The Cross-Cultural Protocols seat being kept within the YPW Education and Consulting Collective will be continuing the trajectory from August 2020’s People of the Global Majority Caucus with a podcast series hosted by Sobey Wing launching soon. 

Greetings YPW Network and a call to the People of the Global Majority aka Black, Indigenous, People of Color!

A year ago we concluded a month of weekly online sessions with a People’s Assembly that included in its futurisms continuing efforts to forward the momentum we had generated to center rites of passage by and for us. After a year of gestation, a strategy has emerged to do so with a podcast.

I call upon our network and the eyes and ears on the ground to what lies beyond our network to come to join me in conversation so we may discuss what has been happening, what’s coming into being, and what areas we could use support to bring positive initiation experiences to the youth. If you’d like to share with audiences across the globe what you’re up to or can point me towards great guests to feature please drop me a line at and stay tuned for upcoming announcements on when the podcast will be ready for listening during your commutes or daily rituals.

Amping! Take care!
Sobey Wing,

Dear White Partners of the Youth Passageways Network,

We are reaching out to you, in this intense time for humanity and specifically the United States, with an invitation to weave deeper with Youth Passageways’ work in 2021, and a request for immediate financial support. 

We are asking you specifically because it is our understanding that your group is led by and/or predominantly serves white communities. We believe that we as white folks have a particular opportunity and responsibility to support the next steps of building the visionary, multicultural network that is Youth Passageways.

We see you as an ally in this effort.

This last year painfully illustrated how far we have to go in building a future that works for all of us, and also highlighted the role that groups like Youth Passageways have to play. More people are waking up to the need to look outside of mainstream solutions, and are turning to grassroots communities that have been preserving traditional ways for generations. In order to see holistic systems change in education, mental health, youth development, and law enforcement–the institutions that matter in the lives of young people today–requires building broader and deeper webs of connection. 

This is where Youth Passageways–and you–come in.

Slowly, steadily, and in our own small way, Youth Passageways is building a multicultural, multigenerational family of mutual support –a rite of passage network rooted in a commitment to systems change, including supporting indigenous-led decolonization efforts, cultural reclamation, reparations, and healing.  Our vision is that ALL young people will grow up with a deep sense of identity, belonging, and purpose–a prayer often hard to fund amidst the urgency of the moment. 

Why now? Why is our collective work and multicultural network important to support NOW with all that is moving for each of us, for our organizations and communities? For many of our partner organizations, the challenges that are being presented are beyond our imagination. The impacts of COVID, economic instability, health disparities, ongoing state violence, violent and hateful rhetoric, and the rollbacks of even modest policy gains, have left their communities in deep states of distress. We, as partners of the Youth Passageways network, are practicing mutual support and reciprocity toward the long-term goal of shifting these systemic inequities.

Since Youth Passageways’ founding, many People of the Global Majority (PoGM, a term used to replace the language “People of Color” which honors that they are not “minorities” but are actually the majority, and honors the wide variations in skin color) , from all sorts of racial and cultural backgrounds, have worked to support and build the network. PoGM have taken risks, introducing white leadership within the Youth Passageways network to their young people, communities, and organizations. The rate of progress at times has been painfully slow, as PoGM leadership has had to navigate all the subtle and not-so-subtle impacts of whiteness in Youth Passageways. 

All the emotional, spiritual, and practical labor by BIPOC leaders is incredible investment, highlighting commitment and belief in the vision. As prison abolitionist and former Co-Chair of the Youth Passageways Stewardship Council Kruti Parekh said recently in a  letter to the network:

Youth Passageways is growing into a network equally rooted in anti-oppression and ceremony. We understand that education, spirituality, healing, and justice have always been deeply intertwined, that rites of passage have been stolen from too many of our people. To shift this on a broad scale it is important to center our Black and Indigenous family, particularly efforts led by young people, women, and LGBTQ2SIA+ kin.

In preparation for the next cycle, Youth Passageways is taking a winter season (in the Northern Hemisphere) to renew our vision, integrate all of the changes of 2020, complete key projects, and prepare for a spring season of new beginnings, regeneration and systemic transformation. 

With your help, we are intending to raise $22,000 between now and the full moon of January 28th, to support Youth Passageways’ essential operations through the spring. 

We call upon all of our partners of privilege to give generously this winter: to make two financial gifts to strengthen the network, one to Buffalo Visions, an Indigenous-led partner organization and one to Youth Passageways.

We invite you to share this call to action with 5 individuals or organizations in your network.

As Guardian Gigi Coyle recently described Youth Passageways’ efforts towards building a solidarity fund, 

RIght now, Youth Passageways needs your financial support to take the next steps toward building a network of support for us all. 

Please give what you can.

In love and solidarity,

Darcy Ottey, Siri Gunnarson, Jett Cazeaux, Dane Zahorsky,

Cameron Withey Byrne, Lia Bentley & Gigi Coyle

P.S. Your support helps build a strong multiracial, intergenerational rite of passage movement. Please give generously before the full moon on January 28th!

*a special thanks to the Revolutionary Love Project for the visual inspiration for our heart design!

This summer, after a year and a half of incubation and preparation, Youth Passageways launched an Education and Consulting Collective (ECC). This small and growing circle of educators, facilitators, and practitioners close to the center of Youth Passageways have been working together in various configurations for years, and are now publicly offering their services through the network. Read more about the ECC here

In August, as our first public offering, the ECC offered a race-based caucus series. Responding to the needs we were seeing on the ground, we felt that it was essential to create separate spaces for our partners to do the work that is theirs to do in the face of systemic racism:  a space for healing for People of the Global Majority (PoGM), and a space for healing, study, and accountable action for white folks. A third caucus was hosted by a member of our community as a mixed-race space. The series was an experiment with reparative economics.

The caucuses gathered throughout August. As is always the case with Youth Passageways, it was a beautiful, complex, emergent, sometimes messy, and prayerful ceremony centered around healing and justice, culminating in gathering all caucuses together for a People’s Assembly at the end of the month. At the People’s Assembly, demands were presented by the PoGM and mixed-race participants and received by the white caucus.

The caucus spaces brought together new folks that had never been connected with Youth Passageways, along with long-standing members of our community. People from their early 20’s to their 70’s participated, including a number of people coming from the same organizations, as well as interracial couples. The white caucus space was by far the largest, with smaller PoGM and mixed-race caucus spaces.

The caucus series was an experiment with reparative economics. The white folks were asked to contribute on a sliding scale for participation (over $5600 was raised!), and the PoGM and mixed-race spaces were offered as a gift for participants. PoGM facilitators decided collectively how to share the funds as compensation for their work. Four out of six chose to receive support, and they also gifted two Indigenous women in leadership within Youth Passageways. This effort towards reparations built on Youth Passageways’ work around resource flow, and was a complex and imperfect process.  Yet it was also healing. Members of the PoGM caucus facilitation team shared that the transparency around the issues that arose, and the impact of having the decision-making and authority held within their group, was a new and healing experience for them.

Some of the fruits of this series include:

  • People have found each other, and deepened in dialogue together as pairs and small groups, to continue the conversations that came forward
  • A transformative justice process began within a partner organization, between the leadership of the organization and BIPOC folks on staff. 
  • A response team stepped forward from the white caucus group to deeply study and respond to the demands presented at the People’s Assembly. 
  • A white caucus participant stepped forward to co-anchor a twice/month accountability space as a place to take action (see below for more info)

White Folx Anti-Racism Accountability space

One of the outcomes of the August Race-Based Caucus spaces has been the creation of a twice-monthly “Accountability Action Hour” — a space for white folx to follow through on commitments to racial justice by dedicating time and labor to calls for action. The space is currently being held by Shlomo (Solace) Pesach, one of the participants in the caucus, current FIRE Fellow, and a powerhouse visionary leader, and Darcy Ottey (who is not so bad herself)..

the details

  • every other week, 11:00-12:30 PST 
  • first Sunday and third Tuesday of the month
  • next meetings: November 17th and December 6th
  • please come ready for action! 

please register here: 

registration for recurring Tuesday accountability space: 

registration for recurring Sunday accountability space: 

(please sign up for both if you plan on attending both)

What is an accountability hour? 

An “Accountability Action Hour” is a dedicated space for personal anti-racist action within a community container — it is designed for accomplishing our goals and tasks and to-do’s for racial justice. On the calls, we begin in dedication and ground together somatically, then mute ourselves and work alongside each other for an hour, with a shared Google document containing our respective list of anti-racist to-do’s. The shared Google document allows for partaking of the tasks and actions others are taking, as borrowing from another’s work is welcome!

