Who We Are
We are a collective of Directors, Program Leaders and Instructors who are committed to leading youth back to the skills of the Earth. We believe that:
it is our responsibility as humans to take care of our Earth Mother
connecting deeply with the natural world gives people the perspective and tools to restore the land
by working together we create a support network of like-minded individuals that accelerates our collective learning, increases our mentoring skills and better connects people to the Earth
supporting programs to grow in a non-competitive way is key to successfully restoring balance among Earth Skills-based schools and programs
To raise our individual programs and organizations to their full potential by providing leadership gatherings to network and share best practices, training opportunities for staff, and to make solid one to one connections with each other.
Nature Connection Leadership Conference
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
February 24-26, 2021
Join leaders and staff from Nature Connection organizations throughout North America this February for our 6th annual conference where we will exchange best practices, strengthen our vision, and re-energize ourselves while connecting with peers and fellow nature connection leaders.
Info & registration:
4E / ESA hosting Native Panel in collaboration with NCN.
Feb 24th, 7 pm EST, and Feb 25th, 4:30 pm EST
Indigenous Perspectives and Teachings Native Panel and Workshops
DONNA AUGUSTINE “THUNDERBIRD TURTLE WOMAN”
Donna Augustine (Thunderbird Turtle Woman) is a Mi'kmaq enrolled member of both Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick and of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs in Presque Isle, Maine.
She is a Cultural Educator and a Ceremonial Leader. She has been involved with reclaiming the Traditional Ways of her people since the age of twenty-three. Her main work is on Repatriation; reclaiming and reburying ancestors, burial items and Sacred Objects from museums and institutions throughout Canada, the U.S. and now Internationally. Her current writings will be featured as a chapter in a book on International Repatriation that will be read internationally.
She is acknowledged as a spiritual leader of her own People, but she is regularly invited by other tribes of Turtle Island (North America) to Opening Prayers and conduct Ceremony.
Her spiritual ceremonial work has brought her to lead and be involved in ceremony with spiritual leaders throughout the world; including his holiness the Dalai Lama and others.
Donna has seven children and nineteen grandchildren. Mi’kmaq is her first language and she speaks it fluently. She is a strong advocate for her culture and her people.
ILLARION “KUUYUX” MERCULIEFF
Unangan (Aleut) | Alaska
Ilarion 'Kuuyux' Merculieff has over 50 years of experience serving his people, the Unangan (Aleut people) of the Pribilof Islands of Alaska and Indigenous peoples around the world in a number of leadership capacities.
Raised in a traditional Unangan (Aleut) way, he and received his traditional name “Kuuyux” at age 4, by the last Kuuyux left alive. The name is given to one person in each lifetime amongst his people. Kuuyux a carrier of ancient knowledge into modern times, a messenger.
At age 18, he started his career in modern western society as an advocate for his tribe, and at the University of Washington, representing Native-American students. Then he went on to being co-chair and head of 17 boards and councils, till he jumped over 30 years ago. Ever since then he has been living the legacy of his name - Kuuyux.
He currently heads GCILL (- Global Center for Indigenous Leadership and Lifeways) https://www.GCILL.world/ , and is the co-founder of the Wisdom Weavers of the World, focused on bringing messages of Indigenous Elders from throughout the world to global attention, via social media and a short film that was launched by Reuters for Earth-day's 50th anniversary in 2020, and had about 80,000 viewers around the world https://www.wisdomweavers.world/
* Kuuyux has just released his first-ever online course, here: https://restorativepractices.com/product/becoming-a-real-human-being-with-ilarion-merculieff/
And a new newsletter, for which you can subscribe here: https://www.GCILL.world/contact-us
FRED “COYOTE” DOWNIE
Ceremonial Elder, Covelo, CA
Fred 'Coyote' Downey, has been supported by the American Indian Institute for the last 40 years to travel and teach his spiritual knowledge of Indigenous culture and ceremony. He was an avid activist in the 60s and 70s, involved in the occupation of Alcatraz and Wounded Knee. He served on the board and taught Native history at DQ University, also accompanied the Hopi to the U.N. to talk about the environment and the destruction of Native lands. He took the Federal government to court three times and won. He is now a spiritual advisor to many people, including the Siakumne Maidu.
