American Survival Guide|January 2021

I really hate labels. Labels have a tendency to give people generalized views ... and often, erroneous assumptions.

Take the word, “prepper.” What is a “prepper” anyway? And, how about a “survivalist”? These two words mean different things to different people. Both carry connotations, often negative, and can promote an “us-against-them” mentality.

So, what do they mean, and how can we drop those divisive labels and work with others inside and outside “the community”?


Merriam-Webster defines a “prepper” as “a person who gathers materials and makes plans in preparation for surviving a major disaster or cataclysm (such as worldwide economic collapse or war).” Going by this definition, if you stock up on extra food and fuel in the days prior to a hurricane, plot an escape route in case of a wildfire or have a supply of sandbags in preparation for a flood, you’re a prepper.

To many people, “prepper” stirs up images of fortified underground bunkers, caches of weapons and people who’ve watched way too many episodes of The Walking Dead or Mad Max. This image, which has been endorsed by some who claim to be part of the prepper community, has helped fuel its negative stigma. In actuality, true “preppers” are nothing like this.

“Survivalist” pre-dates the term “prepper” and is another word that’s been stigmatized. Again, ask people what a “survivalist” is, and they will describe a person or group living out in the woods, eating tree bark and wearing animal skins. Having lots of guns and ammunition is also part of the common assumption when this label is used.

Once again, I turned to Merriam-Webster for its definition. A “survivalist” is defined there as “a person who advocates or practices survivalism; especially: one who has prepared to survive in the anarchy of an anticipated breakdown of society.”

I don’t need to turn to the dictionary to define “survivalism.” Simply put, it’s the act of staying alive. I hope we’re all survivors.


I’ve been following the teachings of my Native American ancestors, as well as a host of other people, my entire life. Preparing for tough times (drought, storms, sickness and other challenges) has always been a way of life for me. Does that make me a prepper? I guess it does, although I never labeled myself as such.

When it comes to being a survivalist, aren’t we all survivalists? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have the drive to stay alive. I utilize a multitude of resources to keep my family fed and safe. I don’t eat tree bark or wear animal skins, because I plan and execute better than that. I hunt, fish and forage. I grow some of my own food and often barter for those items I can’t provide on my own. I conserve and reuse resources whenever I can. This is what being a survivalist is all about.

As my ancestors did, I freely share what I know with others. Those of us who have useful knowledge need to take the lead and teach those who don’t. Will everyone listen? Heck, no; but we have to be a ready resource for those who will. After all, if we don’t, who will?

Today, we live in a world in which people like to polarize themselves. The thinking seems to be, “If I don’t agree with you, then I can’t (or won’t) work with, and learn from, you.”

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