Solace explains their inspiration for the space: “there is palpable energy and relational fabric in the Youth Passageways White Caucus, and I want to support the ongoingness of that field — our work as white folx — towards stronger relationships, crisper vision, and deeper accountability. anti-racist praxis is lifelong work; embodied, emotional, spiritual, relational, and political work. and, we need to push the agenda and the tangibility of our work. I want to be alongside you, yes, in the socio-emotional and cultural healing, but also together in practical work of liberation. This means dedicating ourselves to contacting representatives, re-distributing money, signing petitions, researching policy, making calls. This means showing up for the calls for justice that continue to summon white folx to applying political pressure.”

FIRE fellowship update (include photo from 2020 accomplishments doc?)

The Foundations in Resilience Education Fellowship (FIRE), a Youth Passageways partnership with The Ojai Foundation, has launched! The FIRE Fellowship is a pay-it-forward, immersive learning journey designed to weave together spirituality, social justice, nature connection, and leadership. 

FIRE found its shape in the ashes of the Thomas Fire that burned through Ojai, California in 2017; it emphasizes resilience training for a small cohort of emerging young leaders with a demonstrated commitment to serving the social and ecological movements of our time. 

After an extensive review of many inspiring and heartfelt applications, we selected the inaugural FIRE Fellowship cohort. We are so excited to be underway with our inaugural cohort. This year, 13 young leaders – organizers, activists, artists, healers – have come together to build with one another to gain practices for long-term transformation and healing, and provide meaningful service in their communities. In a collaborative design process, the FIRE Guide team, Guardians, and fellows are continuing to adapt the curriculum and design to meet the ongoing changes brought by COVID, uprisings, and more, with creativity, relevance, and meaningful action.

Invitation to Partners – Youth Passageways is Launching a Solidarity Fund 

“Spirit always invests in relationships first in order to make the changes needed…Social will is what lifts the world.” – Orland Bishop

In these times of pandemics, uprisings, and fires, we must support one another as best as we can. Part of our work as a growing, deepening community is transforming the way money works in society, helping resources to flow in support of all of Life. As a growing, deepening network coming together on behalf of our young people, the time has come for another step toward mutual support and care for one another. Launching a Solidarity Fund is one such step.

The idea is that we will put together a document sharing the work, and the needs, of a small group of partner projects/organizations from within the Youth Passageways network. This document will then be shared widely with potential partners and allies to invite support for these individual and collective efforts over the coming months.

There are of course many valuable funding initiatives, from gofundme to reparation funds. The idea is that this is one more – offering the gift of thinking and living like a circle. Learning how to share resources, work for equity, and liberate wealth is essential for all of our futures. We suggest that this type of fund will support partners to see their common and complementary goals and stand stronger for and with our youth, to know there is enough for all, and show up in that spirit. Such a story will let people learn more about the network and some of its partners, give a sense of our relevance, and the need for true essential work in these times.

We do believe that together we are stronger and in this way there is no competition. Everyone’s work and challenges are more than deserving of support. Part of our prayer and action is to know that sharing resources is sharing energy and love, and is part of the healing so needed. We see a community where everyone stands in dignity with what they need, and everyone stands in dignity with what they have to give. 

Please join us in this ceremony and together, may we not only fund our projects but perhaps even more, may we build community and liberate wealth to reach the places and people where it is to be used well.…for our youth, for the children, for our future.Those who have requests, whether it be for funds or resources of any kind, and would like to participate, we ask you to share a short proposal by solstice, December 21st. For more information, go here.


Here resources we are collecting along the way. To get the most up-to-date version, visit this Google doc.

Ways to Take Action:

Resources for Black folks

  • Resources for Black Healing_Updated_6_1_2020_(2).pdf created by: Micalah Webster. In Micalah’s words, ‘I’ve seen a lot on my timeline and all over the internet resources for non-black POC and white folks looking to learn, act, and support during this time. However, when I wanted to find resources for my own healing there was a noticeable gap. I wanted to make something for my family, friends, and colleagues that are hurting and looking for support too.”
  • Podcast episode from For the Wild called Embodying the Revolution uplifting the work of brontë velez, of Lead to Life  and Weaving Earth 
  • Mamademics facebook page and website

Resources relevant for everyone

Resources for white folks

<Back to the Issue

(As part of a response to a petition from native people asking a white-led group to cancel their work with a mixed blood native woman, and for Youth Passageways Network not to feature them.)

As one who has been a rites-of-passage guide and trainer since the mid ‘80s…

As one who has co-created five networks, four NGO’s, three still alive and serving many today…

As one who is a participant in many others, and a communitarian/community activist…

As one who sees the world through the lens of injustice & inter-dependence…

As one who supports the empowerment and manifestation of the individual, the person, while seeing and working for needed system change…

As one who has stood against injustice at the risk of my own life, as well as one who has stayed silent and walked away…  

As one who is willing to show up and shut up when others need and deserve to be heard at long last…  

As one who feels that–in order for needed change to unfold–alliances, partnerships, at key times around key issues, are essential…

As one who knows I am on a spectrum and neither permanently guilty or free from having been or being: a sexist, a racist, a classist, an ageist, a perpetrator and a victim in a moment, in my lifetime, through my action, my inaction and my lineage…

As one who supports the respect and preservation of culture while simultaneously working to end some patterns that became culture, some narrow unjust views that became laws, some wounded perspectives that became custom across the globe and throughout time…

As one who celebrates and struggles through the pain and bumps along with the joys and gifts of differences in most every relationship…

I write and offer the following for those who may be interested, inspired by the Youth Passageways/Cross-Cultural Protocol work, that has had many different issues of cultural appropriation to address. I hope some of these words and experiences might serve as part of any conversation and any decisions we are each making, every day, in pursuit of love, justice and truth.

Context as I understand it…

Today, as well over many eons, cultural appropriation is being brought to attention…it is part of living in a land where genocide, slavery and immigration systems have been accompanied by ongoing discrimination, racism and disrespect. It is part of living in a world where people continue to be killed for their skin color, gender, sexual expression, class, spiritual beliefs or religion. In the USA there are extreme injustices in situations such as life on many reservations and there is a strong sovereignty movement that brings hope to not only First Nations peoples but to our country as a whole in the struggle for change.

People have been working for change for eons in these arenas and today there are many more it seems showing up with a passion and a commitment to justice that is so needed in these times. There are systematic levels to work on, as well as community and personal levels to work on. Whether it be about the change needed in our legal system or the rewriting of the constitution itself. I see it as a ‘yes, and’…a need for individual change and healing as well as a corporate, governmental, global issue. Changes needed and coming include the rights to ceremony with plant medicines and changing the name of the Washington Redskins, while waking up to how we simply speak to each other between races.  Re-education if not revolution.

Our work is to ensure it unfolds in a good way

What we share, what we protect, what we embrace from songs to rite of passage ceremonies is a key area that groups such as Youth Passageways and many others are in deep inquiry around. Who are our people? What is our lineage? What is our respectful way of being with rituals that, in many cases, have grown across time and culture and land since the first fire? What is our responsibility to those who have gone before us? How do we honor the sanctity of ceremony while also living in a capitalist society? Would anyone charge for entering a church or temple? Throughout history Buddhas have been dynamited from cliff faces, churches have been burned to the ground and sacred sites have been defamed. What is our part in ending the war?

Who belongs?

ROP ultimately is about belonging whether to a tribe, community/group, land, culture, race, or this earth. And yet in the founding of networks, we often discuss the role of “vetting,” and how one does that within a network, on a website, in a community – not to mention within a country, e.g., in immigration practices. Who belongs and whether or not I belong is one of the continuing questions and wounds for many in our world today. Even though as an extended community, we may share common values and mission, I also imagine and have often experienced that what “you” would find o.k. I would question, and what another would find unacceptable, I would engage with. On a practical level this brings any network to ask who is a partner, a member, a participant? My response was then, as I feel now, that in each organization or network, we state and work our call, our mission, our vision, our mandate, our ethics, our task strongly, and then we reach out into every community and especially those less likely to have the privilege of what is being offered. We attend and be with whoever and whatever shows up–be that support, alliance, critique, or resistance. We create a forum where issues, if and as they arise, can be revealed, can be aired if not healed. In addition, and as essential, is looking to any staff, member, partner or the circle of participants to find their way, to witness, to be ambassadors, to discern, rather than looking to the network conveners to be police. If our guidelines are clear and current, and if we do our due diligence to be responsible and accountable to our own lineage and the land, place or country and its lineage, we then will discover what is ours to do and who will do it.