DON RYBERG HUTAPIM HUSKIM
Tribal Chairman of the Tsi-Akim Maidu / Siakumne Tribe
Land Steward of Pata Panaka Village
Yeponi Don Ryberg, Hutapim Huskim
Born in Qunicy, CA in 1942 and descend from the Epperson and Shipes Indigenous families. Don has been the Chairman of the Tsi-Akim Tribe of the Taylorsville Rancheria since 1997.
Don was involved in creating the Maidu Summit Consortium, in which the Tsi-Akim Tribe has played a leading role. The consortium acquired a large piece of land to steward.
He was the Executive Director of a non-profit for 16 years, which supported the Tribe. The tribe acquired Pata Panaka, a parcel of land in Nevada City, through agreements. Pata Panaka (Baby Woodpecker) is an active cultural learning center and independent entity sanctioned by the Tsi-Akim Tribe, a place for spiritual learning and cultural enrichment.
The tribe has hosted Indigenous people's Days (IPD) as an alternative to Columbus Day, for the past 22 years. It started on a street corner as a candlelight vigil with a few people protesting Columbus Day, and it grew to a five-day event with Indigenous peoples from all over the world attending and sharing their indigenous ways in taking care of Mother Earth and one another.
Don, as manager of Pata Panaka, is currently partnered with 4EEE (4 Elements Earth Education) which is a program that teachings nature connection and wilderness skills to children ages 4-17 using traditional ecological knowledge at Pata Panaka. Pata Panaka active village site, where we honor our ancestors with ceremonies and teach indigenous ways to all children.
Curtis Zunigha is an enrolled member of the Delaware Tribe of Indians in Oklahoma. (www.delawaretribe.org) He is currently the Cultural Director for his tribe and an acknowledged expert on Delaware/Lenape culture, language, and traditional practices. He has over thirty years of experience in tribal government, community development, cultural preservation, and telecommunications.
Mr. Zunigha is Co-Director of The Lenape Center, a non-profit organization based in New York City which promotes the history and culture of the Lenape people (aka Delaware Indians) through the arts, humanities, and environmental activism. (www.thelenapecenter.com)
Sangoma Olodoye is a wife, mother of three daughters and 12 amazing Grandmasters. A traditional Yoruba priestess, Afin chief and member of the Egbe Moremi, National African Women’s Society in the Kingdom of Oyotunji African Village, located in Sheldon SC.. North America’s oldest, authentic African community was founded in 1970, Sangoma met Oyotunji’s founder and Father of the Cultural Restoration movement in 1969 at the age of 12.
A Sangoma speaks of a tribe of healers, diviners with indigenous gifts of ancestral medicine from South Africa. Sangoma graduated from Clark University, Worcester, Mass in 1977 with a BA in Theatre Arts, After a 20-year career in broadcast journalism, television, radio, and cable...life presented the opportunity to explore shamanism, women’s history, movement, pan Africanism and Wise woman Traditions.
Sangoma has taught at numerous summer camps and Earthskills gatherings throughout the southeast….most extensively...Earth Camp at Silverwater retreat center in the late 90s, Boone, NC. She was the Director and primary instructor for 180 “at-risk” youth between 9-14...in the Camp Champion, summer program in Thomson, Ga (1992, 1993) hosted by the McDuffie Health Coalition. Sangoma has more than 20 years in her priesthood, female rites of passage programs...women’s wisdom councils and weekend empowerment retreats. As an artist, facilitator of women's wisdom retreats and a cultural preservationist/educator now brings to
birth the counterpart to 4 decades plus experience in Black Moon Spiral Video Production.
