The following was originally posted at HCPress.com on November 26, 2012.
Recently, local county government authorities have targeted Turtle Island Preserve, attacking our way of life, and forcing our educational camp to close to visitors.
On the morning of September 19th, eleven county officials (being paid by tax payers) barged into our living room unannounced, uninvited, and unwelcome. A large caravan of county vehicles blocked our private road, miles away from any public area. The men (some armed) presented a search warrant two and half miles into the interior of our private land, a most intimate zone of refuge where we do not even take visitors, and then spent the next half of the day violating our privacy and photographing our buildings and personal homes. The unwanted invasion team came prepared with topographic maps, aerial photographs, GPS equipment to discern coordinates, laptops, pages of highlighted photographs of unknown origins, and even a county 4-wheeler to more easily get around the property. Much time and tax-payer money had clearly been spent preparing for this deployment against our 501c3 non-profit education center.
The primary focus of this action centers on our buildings and construction methods. The American heritage buildings that we keep alive and teach about are “unacceptable” in today’s modern world. The very building techniques and materials that all of our ancestors thrived with are now being deemed unacceptable and targeted as illegal because they don’t fit into the cookie-cutter code status that is so extremely far from what we are about. The buildings and lifestyle of our working farm and education center teach about true American freedom. The invasive attack was a surreal wake-up call to the illusion of the American myth: “Land of the free.”
Those of you who have visited Turtle Island Preserve know that our structures are unique in that they are built with materials harvested here on the farm and adhere to natural and historical methods. Our buildings are unquestionably structurally sound, but do not fit the wording or application of modern building codes, as the methods used to build them predate the conception of modern building codes. The veteran, licensed engineer we hired to assess the structural concerns expressed by the county stated that our buildings are “Better than code.” If modern, cookie-cutter buildings fit our purposes or needs, we would have built them. But they certainly do not.
To comply with current, modern building codes and regulations, with no variance or allowance for natural, traditional, historical, cultural or educational models, is at the very least a compromise to our integrity, our mission, and our value to the community and the world. If we were forced to function like every other public facility, the values, ethics, and practical knowledge we teach would be lost. Trying to force a modern framework around a facility that is specifically designed to be primitive does not make sense. The methods we teach go back tens of thousands of years. The modern building codes go back only 40-50 years.
For the past twenty-six years, Turtle Island Preserve has been a functioning farm and education center for primitive skills, cultural heritage, and traditional/natural living. We are run by volunteer laborers and administrators, good citizens who believe in the worth of volunteering their time to share natural traditional living in hopes of making life for people more meaningful and our impact on the earth a gentler footprint. Our non-profit education center has brought thousands of people from all over the world, of all ages, faiths, and socio-economic backgrounds and enabled them to develop a personal relationship with the natural world. In many cases, these are people (usually children) who would not have the opportunity to gain that experience elsewhere. What they get here, they keep forever.
Eustace Conway, full-time volunteer director of Turtle Island Preserve for the past 26 years, now faces the threat of criminal charges. That’s right, for dedicating his life to celebrating and preserving American cultural heritage, his American government is condemning his interest in exercising what he believes is an inalienable human right to build and live in the traditions of our ancestors. He said, “If this was a joke or something out of a science fiction novel about corrupt government control, maybe I could laugh about it… but it is very, unbelievably, maliciously true… and I can only cry about it, and ask for the voices of friends to support me and citizens that care about the ‘American Dream’ of freedom to speak up for their rights and interests now.”