Who are we and how do we respond, regarding issues of cultural appropriation? Specifically, relations with First Nations?

I would hope we as youth guides start by modeling a guideline that has only served some in this land, and needs to serve many more than it does …“innocent ‘til proven guilty.” I would hope when a seeming injustice or offense occurs we look at the individual person and/or organization and also look beyond –  at the time, at the system, at the whole context that co-created it.

More than a watch dog, I hope any of us might be a witness, a student, a tracker and a safe haven to face situations of offense, injustice, cultural appropriation that will, I suspect, continue to arise as part of our work. Bottom line is that whether we initiate or respond, I hope we take care of each other while we falter and learn; may we help each other strengthen our own authentic voices, know our lineage and support people to listen to each other, to learn through the issues, to be part of the healing. And may we all remain humble in this pursuit.

I have not been an active member of the CCP (Cross-Cultural Protocols–Youth Passageways) for a variety of reasons. From a distance, from what I know, I appreciate the work being carried. So, I speak up now as a Youth Passageways ‘guardian’ because I need to write this for myself, and also to bear witness to others I see and hear who often express concern on all sides of the cultural sensitivity issue. I feel to say some things from my experience over the years, to do my part by sharing some of my experience below, to have a voice at the table or better yet to simply be part of our collective awareness. We are all here in these seats now for a time not to dominate with a perspective, knowing, or decision but to offer a piece of the story. It feels a moment to share a bit more of where I am “coming from,” living through a time and life experience of, Title 9, “MeToo”, Civil Rights, Wounded Knee and more – a time in some ways very different than the one many of you were born into.

I will make general references below and not use many names here for obvious reasons.

I am hopefully offering a personal perspective as part of the whole that will serve in the ROP network’s vision/mission, that every youth alive can have an initiation opportunity. I say all of this below to bear witness to the complexities. And I hope to be a nudge to others to write and speak from their experience, so we can continue to find truth and love and action in the circle. I would love to see an issue of Confluence focused on this.

A network is a living council, a world of many separate and also mixed cultures

As I have worked in different countries and cultures over the years, I have witnessed extremes on many sides and found that each time accusations arose it was rarely simple…there was something to be learned, healed or changed. As more now recognize the power and import of tradition and culture, that which was stolen and continues in some or many ways to be, I need to also speak for those who gave away, those who gifted, those who shared, as well as those who received, those who walked with as much integrity into their time and situation as seems possible. I cannot fall too quickly into the world of right and wrong, except when it comes to structural injustice such as with racism and sexism as examples. As we take our positions and stands, I want to speak for both individuals and groups. I feel we are here to find our way with each and discern relations rather than judge appropriation too quickly.

There are for example those white and Metis who went and apprenticed for years, a lifetime in South American villages, those who followed Buddhist monks, yogis and guru’s requests to bring the teachings to any and all in America…I have witnessed healing, in the essential return to our own “song-lines,” and healing as well amongst many who have crossed borders. In many places, I have been privy to partnerships, ones deeply informed by racial differences, historical trauma, systematic oppression as well as ones guided by the human heart, shared values and common ground. I, and many cohorts, work for such through continued awareness of what privilege and injustice we are consciously and unconsciously a part of, inside and out. I look to be with others in pursuit of creating alliances needed in our world, hopefully evolving in a healthier more whole-hearted direction to protect all life and to be part of the learning and healing of ourselves along with others.  

Some specifics … to help highlight why each situation demands attention

I have been with AIM reps carrying guns and anger that have silenced me, brought me to a deeper place of compassion, understanding, and fear for the world we have created. I have also seen them change from coming to break up a ceremony to, after much listening and sharing, three days later stay to offer a ceremony. It was my direct experience of AIM that became what I could trust.

I have been with traditional people who hold their ways very close. I have been with less traditional peoples, who moved with dignity as bridge people, who not only offered their ceremonies to other non-natives but gifted the responsibility to select non-natives. Some took on apprentices that were non-native because those were the ones who expressed interest or were, yes, in many cases, privileged enough to have the time. Even though we can identify many injustices that created such situations and hopefully continue to attend to those, it nonetheless is part of what happened quite a bit, what at least I witnessed, in the ‘70s and ‘80s. And it continues today in similar and different ways.

We have witnessed first-hand the disagreement of what and how ceremonies, songs, practices and perspectives should be offered, shared and passed on in many places, as well as within one tribe. I have seen people questioned about their heritage in a way that brought connection and understanding and other times brought added trauma into a life already tragically shattered. I have known well, white people as “want-to-be’s,” idolizing and romanticizing the “Natives,” walking the Red Road, some without knowing who they themselves are or where they came from. And I have been with sincere individuals led to and called to learn through relationships with indigenous people, guided simultaneously, yes, by knowledge of and connection to their own ancestors. I have been with takers and money makers and not wanted to be connected to their careers and I have been with many who learned in such exchanges, deepened and healed and focused primarily on what they could give back – not only to a teacher but to whole nations. I have seen white, black, brown, yellow and red people be true bridge people, finding their healing by daring or being forced to venture beyond their homeland, the Res, the favela or the monastery, as well as listening and choosing at times to return. And I have been deeply moved, educated and in service to peoples who have deepened into the preservation and continuation of their traditional culture.  

I and many cohorts, have sat with charlatans and impersonators, liars and fabricators, and witnessed the darkness of power use and abuse, and the gift of people having to wake up and find their relationship to such. I have sat outside of lodges where the people who were leading did not even know or have a connection with the land they were on, much less the depth of the ceremony, much less the offense they were making to some. I have been friends, mentor and student of many Metis, mixed-blood people, and learned of their struggles, and related to their journey when tradition offered them as little as did the dominant white culture. I have worked with whites that grew up on the Res, lived or spent time or worked as I have been blessed to do in other cultures and woke to their whiteness and the knowledge of what they were doing, imposing, missing, longing for through such. I have seen many stand strong in ancient truths and ways, as well as modern wisdom, as well as many walk between the worlds and find their unique place despite criticism from people on all sides. I have been blessed to sit with peoples of different races and classes that refused to take sides, refused to be enemies, and some who were killed for such…and seen their relatives carry on and know the essential contribution of this path.

Too often I, we, judge too quickly. And why? Among many other reasons I imagine, a desire to be right, a desire to be good, a desire to protect, a desire to be part of the healing?

I stand for the latter and walk with people who care about the pain of the present with a look to the future, as well as to the past, who seek understanding and action…for what will serve all of life. Ones who will sit with the heart knowing, the “not-knowing,” and don’t so quickly have the answers. The knowing I hang with for now at least, is that we are learning and healing every day if we so choose and ask and pray…and that what was o.k. in the past may not be now, or in some cases never has been.


I ask us all to be careful we do not pass on the condemnation of others from hearsay, from accusations alone, through policing, through watch-dogging those we have not met, been with, asked who they are…even for the sake of protecting others we know or don’t know either.

Ignorance is not a path, nor is denial, and righteousness is a tricky slope; restoring relations takes care and time. What is ours to do, what is the time we have to do it well…what comes our way and what do we seek out? How do we continue to create community, solidarity and relationship in the face of sometimes painful learnings? Can we, will we stay in the circle?

May we walk slowly and make every action a part of the healing

I know at one time in my life if I had not heard a particular legend or the Hopi Prophecy I would have most likely left this planet. Maybe that would have been o.k….and still…I know the persons who shared it were honored, loved and respected by many….and, at best by others considered inappropriate, controversial, breaking protocol. As my mentor then said, “if you’re doing anything meaningful, it will be controversial.”

I am ever grateful for having met, experienced guides offering a container, a ceremony for initiation at a time I was in search for such …I had self- initiated too often and hurt myself repeatedly. I knew I wanted to, that I had to, offer that gift once experienced to others. Thirty years later, many of us now have offered ROP to anyone and everyone called, encouraging all participants to find their own way with their ancestors, within the ceremony, with the earth, with nature as teacher, with the community present as well as the one they return to. Such journeys for the first 10 years included my family, my community, my ancestral lines of white North Americans and Europeans, predominantly. And since then, over the past 20 years, journeys have also included POC, African, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific peoples, and South Americans…indigenous and colonizers. I have seen Jews and Christians unexpectedly rediscover the roots of their traditions when being alone for many days in nature. Others seem to find a spiritual home in nature and the community that never was there within their religions. I have seen ancestors show up in ceremony, convincing me of truths so many have known for eons.  I have seen boundaries crossed and alliances formed that do not ignore race or history or identity yet establish common ground that is a belonging to this earth.


