A Profile of The Tracking Project: Positioning Ourselves in a Changing World

By Jade Stokes

Tracking by the pond

Tracking by the pond – Bear tracks in the soft mud, Tracking in the Southwest, northern New Mexico 2009. Photo by Cary Odes.

Traditional hard ground tracking is a very interesting art. It is both physical and mental, right-brain and left-brain. Physically, you are following prints on the ground. You are noticing the age of the track based on how weathered it is: has the wind been strong, or has it rained recently? You are noticing pressure releases that indicate a change in direction or a change in speed. You are noticing the stride of the animal, or a limp in a leg, or any other idiosyncrasies. As you spend time on a trail, you start to enter a different space. You get so involved in what the animal is doing that you begin to see the animal in your mind. You see the animal walking in its tracks, stopping to nibble a leaf, or perking its ears to catch a noise in the forest. The imagination comes to life, putting a picture to what is being illustrated on the ground, and you come to know the mind of the creature you are following because you are putting yourself on their path and following their tracks.

Patterns are important to tracking. You come to recognize patterns in an animal’s movements, patterns in where they spend different times of the day, patterns in where they sleep and eat. Through tracking animals, you learn pattern recognition, which you can then take and apply to other aspects of your life. You begin to see patterns in your own behavior: where do you like to sit in the classroom, how do you like to sleep, what makes you moody or happy, or do you always brush your teeth from the right to the left? You can also see patterns in the behavior of other people, like your family and friends. You begin to see patterns in your dreams, in the weather, in the movement of the stars throughout the year.

Bringing that awareness into our lives changes our whole perception of our world. It is said that the quality of your attention is the quality of your life. Many of us go through the motions of our day with no real comprehension of our actions. We have our routine and we follow it. But if we start to pay attention to the things we do and the things that surround us, we begin to see and recognize our habits within our environment. If something is out of pattern, we notice this as well and can adjust ourselves accordingly. We become aware of our effect on our surroundings and how our surroundings affect us. We are no longer just people in a routine; we are an active part of a cycle that is happening right now.

This complete attention to our environment is called Nature Awareness. Nature awareness is observing people, places, and things to understand them, so that we might speak to and know how to live in peace with them. The tracker uses his knowledge of his environment to position himself for observation, which can be “macro” or “micro” — in other words, on a very large or very small scale. It can be as small as looking for a deer hair caught on a branch, or as large as watching cultural movements throughout the world.

The Tracking Project has sometimes been criticized for having such a broad mission: children, the preservation of wildlife, biodiversity, and the integrity/vitality of Native cultures in the global indigenous network. Broad though this focus may be, perhaps it is in truth, holistic. Clearly, our world has many, many problems: the destruction of habitat and species, degradation of native cultures, human and drug trafficking, the sociopathic tendencies of urban society, war, and our disrespect for people who are different from us. These are huge, holistic problems, and addressing them together may now be the best way to find solutions. It is not just one thing we do that needs to change — it is everything we do that hurts our world.

However, it seems we cannot look to modern things to save us; we cannot look to technology. We need to look to the past, and the teachings of indigenous people and their ancestors. They were the ones who understood how to live a good life here on the earth. They knew not only how to survive but how to flourish, and in their existence, over thousands and thousands of years how to benefit the earth rather than destroy it.

Partner tracking

Partner tracking at Macaquinho, Chapada dos Veiadeiros, central Brazil 2010. Photo © Bento Viana

Some might question this belief that we need to learn from the past, thinking that this somehow suggests a return to the Stone Age. No, that is not where humans should go. We need to take the old teachings, the old understanding of the earth, and apply it all to our lives today. What needs to happen is a marriage of (the) old and (the) new, an examination of this new world with an indigenous eye. We need to be aware of what is happening to us and where we want to go as the human race, and we each have to find our own place in our community and do our part to change things and move in a new direction.

These changes begin with making connections to the world. In our courses, The Tracking Project provides the necessary tools — like tracking — to make these connections. Native elders from around the world have contributed teachings to our curriculum, designed to connect people directly to nature. Individuals in our program often find that our curriculum is the perfect vehicle upon which to build and carry community work.

A beautiful example of this process of blending the old and the new is a spin-off project from Nutrindo as Raízes, The Tracking Project’s Brazilian Mentor Program that took place from 2003 to 2005. In this mentor program, around 32 participants from all around Brazil gathered for one week a year for three years, becoming versed in the Tracking Project’s curriculum and learning how to teach it. Two graduates of the program, Isabel Taukane and Andreia Taukane of the Kura-Bakairi tribe, were inspired to hold a gathering that would benefit the youth of their tribe. This gathering came to fruition in October of 2006, and was called Círculo dos Saberes, “Circle of Wisdomkeepers.” The gathering was attended by members of six different tribes who were able to share and celebrate their songs and traditions, reviving a cultural pride and a connection between the youth and the elders. A great success, the gathering was repeated the next two years, attracting even more tribes to participate. By the third year of the gathering, more than fifteen different indigenous tribes had taken part in the Circle.

In order to mend the rifts in our world, we have to understand truthfully what is happening. To understand what is happening, we need to position ourselves so that we can observe and communicate with other people, places, and things. We need to change our perceptions and our children’s perceptions of the world. Seeing ourselves as part of this cycle, this system, is key. We will no longer be separate beings looking at a picture, we will be part of the picture. When we see ourselves as connected and integrated, we can see what we each need to do to work in harmony with everything around us.

Jade Stokes is an Oak Meadow junior/senior who took a wholehearted interest in this work at the age of nine. Founded and directed by John D. Stokes in 1986, The Tracking Project is a not-for-profit based in Corrales, New Mexico.

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