side. In one seamless motion, he slammed the transmission into park, simultaneously picked up his rifle and opened his door, and in what I experienced as a timeless moment, a shot was fired and the deer dropped motionless.
Mark said his prayers and we dragged the body closer to his truck. Before dressing it out, more prayers were offered and blessings were made. Not only was I out hunting with a spiritual man, I was hunting with a “native” man who took and processed wild meat regularly as a fundamental way of life. His skills were unparalleled and his intent was not trophies but natural survival.
Once the doe was cleaned, we examined the liver: It was covered in grey spots. “We can’t eat it,” he said. “The liver is diseased because of the timber industry.” I followed by asking, “Do you still eat the meat?” He told me that they still do eat the meat, but not the organs. As I took in what he was saying, I stood in complete shock. The organs were too toxic to eat but they still ate the meat? My brain struggled to comprehend the implications of what he was saying to me.
Here I was gathering meat in the wild, the one place that should be protected from industrial related contamination, and this gorgeous wild animal was borderline inedible due to corporate, moral malfeasance. This was happening right here in Washington State, the land of pristine beauty and bountiful natural resources.
We loaded the gutted carcass into the back of his truck and continued to drive around looking for that elk. I didn’t talk much. I was still in shock at the site of the grey, diseased liver — the nutritional prize of four-legged hunting! Finally I asked Mark how many livers had he had to toss that year. He told me most of them. A few weeks later Marci took her elk for the season, a hefty three-year-old female cow. Mark called to tell me the good news. I asked, “Was the liver good?” “No, it was not,” he told me.
Greatly disturbed, I began my research. What exactly is going on in our Pacific Northwest woodlands? And how was the diseased wildlife related to commercial forestry?
I discovered that the current timber industry practices have degenerated well beyond simple monoculture. Millions of acres of commercial forestlands are being sown with genetically engineered trees. First, the trees’ DNA is being engineered to reduce the percentage of lignin — the fibrous component of trees that provides structural strength and conducts water through the fibers. With less lignin, the tree fiber is easier to process at the paper mill, but the trees themselves are weaker structurally and more susceptible to disease.
Next the genetics of the trees are designed to produce their own insecticide, known as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) making the trees poisonous in and of themselves. Additionally, the DNA is manipulated to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup®. This means that the new tree planting stock has been genetically altered in such a way that it can survive after being heavily sprayed with the highly toxic herbicide.
You see, once the lumber industry clearcuts the forests down to the ground, it is natural for many indigenous plants to emerge from the rich forest soils and the wildlife feast on these plants. With these new genetically altered trees and the accompanying timber practices, the wildlife — deer, elk, bear, and other large mammals, as well as the smaller mammals and birds, are forced to eat poisonous plants and drink from streams polluted from the toxic runoff. Soon it won’t be just diseased livers. It is quite possible that the forests will become unable to sustain the life of any birds and animals at all. It’s DDT and Silent Spring all over again.
There is only one solution to this problem: All forest management and commercial timber industry practices must be mandated to become environmentally and sustainably sound — organic forestry. No more use of genetically engineered plants or herbicides that poison wildlife habitats — land and water — ever, anywhere!
I used to tolerate with gritted teeth monoculture timber practices, but this genetic manipulation I can not. It is clear that the industrial practices of the timber industry have progressed significantly further than their wisdom. It is an important part of my life to roam the woodlands, and I and everyone else should be able to do so without being subjected to toxicity in the plants, on the ground, in the water, and in the air. Just as importantly, my friends Mark and Marci, their children, grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, and all other indigenous peoples have the right to harvest clean and healthy wild meat for themselves and their families.
Time to strategize.
For more information, watch the short documentary featuring Canadian scientist David Suzuki, The Silent Forest.
|The Silent Forest - Documentary
This award winning documentary film explores the growing global threat of genetically engineered trees to our environment and to human health. The film features....
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In what way does knowing about industrial forestry practices change your willingness to venture into woodlands? And, are you inspired to change those practices? How?