As a native elder spoke to me just this week, we need each other

I have been with native people who thanked some of us white ones for the connection, the seeing, the respect, sometimes for just showing up and shutting up – for learning, for listening, and even inspiring them at times! This was humbling. I walked with, worked with and loved a white Australian man who was initiated into and lived with the oldest aboriginal tribe and turned out to be a key link to paints and painting again, the movement to reawaken dreamtime through art. And I have sat and worked with western white brothers and sisters who did such and then found it was time to stop such a focus, who listened more deeply around “helping,” around the effects of even philanthropy, who listened again for when and how to show up and to walk together and when to turn to themselves and work more deeply with themselves and their own people, race, religion or class. I was once deeply thanked by Pacific elders for working “with my own.” And just this week thanked by Paiute elders for reaching out and walking with them.

I think you get it, “yes, and…it depends”

And, I feel there is not one way here for any of us, one response to all situations that I have ever found at least, that lasts forever. Many of the white folk woke in the ‘60s along the Red Road are the more woke people today I find around cultural appropriation…who would have thunk? Having offered solo ceremonial time in nature to people from different classes, cultures and backgrounds, I can say this: all, truly all, seemed to walk away with a blessing not because of me but because of the journey. The white privileged ones, I would dare to guess over 75% of them, are more tuned in and inspired to share resources not only with a Youth Passageways, an Ojai or School of Lost Borders but with movements of social justice and traditional cultural rites.

Having said this, I say again there are significant times of cultural appropriation, lack of awareness and respect, blindness to the offense and systematic oppression we are a part of. I feel I as a white person with a white lens and white privilege I must wake up to such and show up for such. As but one of numerous examples that is complex …I have been a part of different organizations over the years and continually spoken for not charging for ceremonies something traditional indigenous people raise time and time again. Sometimes it has been heard and shared and sometimes not. Sometimes it’s said that I don’t have to make a living and as a privileged person with additional means and ways of “making a living,” therefore I don’t understand, or get it, or need the money. And yet I remain on this track, also having been with and without $ in my life, realizing along with and regardless of my “privilege,” I still say and feel the healing and change around money is needed here, on both a personal and systemic level. There are always gifts exchanged and what form that takes can vary. Do we charge to be in church, or pass a basket? Can we act from a place of generosity ?

I will continue to do my part in addressing this where and when it seems like people are “making money” off of sacred journeys and there is not a field of reciprocity to the lineage holders, the land the as well as to the guides. Again, there is much to consider and each situation can be different. In today’s world, real distinctions need to be made between trainings, programs and ceremonies. There is always an opportunity to share resources in other ways, to live and support gifting economies rather than charging for ceremony.  

….. To sum it up on a personal note ……

As said, I have been and likely will be in the future…racist, sexist and ignorant of history, of wounds, of systems, of how my actions and or inactions hurt others. I will always have a white woman lens and I live for a world and people who have access to many lens. And I continue to walk on from my graduate work focused on race and feminism in 1971 knowing I have not graduated. I carry a simple yet infinite intention – to keep learning and be part of the healing. I have seen and deeply pursued restoring and learning through my ancestral relations since I was a child and encouraged others to do so. Not because someone told me but rather because that is what came to me when I deeply asked for help.  I have found the gift in that connection as well as the medicine in severing some of those ties and ending a lineage of abuse. I get the need for continual change in our language around sex, race, wilderness and more, feeling that no formula is going to work, and practices can help. I can’t show up at times for what seems a fundamentalism of right and wrong, another chapter in hate, closed heart and mind, a good and evil lens, in victim and perpetrator views that simplify the human condition, situation, and spirit beyond recognition.

All of this to say, I find, thankfully, along with many others, a way to be hopefully who I am, with an authentic voice, and to own and share the gifts I have discovered and been given to the best of my ability, to risk offending and show up to when or where that arises. To stand my ground and be ever willing to change. To use my positionality and privilege in any given room, for justice and healing– always in All Ways. And to continue to listen for how those ways might change as the circle changes.

…Regarding our action as networks ….

It is a time of triage and in many situations, we must act to simply stop the injustice. And if we do not simultaneously support a change of ways at the root, or what some might name the level of consciousness, behaviors will reemerge. I recently read “radical” defined as “changing at the root”…if the roots aren’t tended, the grass and weeds in any garden only come back stronger. Having been a so-called radical protesting the Vietnam war, I saw us, our government, eventually “get out,“ yet not necessarily through a change of heart. It seemed, as is so often the case, that it was primarily economics and politics that moved us along. I can say “yes, thank god for that,” and yet on many levels we simply moved the war somewhere else.

As a representative at a First International Women’s conference and a leader at the First National Women’s Conference in the ‘70s, I am grateful for how we gathered, stood, and walked. Yet I witnessed the same behaviors amongst many of us there as within the patriarchy we were attempting to dismantle …some of the same racism and oppressive patterns many only now will own. I asked then, as I do now, “How will we be different when we “WIN,” when we are on top/in charge?” I myself was far from sure and have spent a lifetime in that exploration and research mostly finding myself in circle with at best hierarchies of service, diversity and responsibility. In the environmental movement where we fight for new laws and protection the same scenarios emerge. I don’t name The Enemy as capitalism but rather the mind/heartset that creates it…as I see the same oppressive patterns in countries that are communist and socialist as well. Fear, greed, alienation, generations of wounds and trauma being passed on within the dominant group as well as the minoritized groups. Without the change of heart, without healing, without coming to love ourselves, this earth, i.e., feeling intimately part of it, ultimately laws may be changed and rape will continue.

So, my ask or offering towards guidelines

This is not a new or unique perspective. For now, we need cross-cultural protocols, we need books and trainings around social justice.  We need #MeToo , It’s Time, Inclusion and Intersectionality awareness and movements – and much more. We need people everywhere who will stand up, bear witness and call out what has to change. My prayer is that we can simultaneously embody what the new story is going to look like. I would hope we ROP and council guides, if and as we are connected to an action, if and as we see cultural appropriation in its different expressions–a program that seems “off,” in whatever ways to what we value and stand for–that YES for sure we speak up. And, that we take the time, as I hear people doing now, that we find the time, ideally before any action is taken, to hear all, and encourage the learning and healing first and foremost.

I also hear again the question of what is ours to do? And that we maybe “should” even be more proactive around cultural appropriation. My simple suggestion/wish is that we take on what comes to us for sure, we do what we can do well, and then we do more as we have the time, skill, heart and resources.  Making references, connecting partners, to be helpful to each other is an essential task of networks.

With all the needed, growing awareness of systematic oppression….

I ask that we too may stay aware of the individuals, those who hadn’t a place within their tribe, their homeland or reservation to be; those of different lineage and skin color who chose to stumble or be guided into other worlds to find their voices, their wisdom, their gifts, their healing. There must have been way over 50 indigenous and Metis people who came to The Ojai Foundation in the first 10 years, and we were there, yes, to sit in ceremony sometimes with them. Yet many times it was about simply listening to them, to their pain, their story, their dreams, and their worldview. This was a privilege and a gift. And, they came or stayed to listen and offered help with our pain, our lost sense of place, home, ancestors, whatever, to offer themselves and their prayers together to be part of the healing.

Who and How do we decide?

Do we think like a circle? Do we have faith in reaching out to others to find our best prayer and action…are we modeling working in partnership and looking to and nudging our partners to show up in our networks?

So, this is my confession ☺, reflection, my story for now, that I offer on these topics

I continue to learn from different indigenous people, those who have lived and deeply carried their cultures, those who have been forcefully separated from it and returned with dignity, and those who have walked between many worlds, and been part of creating new culture. I continue to learn from my own family who are in the white picket fences where they grew up, some who are as conservative as they come, as well as those white western people whose lens is radically different after leaving “home and comfort,” turning to work and/or live in different cities, different cultures. I am a 69 year-old white woman “becoming,” an offspring and product of my ancestors, my time, my environment, my culture, my class, my privilege, my race…as I experience others so to be, whether Trump or Nelson Mandela. As well, I am ever-changing woman with the choices I have made, the situations and people I have known, my blood family, and my emerging global community. I offer what I feel may serve to the places, people and organizations whose visions I share.

And I am here to receive your responses, reactions, feedback, dialogue and perspective.

We thankfully will continue, I hope, to hear from a diverse group within the leadership of more such networks and organizations committed to healthy communities for all. I seek to find and tend to trust the actions and prayers, healing and learning in circles, communities, organizations and networks such as these.