CARRIE BARRIOS FRANCO
Carrie Franco is an enrolled member of the Tule River Indian Tribe of Yokuts and a hereditary
descendent of the Yowlumne Yokuts. She is a Ceremonial Leader and highly respected spiritual leader of her People. Carrie has also spent years in tireless Repatriation work as the NAGPRA Designate for her tribe as she strives to help heal the massive inter generational trauma caused by the California genocide (a still hidden history not told in schools). Carrie comes from a long line of tribal leaders and sacred basket makers and has passed down cultural knowledge that she actively keeps alive and passes down to her apprentice and others every day”
“Johnny” Franco is an enrolled elder of the Tule River Tribe of Yokuts and a hereditary descendent of the Yaudanchi Yokuts. He is a respected spiritual and ceremonial leader of his people and comes from a long line of highly respected and deeply connected Yokuts Ceremonial Leaders.”
Honor Keeler. a citizen of Cherokee Nation, is the Assistant Director at Utah Diné Bikéyah, an Indigenous, grassroots, nonprofit organization that focuses upon cultural and environmental resources protection in the Four Corners area. She was appointed to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Committee by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior in 2018 and is currently serving a four-year term. Keeler also sits on the Board of Trustees at the Cherokee National Historical Society, which encompasses the Cherokee Heritage Center, Cherokee National Archives, and Cherokee National Museum. She focuses her work on Indigenous intellectual property, human rights, sacred lands protection, public lands, collaborative management, and Indigenous repatriation. Keeler is currently an Honorary Lecturer at the Australian National University. Formerly, Keeler worked at the American Indian Law Center, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Association on American Indian Affairs. She was also a Visiting Assistant Professor and Repatriation Coordinator at Wesleyan University where she taught classes focused upon sacred lands protection and repatriation, Native American Youth, and Native American land rights. She founded the International Repatriation Project and has testified in front of Congress and the United Nations on sacred lands protection, human rights, international repatriation, looting and trafficking, and the protection of the Bears Ears traditional cultural landscape. She received her J.D. and Indian Law Certificate from the University of New Mexico School of Law, and her A.B. from Brown University
Her Kanien’kehá:ka (People of the Spark or Flint) name is Kawisente, meaning ‘Icicle Melting’. She has been a long-time supporter of nature connection programs on the native reserve she calls home, Kahnawake (meaning – by the rapids). A mother of two and an avid supporter of social and native justice issues, she always finds time to go where she’s most needed to lend her voice. She is the site director for Coyote Programs’ camp in Kahnawake, and a regular visitor to the youth and adult programs. Kawisente is always happy to share stories and information about her culture both during and out of program time, and she is always open to learning about other cultures as well. She does this with a deep sincerity and wicked sense of humor that keeps our team and participants on our toes.
David Vanderhoop is an Aquinnah Wampanoag Native, founder, and Director of Land of Sassafras Earth Education. David is the coordinator for the Indigenous Council for The Nature Connection Network, and a board member of the Native Land Conservancy, the first of its kind on the east coast. In his lifetime, David has served on Tribal Council, as a Selectman for the Town of Aquinnah, and specializes in Aquaculture. David is a father of 5 (grown) children and 6 grandchildren, he loves to fish, hunt and cook over an open fire.
David has presented and led workshops on historic trauma, decolonization, cultural appropriation and racism from an Indigenous perspective. Together with his team, David developed guidelines for equity and the right relations for organizations seeking respectful relations with First Peoples. Depending on your organization' needs, outcomes can include the following; creating acknowledgment of land and first peoples, offering condolences, understanding history and contemporary issues, building relationships and alliances with Indigenous communities, addressing cultural appropriation in your field, developing policies for repair, training staff, board members, volunteers, and/or with participants.
Board President of 4 Elements Earth Education
Tony H. Cervantes (Chichimeca) has been working for over 45 years to protect and restore Indigenous relational constructs supportive of people, families, clans, Tribes, communities and Nations and the sacred relationship with the unseen world and all of Creation. Tony is retired from the State of California. After retirement he worked for Sierra Native Alliance and Shingle Springs Rancheria. He is trained in all White Bison, Positive Indian Parenting, Fatherhood/Motherhood is Sacred, Anger Manager and GONA curricula resulting in Cultural Revitalization, Leadership Development, Indigenous best practices, Wellbriety Community Development, Indigenous Addictions/Mental Health prevention/treatment and the Grieving Cycle. Indigenous Traditional Knowledge Systems, the Medicine Wheel and the behavioral components of addictions inform work focused on emotional, mental, physical, behavioral, social, volitional and economic wellness change. He deeply believes that living locally is key to bringing us closer to our original ancestors, tonantzin, ehecatl, atl and xieutecuhtli. "I remember drinking water directly from streams, rivers, creeks and seeing thousands of monarch butterflies in all stages of development at one place. What have we done?"