Looking forward…with gratitude, Gigi

<Back to the Issue


I have been a student of ROP theory and practice for 20 years.  In the course of interactions with ROP leaders (far less so in the course of my studies) I’ve learned that there are some disagreements, perhaps even fault lines that exist in ROP theory and practice.  Many of these fault lines showed up quickly and dramatically in the run-up to the Youth ROP Summit I hosted in Oakland in April 2012. Below you’ll see more details on how I personally experienced some of these fault lines.  But rather than prove to you that they exist I ask that you accept them on good faith and allow me to turn to them directly as my starting place. If these reflect stories that I am carrying that no longer apply to the real world then I ask your forbearance.  Since I assume I’m talking to a small and informed group of ROP practitioners I’m going to trust you’ll have a sense of what I’m talking about.

The primary fault lines of contemporary ROP practice and theory I see are these: communities vs. programs; gender specific vs. all genders; culture (or religion) specific vs. any and all cultures and religions welcome; nature-based vs. indoor or urban; age determinate vs. age indeterminate; heteronormative vs. homonormative.   

In the course of conversations with some ROP leaders these categories and divides have been presented to me as such.  Personally, I don’t see them as oppositional, even less as dichotomies. They may form the substance of theoretical conflicts but I don’t believe they need represent irresolvable institutional divides.  I’ve always taken an all-inclusive “both-and” approach, meaning that all of these – let’s call them ideological differences – evaporate immediately once you accept them all. The position I take? In some circumstances and in some situations any of these approaches can produce positive outcomes.  

Fortunately, one issue that is NOT a fault line anymore seems to be the one reconciling the largely right brain world of ROP field activities with the largely left brain world of organizational administration.   In effect, bringing together rational, statistically based data and science with the mysteries and miracles of ROP. Increasingly ROP practitioners are using whole brain systems, linking left and right hemispheric thinking.  In a sense that is our task: to take the right brain world of ROP work – the intuitive, spiritual, and sacred forces that “magically” coalesce to create human transformation – and translate them into the left brain world of scientific explanations, statistical data, and rational logic to explain them.  Most people in the ROP world understand that generating rational explanations and data are fundamental to substantiate the value of their work, not to mention essential to secure funding! If we can’t prove that initiating young people raises their grades, keeps them off meds, reduces delinquency and self-harming behaviors like reckless drinking, drugging, and driving, then what use is it?

But some ROP fault lines still persist, and are possibly becoming more pronounced.  Let’s look at a couple. Many will say that if any cultural practice exists that excludes transgendered or queer people then that practice hurts everyone and perpetuates a societal shadow.  I really understand and appreciate that point of view. But not to the point where it necessarily trumps another individual’s cultural and religious practices.  Consider a heteronormative ROP practitioner, let’s say a Christian fundamentalist, who argues that to practice homonormative inclusion is to violate a fundament of his or her culture or religion.  Though I don’t personally subscribe to that viewpoint I believe it deserves to be respected. (To be clear, we’re not talking about state or federal laws here. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of them that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender status.  We’re talking here about cultural and religious practices of ROP which the federal government has recently demonstrated it does not have a vested interest in.)

Let’s take another example.  Many indigenous ROP practices are maintained on a basis of exclusivity for people of their own culture or ethnicity.  To initiate outsiders is to risk betrayal of ancient ways, to risk cultural appropriation. I respect that. Outsiders should be invited in if they’re to be included.  Most progressive folks practicing ROP would say this is a no-brainer. But to return to the example above why should an indigenous group’s practice of exclusion be any more acceptable than a non-indigenous group’s?  What if that indigenous group says no to queer youth? What if a non-indigenous group does? And what about the many contemporary initiatory practices that already exist that include elements of historical indigenous practices?  What to do about those? ROP practitioners usually say they were blessed by native elders to share these practices. But different native elders might dispute that and say they were stolen and appropriated. Who’s to decide?

I would argue that cultures are living things, and as such will always grow and change.  And they will grow and change all the faster in a world like ours that is increasingly interconnected and increasingly aware of its multiculturalism.  So when it comes to either exclusionary or hybrid practices I say leave them be.  As long as ROP leaders consciously, lovingly, and diligently recognize their lineage(s) and teachers, as long as they are doing good work in a good way, serving the greater good and not just serving themselves, then I say leave them be.  Jazz and hip-hop (and so much more) began exclusively in African-American culture. Are we to pass laws and say that non-African-Americans can not and should not learn from this culture, share and delight in this culture, and yes, “appropriate it” and make it their own?  Cultural sovereignty has to be respected until there are times when it doesn’t make sense to because it doesn’t serve the greater good.

Let’s take a third example.  (And yes, I’m purposefully addressing the issues most highly charged, most likely to ruffle feathers because I think they’re important.)  Many ROP proponents would argue that without a deep experience of nature no ROP will have fundamental value – establishing a clear and deep connection with Mother Earth.  I deeply appreciate that perspective and I certainly advocate for wilderness and nature-based ROPs. But I’ve also witnessed profound transformations of individuals in urban and indoor locations that have little or no connection to the natural world.  Those processes, in my view, allow initiates to experience the “nature within” – their own human nature. Whether initiates are conscious of it or not, that nature – the oceans and forests within – is deeply tied to the natural world outside. So again I say “both-and.”

The point of all this “both-and” thinking, this inclusionary priority made paramount, is that if we don’t embrace all the different expressions of ROP practice we risk becoming our own worst enemies.  We risk saying “You…  But not you.”  We risk excluding some people and some groups from our community.  Personally, I don’t think absolutist approaches like “my way or the highway,” or “draw a line in the sand” are effective.  I don’t like them. When utilized we risk creating “the other.” We do this through ideological means no less stringent than Christian or Muslim fundamentalism.  “I work with communities.  I’ll join your organization but not if programs are included in it.” “I won’t be part of any organization that doesn’t automatically exclude men or organizations that promote SSA.¹”  “Boys need initiation more than girls.”  “Mixed gender initiation can’t work.” “You have a great ROP program but until you offer serious mentorship as part of after-care for initiates I won’t take part.”  “If individual X is part of your group then I’m not coming.” I’ve heard them all before. Literally. Every single one from ROP leaders. And every time I hear something like that I see a wall go up and I see an “us and them” mental dynamic take shape.  “I’m right; they’re wrong.”

There’s an old maxim for marriage that says “You can be right or you can be happy.”  I see the choices here as similar. When it comes to some issues we can be “right” and cross every T and dot every I.  We can be politically correct. But both intentions and impacts have to be measured. It’s certainly important to try and make every effort to get things “right.”  But it’s also important to measure impact: are we aiming to be maximally “pure” or maximally inclusive and maximally effective? What exactly are we aiming for?

I believe multiculturalism can be an ideology no less absolutist (and therefore exclusionary) than communism, Christian or Muslim orthodoxy, or consumerist market capitalism.  I’ve seen it have impacts in diverse circumstances where it drives people away. It makes them wrong. “You said such and such therefore you clearly don’t respect the rights and claims of so and so.”  “By not doing X you have demonstrated that you are Y [fill in the blank: racist, sexist, homophobic, ageist, ableist, classist…]” If we’re to really grow this community into a worldwide body of significance we need to be able to accept every individual or group at their unique station of growth.  Spiral dynamics has taught us that and expects nothing less.

What I’m arguing for here is an existential response to each ROP practice and policy with the highest priority placed on effectiveness.  If a given ROP is effective and creates deep transformation for participants then I say “welcome!” I also believe that it is a waste of time to codify policies across different cultural ROP practices.  I view it as a Sisyphean task that can and will consume huge resources and never achieve its aim of 100% “buy-in” from every potential ROP practitioner or group. No matter how good the languaging, no matter how inclusive the intentions, it’s impossible not to offend some person’s sense of identity at some time, however unintentionally.  No matter what you say and do somebody is going to be wounded. So what do you do then?  Refer them back to the written codes? No. You have to be with them personally and try to solve the conflict through deep listening and heart to heart contact.  Trying to codify what can not be codified is a waste of time. But what’s worse is that efforts to do so might actually inhibit creating real social change.

There’s a book called THEORY OF CHANGE that aims to identify what social change-makers’ core (and usually hidden) assumptions are.  Carol Weiss popularized the term “Theory of Change” as a way to describe the set of assumptions that explain both the mini-steps that lead to the long-term goal and the connections between program activities and outcomes that occur at each step of the way.  What makes for maximal effectiveness for whatever party seeks it? Some people are naturally more process oriented. Others, like myself, are more outcome oriented. Clearly both are important. What I hope to draw people’s attention to is the need to understand what our primary assumptions are that drive our theories of change and to check out whether those assumptions are in fact leading to the changes we want.

Nothing is more fundamental to my base values than social justice.  I was raised by parents who instilled that in me. Much of my life’s work, my art, reflects stands taken for racial and economic justice, and for all human rights… to set all social, economic, and political norms at a level playing field in order to finally establish true equal opportunity for all beings.   In my view economic inequality has gotten far worse in my 60 year lifetime. Gender and sexual orientation acceptance has gotten much better. Racial inequality is about the same, maybe slightly worse. Religious tolerance is far worse. Cultural acceptance is much better. Nationalism and jingoism may be vastly reduced in Europe and Africa but it’s far worse in Russia, the U.S., and China… And on and on it goes…

But here’s the point: to be an effective and far-reaching organization I believe our representative organization Youth Passageways cannot be both a youth ROP organization and a social justice organization.  Most organizations have enough trouble functioning effectively with a single, well-defined mission. Those with dual missions are doomed to failure. I always say you need to be able to explain to someone in ten words or less who you are and what you do.  Those ten words better be lucid. If you can’t make it that simple for yourself then no one else is going to get it either – not funders, not partners, not supporters, not members.

Social justice and youth ROP are two very admirable, very lofty and ambitious goals.  Achieving one is unreasonable enough. Achieving two is insane. When I was called to co-found YP the simple vision that I had was “every teen on the planet gets initiated and mentored.”  Crazy unreasonable? You bet! But simple and easily comprehended.

Do I believe social justice is a natural, maybe inevitable byproduct of ROP?  Yes. But it can’t be the aim.  I once asked Bill Kauth – one of the three founders of the ManKind Project – an adult men’s ROP organization that in 30 years has grown from a weekend workshop in Milwaukee, WI to an international organization in 25 countries, ten languages, with over 70,000 men initiated – why MKP never took any political or social justice stands, especially given its founders deep interest in social justice.  He said, “The strength of the organization lies partly in the fact that we haven’t taken public stands on issues. We are a men’s initiation and growth institution, empowering men to their own unique missions of service.  How they manifest their service in the world is up to them.”   

Should YP practice non-discriminatory policies?  Yes. Can it model the behavior it seeks from other organizational members?  You bet. But I’m concerned it may try to hold other organization-members to its own standards of social justice.  If that happens, whether in overt or subtle ways, I’m afraid it will remain small and ineffective. If it tries to propagate those social justice standards as fervently as it tries to propagate youth ROP it will not achieve either.  If it languages its work in terminology that speaks in a West Coast lingo of “new paradigms,” “collective initiation” and even too many uses of “sustainability” and “permaculture” we will drive people away. We will be “right” but not “happy.”  We need to learn to embrace all the different variants of ROP practice whether they fit our standards of justice or not.

It’s also tactically smart for YP to focus on youth ROP.  Right now there’s lots of support monies and resources available for organizations that promote youth well-being.  The powers that be will support youth maturation. The powers that be, by and large, do not support social justice.  If they did we wouldn’t need it so badly! But seeking support for youth maturation has to be measured and wise. The old Marxist maxim that a capitalist will sell you the rope to hang himself with is true only to an extent.  You can’t tell him that’s why you’re buying the rope! Do I privately hope that initiated youth will create a tsunami of change to replace the powers that be?  To tear down this whole goddamn rotten political/economic system? You bet! But that’s each young person’s private choice to make.  And I don’t see holding that private hope as a lie or deception since I truly honor each young person’s desire to act as they feel called.

I’ve long marveled at so-called futurists.  Those that can extrapolate from present trends into the future and bear witness, however imaginary, to what might come.  I never considered myself one of them. Many native peoples had social roles for folks like these and called them oracles.  I am not an oracle. But recently I found myself receiving insights, however small, into what might come. I’m told it’s patriarchal to prognosticate in an authoritative way since it can be received as “God has spoken!”  So I offer these subsequent reflections humbly, simply as thoughts that have occurred to me. I offer them in the collaborative spirit of sharing, intuitively, not as declarations from the mountain top.

Certainly the ROP practices of the near future will continue to grow in size and impact and become more “multi:” Multi-cultural, multi-gendered, multi-national, multi-religious.  ISIS is one of the greatest arguments for ROP on the planet right now. What are all those men (and yes, a few women) being drawn to from around the world if not the opportunity to live a life of mission and purpose (contrary to what capitalism teaches), to be of service to something greater than themselves (contrary to what consumerism teaches), to function as a team, as a community working together for a “noble” purpose (contrary to what individualism offers), to be empowered and have impact (contrary to what Western countries offer them due to racial and ethnic discrimination).   In short, ISIS offers initiation. Who else is offering that to Muslim youth in the West?

I spoke with an Imam in Detroit circa 2002 about what Muslim teen initiation looks like and I was shocked to hear him say there is no such thing.  He did speak to the strong community values and service missions and mentoring practices that mosques offer. But clearly that’s not enough for many Muslim – or many other – youth.

ISIS is just one manifestation of the global dysfunction of communities and the lack of healthy initiation. The U.S. industrial prison complex is certainly another.  The picture for the future is not rosy. No later than the end of this century, certainly by the 22nd century, I foresee neo-feudal Dark Ages dominated by groups like ISIS making perpetual war for scarce resources.  Some 80% of the world’s population will die due to environmental and economic catastrophes the scale of which is difficult to imagine.  That’s the bad news. But the remaining 20% will turn increasingly to ROP practices. That’s the good news. Those practices may for a time be less “multi” than those in our lifetimes but they will deepen their individual cultural footprints.  Indigenous people, who hopefully will be able to safeguard continuity of their practices, will certainly strengthen them.  Survival of the village may well depend on it. A “Warrior class” may be necessary to defend and protect the community, whether from neighboring villages, warlords, drug lords, feudal lords, corporate armies, or whatever remains of governments – the big gangs – whether called “police” or “army” or “law.”  Unlike our historical epoch, those Warriors may not be gender determined. But they will require initiation. (Not to mention post-war rituals of reintegration.)

My guess is many communities will re-establish two stages of adolescent initiation – a universal one for all those entering puberty, 11-13 years old, and ones perhaps elective or “chosen” at the end of adolescence (16-21) for warriors and all the other key role players in community life, or maybe for all.  Bill Plotkin of course has written extensively about this.

I believe the ROP social inventions that exist and are still spreading today – processes, workshops, and organizations like MKP, Boys to Men, Rite of Passage Journeys, School of Lost Borders, and so many more, will have largely disappeared.  They’ll be long forgotten. Instead what I imagine you’ll find are communities which have adopted the practices from those and other organizations and woven them into the fabric of their everyday community life. Eventually, as information resources become more and more limited, they’ll explain it by saying, “This is how we’ve always done it.” I see that as a good thing.

I turned 60 in October.  In the last year the social role of eldership has increasingly been thrust upon me.  I never wanted it or asked for a seat at this particular table but there it is… life demands from us what it seems to want.  So I’ve been thrust into positions of honor and basically asked to be wise. I do my best to speak my truth and sit down.

The issue of eldership raises a concern I’ve held for some time about ROP leaders who may or may not be members of the Youth Passageways network: Who are the elders in your community?  Who is mentoring you?  For many years I’ve heard from leaders in this ROP work that they have no mentors or courts of support.  In addition, those same leaders are often doing little or nothing to safeguard their own health and well-being.  What the hell? All too often these are charismatic, inspirational leaders of ROP practices and communities. How much are they themselves willing to be led?  Where do they turn when they are in crisis? What about when their community is in crisis? What are they doing to prevent burnout? Who are they willing to listen to when they need to be told they’re full of shit?  Where is the humility in their servant-leadership and the service to self?

Eldership is spoken of often in the YP network but how often is it practiced?   Are elders really sought out?  Is there real respect for elders who may have different points of view than youngers?   It takes real humility to hear something you don’t want to hear, that triggers you or that you think is full of shit.  That may in fact be how much of what I’ve written here has landed for you. That’s fine. But that’s the real test of hearing elders, of hearing anyone.  Not when they bless you and acknowledge you and hold your hand in support. Those things are absolutely necessary – huge aspects of an elder’s role. Don’t get me wrong.  But naming hard truths can often be just as valuable. Do you have the real humility to listen? And not defend, argue, or dismiss? The cultural ethos of today is that it’s impolite, or worse, a micro-aggression, somehow wrong to call someone on their shit.  I find this deeply problematic. One of the great revelations of my life came from doing “men’s work” which taught me that this is one of the powerful ways men in fact love each other. They care enough about the other to tell them honestly what they think. If someone really wants you to grow into your greatest self they’ll do that.  If they don’t care and don’t really love you they’ll stay silent or worse, they’ll disconnect.