Founder and Executive Director of 4 Elements Earth Education
Rick Berry began with the Tracker School in 1986 at the age of 15, and has been sharing Nature Connection and Earth Skills with youth for the past 30 years. After graduating with a B.S. from Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA, Rick honed his skills in the remote Klamath Mountain range where he immersed himself for 12 years in indigenous life-ways--passed on to him by Gary Morris who himself had lived with Yurok Elder Calvin Rube for 20 years.
Later, Rick spent two years in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey as a care-taker for the Tracker School, where he lived in a earth and bark shelter and refined the skills of living close to the Earth. Rick taught with both Jon Young and Tom Brown, Jr. through the Tracker School’s Coyote Camps, and moved on to serve seven years as Director of The Children of the Earth Foundation. During this time Rick taught across North America, From Alaska to Florida, with First Nations youth, Inner City, Boy Scouts, and families from many walks of life.
Rick, Cherokee Descent, (Grandmother was a member of the Red Bird Stokes Ceremonial Grounds in Vian, Oklahoma), has been working in collaboration with the Siakumne Maidu Tribe for the past 10 years creating the Fox Walkers youth programs at Pata Panaka / Burton Educational Preserve in Nevada City, CA. In 2019 Rick was asked to be the Executive Director of The Children of the Earth Foundation; Rick will oversee Coyote Tracks Programs under the 4EEE west coast non-profit umbrella.
Melody Talcott was graduated from Cambridge University and has worked to support Indigenous ceremonial leaders, such as Donna Augustine (Mik’maq), in repatriation and traditional ways of life. She is a member of an international effort on Indigenous repatriation and assisted with the organization of an international conference on ceremonial leaders at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2018, with Diane Longboat (Mohawk). Melody is of Seneca, Cherokee and Patawomeck descent. She is an author and runs a business with her family in Maine, and dedicates her time to the continuance of traditional ways of life.
“Dani” Curlin is an enrolled member of the Tule River Tribe of Yokuts and a hereditary descendent of the Yaudanchi Yokuts. For several years she has been a ceremonial helper and traditional “apprentice” to Carrie and Johnny Franco —a nearly 24/7 commitment to the Culture and the passed down knowledge—and takes an active role in Repatriation Work, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women work and racial justice work for the people wherever she is called upon to support it at Carrie Franco’s side.
ALLIES, SUPPORTERS AND NATURE CONNECTION LEADERS
Chair of the Board of 8 Shields
A mother and grandmother, Lisa describes herself as a woman who takes the responsibility of being human into action for the quality of life and the sake of the earth. She raised her family in various bio-regions in the US, the UK and Canada, which awakened her curiosity and appreciation for the intersection of nature and culture.
When volunteering at her children’s school near Lake Ontario, Lisa was introduced to the framework of 8 Shields, and developed a keen awareness and appreciation of the benefits of Deep Nature Connection for all ages. As Chair of the Board of the Nature Connection Mentoring Foundation, Lisa works to advance the vision, development and scalability of the organization. Lisa now lives in Houston, Texas, where she looks forward to the annual migration of Canadian Geese.
Supporter and Tireless Volunteer
Christine Larsen is currently apprenticing to the 9-month adult nature connection program at Wildernesses Awareness School, Duvall, WA. Since graduating from that program in 2018, she has also apprenticed and volunteered for youth programs ages 4-18.
Her background also includes an MA in Germanic Studies, corporate consulting to trucking and rail industries, and a 2-year residency with Re-Metau (the Outer-Island People) of the Woleai Atoll, Yap State, Federated States of Micronesia
She’s a mother to three emerging adults. Christine is committed to healing herself with respect to humankind and the living Earth, seeking right relationship through the lens of land, labor and money.
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