And yes, I get it that different genders and different cultures and different ages have different styles of communication.  The purpose of learning cross-cultural ways is partly so we can learn to hear difficult things from each other without reacting in offense.  

I was well into my 40s before I really became capable of listening to hard truths that I didn’t want to hear.  It’s not easy. It takes real skill and practice. Sitting in the discomfort is a skill I learned only by allowing myself to be hammered again and again by wise mentors.  I needed it! I’m a stubborn SOB with a thick head! Hours and hours of meditation practice and dharma study helped a lot too…

This work is not about singing Kumbayah and dancing the hora together… or not only about that, about celebration.  Though I believe violence is not inevitable, I do believe that conflict is inevitable.  Dialectics: thesis/antithesis… synthesis; new thesis/antithesis… synthesis… the force of change. The question is how are we going to deal with conflict when it arises?  Are we going to shut it down? Are we going to disconnect, drop out? Or can we learn to accept it, to sit in the heat that’s generated, and listen carefully for what the situation may be trying to tell us?  “Welcome Fear! You bring excitement and challenge!” “Welcome Anger! You bring fierce clarity and deep passion!” These are the lessons Zen has taught me. Can we hear messages like anger and fear in ourselves and still stay in good relations with each other?  I hope so. As long as humans are around conflict won’t likely go away. It’s important to learn how not to shrink from it. What is possible is to change our relationship to it. One of the purposes of ROP (though again, not for YP) is to create fierce warriors for justice, not wimps.  Gandhi and MLK and Mandela were lots of things but they were not wimps shrinking from conflict.

Time for me to sit down.


  1. Men who say they have ‘Same Sex Attraction’ but are trying not to be gay.

Thanks for a little peek into the challenges of an intelligent, passionate group of people attempting to create an organization that supports initiatory experiences for young people.  And attempting to do it in a way that is fundamentally different from the “old system” organizations. How to support a true network … where each node has its own integrity, values, organizational system (democratic, socialist, hierarchical …) that is not determined by any one “corporate head”?  How to truly support diversity, the creative conversations … staying connected due to a common passion, and not getting stuck in “judgement” of each other? Huge task that many have failed. We keep trying. What is the function of YP? To set values, membership qualifications …?

I don’t see this in the statement of mission and ethics for YP.  To live it internally is much more difficult though, as we inevitably bump up against each other’s personal values, judgements, passions, etc.  For me that’s a good thing, yet one where “decisions” about this are made in each individual node of the network, not the node that is all about supporting the whole.  

We need each other … and why I’ve been excited about YP is that it offers a range of amazing, dedicated, intelligent people with a wide range of offerings, yet sharing a common language; and a young person can put together an amazing cluster of experiences that truly support their passage into adulthood in the world today.  Some as a part of the severance phase, others for the all important threshold experience, and wonderful places that offer experiences to support the incorporation phase of a rite of passage. We need each other. And young people resonate with different ways … to the rich diversity of offerings is a big plus. Wouldn’t want us all to be the same!  Only wish we could offer what has integrity to who we are, without judgement of others.

For example:  For me I feel passionate about nature being a component in any modern rite of passage … though not necessarily a part of every initiatory experiences that supports a full rop.  For me as a guide I am constantly asking myself what are the qualities, skills, and experiences that prepare young people to deal with the givens of the modern world (and of course for me this is in the context of the States and some of europe, since that’s where I work).  and for me a very important quality that needs empowerment is in healing the split of human and nature … imperative for the health of our species (in my opinion) … and so I include that in the initiatory experiences I offer. I also feel that a cross cultural component is essential to live in the global world today.  I could go on. I may not be able to do all of it, yet I look for those organizations and experiences that will supplement what I might be able to offer, and encourage young people to explore the options, putting a full packet together.

Yet what do we do if someone wants to join the network who we feel doesn’t fit, or is “not good”, or does things that are “too dangerous” or don’t follow our basic values, etc.?  Is there someone who decides what’s valid and what isn’t? What is the role of YP?

The German speaking Wilderness Guides Council decided that to be a member one has to have had a certain amount of approved training, and only then can join the conversation.  The US wilderness guides council is inclusive of anyone, feeling that exposure to the conversation by anyone interested, is a good thing. In both places this has caused tension.  There are definite guidelines to anyone considered to become a guide to the School, including School training, good recommendations by other school guides, etc. I feel strongly that the WGC should be inclusive.  And respect that the German speaking council has made its own choices. At the same time there are definite guidelines to anyone considered to become a guide to the School, including School training, good recommendations by other school guides, etc.  Different from an organization that is supporting the network, rather it is the decision making of one of the nodes in the network. What is the function of YP?

When Steven and I were first building Rites of Passage, Inc. in Marin, my stepmother (and mentor) Virginia Hine came to live with us half the year for several years.  She was not only a cultural anthropologist (which gave us an important context for our work) but also with her colleague, the one who coined the term Network as a new social phenomenon.  I continue to find it a helpful reminder. A quick search brought me what’s below … thought you’d find it interesting as well, since I hear some of its thoughts in your words.


More about Frederick and Warrior Films on his Website

Find out about Frederick’s recent book Til Death do us Part book Review

More about Meredith and the School of Lost Borders

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To celebrate Juneteenth, earlier this year — a US holiday recognising the final emancipation of black slaves in Texas — No Sesso has collaborated with photographer and filmmaker Rhea Dillon to release Black Angel — a meditation on themes of restraint, freedom and identity. Premiering last week in L.A., the highlights the lack of innocence that black people are allowed in an increasingly right wing America.

Rhea looked to recent tragedies as a catalyst, questioning the very nature of liberty in the United States. “Too many times black people are unlawfully killed without even being able to put their hands up in innocence,” she says. “Instead, they are instantly perceived as a threat to society from birth, especially for young black boys –- so tell me, is there any innocence for us? Are we all just angels on the land awaiting heaven’s open door?”

In a series of vignettes shot on a mini DV camera, the visuals play out like singles on an album, a conceptual collection of shorts that unite for the same message. Each scene has the gorgeous intimacy of a home movie and the quiet political power of a silent protest. Rhea cast friends and family of the brand, as well as street cast contributors from surrounding neighbourhoods to provide voices unique voices in the film.

Rhea said, “through No Sesso’s garments there is no conforming identity. There’s no denotation of male or female. You’re allowed to just be who you want to be regardless of society’s rules. This film will address and display the freedom of the black being, being allowed to just be.“

On the heels of that collaboration, Rhea has joined forces with Nowness just earlier this month for a new film titled Process, which premiered in October for the ‘Defining Beauty’ series, Rhea explored the often overlooked and misunderstood particularities of afro upkeep. “Process was all about never seeing black hair being washed and exposing those stages of a process that needs to be ‘diarised-blocked out-half day set aside’ for,” she outlines. “I am a planner as a black woman. As a person with afro hair, you can’t afford to not have it together.” An intimate depiction, the short explores the “crown” that the hair on your head represents as a black female: “this crown I hold on my head is heavy laden with politics and societal pressures,” Rhea adds. Through a combination of image and sound, the film “opens up the sensory experience of the hair ritual of a black person from start to finish. To provocatively push the audience to experience and therefore understand the weight of five seemingly ittle words, ‘Sorry, I’m washing my hair…’”

Ultimately, however, Rhea’s choice of concepts and media reflects her want to transport others to new worlds in order to help the advancement of societal structures. “Surrendering to storytelling is so important for existence as I remember reading this quote: ‘art is everything we hope life would be’,” Rhea recalls, concluding that, “I think art is everything life can be, which is why I often use my art to explore black existence and politics as it’s my means of bringing about change.”

Watch Black Angel

Watch Process

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Moving into Elderhood can be such an exciting time.  I’m finding that volumes of learning, research and life experience (all those decades~!) are now fitting together with a clarity that has evaded me until now.  Each stage of life brings extraordinary gifts, but pausing at the plateau of “growing old” can be rich with appreciation. (Breathe~! Stay humble, and don’t forget to stretch.) Cutting through the materialism and distractions of modern life, I feel incredibly blessed to hold direct transmissions from the land, in forms that fit into categories of animism, ecopsychology, ancient knowing, plant spirit medicine, and enchantivism, which is the weaving together of our personal mythologies with the magic of the wild.  Next to the land itself, teachings from Indigenous Elders, wisdom keepers, activists and other Wise Souls have been my greatest mentors and advisors.

Whether our primary work is in social justice, direct action, spiritual growth, wilderness quests, ceremony, rites of passage or connecting to the Ancestors, the threads of right relationship run through everything we do.    Starting with our own hearts and minds, it’s an ongoing mission to unpack the thoughts and behaviors that are not really ours, but arise from exposure to the systems of Euro-Empire. Establishing right relationship with ourselves and healing our inner process (our “neurodecolonization”) can be an incredible challenge, when faced with the white hetero-patriarchal capitalist overculture.  We have been separated from the external world, there are strict boundaries around the way we think, sense and feel, and with the emphasis on the “head” rather than the heart, our knowledge is supposed to come from intellectual prowess and cognitive ability. Too much thinking! We have been taught to ignore our intuition, and the incredible amount of wisdom we receive from our own bodies.

To aid us with our inner transformation, Indigenous Knowledge (IK) from a myriad of sources teach us other important ways of knowing that have been left out of the equation.  The Anlo-Ewe of Africa hold a concept of seselelame or knowledge “perceived through the sensations of the body.”   A wide range of psychic, intuitive, kinesthetic, sexual, and emotional sensations and feelings are all examples of seselelame.  So much of what we know about the world can be felt in the inner realms, and understood by our internal knowing!  There are no boundaries between the self and nature in indigenous and pre-colonial epistemologies, and this vital intra-connection is on the rise again today.   We are channels for energy, and have always been in the flow!

Learning from the timeless and multicultural model of the “medicine wheel,” I have noticed that we move through the roles of Warrior, Visionary, Healer and Teacher on a regular basis.² In the north, the warrior is the leader, where we take a stand and engage with the issues that matter; in the east, we live our authenticity and express that truth as visionaries and seers;  in the south we pay attention to the knowledge of our hearts for the benefit of all beings; and finally in the west, we are open both to spontaneity and wisdom, and pass our teachings and epiphanies on to others.  Each direction has an amazing energy that is integral to the whole, and as we move through the cycle we continue to refine the special aspects of each role.

Also sourced from the “medicine wheel” or “four directions” model found in both ancient and modern societies, assigning aspects of the human experience into 4 quadrants is among the most important foundations we can take up as a life-long practice.  Watching the youth of today struggle, and folks of all ages and demographics experience trauma, distress and alienation, it is empowering to know that balance, or right relationship, can be achieved by understanding the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual aspects of self.   Shifting or weaving through the 4 quadrants is not an exact discipline – sometimes circumstances are beyond our control – and yet it is comforting to know that other possibilities and potentials exist. When we find ourselves dwelling too long in emotional territory, we can make an effort to use our critical thinking skills and sort out the variables, and when we are over-intellectualizing, we can take time for bodily regimes and pleasures.  And what we think or feel might be a mental or emotional disturbance, may actually be a prompting from our own inner mystic, or the innate spiritual potential for magic, myth and meaning we all hold. Our “higher selves” guide our heart, our heart is informed by our mind and vice versa, and the natural sensate wisdom of our bodies can be an unfailing guide.

As we look beyond our own empowerment and healing, we can focus on moving from the “Me” to the “We,” and look to right relationship and sacred balance with our Ancestors and Earth Community. We have ancient models to follow, and yet it is simplistic to suggest we can renounce ourselves completely as modern people. We are moving both forward and back, and as we consider the beauty and timelessness of pre-colonial worldviews, many themes and lifeways³ can be encouraged and embraced, both for ourselves and our kinship groups.  

The Earth Our Mother

The world is a place of sacred mystery, and our relationship with the world is rooted in a profound respect for the land and all life.  Humans are not above creation but part of it, and we flourish within the boundaries of the Sacred Circle. We are informed by the land and our bond to a particular landscape, and in this animist universe we are connected to the plants, creatures, elements and earth spirits that dwell there.  The love of the land and our community is the only true wealth we have – we are part of the Earth and the Earth is part of us.

Patterns of Ancestral Mind

By reclaiming our place within (not above) Earth Community we organically find ourselves practicing a cyclical thinking that is based on spirit connectivity, natural processes, creativity and peace, rather than singularity, ownership or dominance. When we are physically grounded and embodied our restless mind fades, and we find ourselves vibrant and present in a field of mindfulness and awareness.  We begin to perceive time as a spiral, and are more connected and empathic with others. Our learning is purely experiential, as we are empowered to acquire knowledge at our own pace in our own way, and overall self-identity is based on our own experience and self-reflection. Being a part of earth-emergent community allows us to hold an “everyday” sense of mystery, wonder and awe, and all of our intelligences are combined to fulfill our holistic potential as a “true human being.”  With ancestral or ecocentric mind as the foundation, the collective is able to integrate self-discovery, wisdom and responsibility.

Reciprocity with the Land and Each Other

Our existence is sustained by expressions of gratitude such as ceremony and prayer, as we unconditionally give thanks for all life and the elements that make life possible.  We are in a symbiotic relationship with the Earth, as everything we need to live a good life comes from the land, and our activities are intertwined with the seasons and cycles of nature. When we embody these principles and have respect for all beings through ceremony and prayer, the cosmic balance is upheld and restored, and the survival of the community ongoing. The reciprocity of maintaining good relationships with each other and all beings is a shared collective value, and our Elders and mentors teach us and model to us the virtues of wisdom, bravery, generosity and selflessness that guide us in these interactions.  It is our responsibility to hold the role of our teachers in the highest regard, and to ensure that the generations following also become Wise Elders, and continue to pass on their values and wisdom.

Reclaiming and practicing ancient ways of knowing hold great promise for navigating our most difficult passages and life transitions, either alone or with guides and mentors.  Surrounded by narcissism and other forms of infantalization, trained to compete and embrace the “cult of the individual” over the needs of the collective, we continue to be impacted by Empire.  And yet, as modernists, let’s not be too hard on ourselves! Learning to relinquish our western thinking and put the “we” ahead of “me” that is at the heart of decolonization is an ongoing (and life-long) process.  By reclaiming our inner life, the wisdom of the body, the magical and the mysterious, ancestor veneration and the wheel of life, we are finding holistic patterns and building earth-rooted identity. And cultivating right relationship with ourselves and others allows us to join the worldwide circle of ecological community.  In the end, these are the ethics that will translate into sustainable societies and well-being for all, as we maintain the sacred balance of Earth Community for the generations yet to come.



  1. Kathryn Linn Geurts, Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community, University of California Press, 2002
  2. Angeles Arrien, The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary,  HarperOne, 1993
  3. Pegi Eyers, Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community, Stone Circle Press, 2016


<Back to the Issue

What happens when a story is forgotten?

I started this film at 17, because I had a fear that part of my identity, my native Prairie Band Potawatomi heritage, would be inevitably lost in time. Through music, dance, and color, I’m inviting others to become immersed in the thoughts, histories, and emotions I grew up with.

During the creation of this personal film, I had the intention for this to simply be a time-capsule for myself and my baby brother to look back on in the future, as adults. Little did I know that upon it’s release, this film would take me on a journey for over a year. I got to meet indigenous communities from around the world – from the Sami of Scandinavia, Ainu of Japan, and many more – who were all dealing with the same struggle to preserve their language and culture. I felt so lucky to hear their stories and for the first time, experienced the power storytelling has to connect us to each other as human beings.

Watch Kayla’s Ted Talk at: 

Or learn more about Kayla’s lineage project by clicking the image below:

This fall, in the Yellow Bear Canyon just outside of the Black Hills, Youth Passageways brought together a small intergenerational delegation, for relationship building, truth-telling and healing, and explored an alliance to support and uplift indigenous youth throughout the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This gathering was one of the many threads that have and continue to build the tapestry of Youth Passageways over the last few years and feels like a foundational step towards actualizing YPW’s mission.

The theme of the 2018 gathering was Spirit Led. What this meant for the group was to allow the unseen to be welcomed and incorporated into our time together and to guide the journey throughout. Those gathered let go of attachment to specific ideas of schedule or form that could block the Blessings from coming through.

Below are the intentions set as well as other images from some of the breakout sessions and activities from various parts of the weekend.



The Days Before – Hard Work and Healing: After more than a year of planning, Marisa and Dane got into a car headed for South Dakota, arriving in Pine Ridge the Saturday before the gathering. Becky met them with her legendary hospitality and joy, and after a great many hugs (and selfies) the work of getting the space ready was well underway. Early on, the organizing team invited participants to offer their labor along with their participation in the gathering. The YPW gathering happened just weeks before All Nations was to hold one of its annual gathering of over 300 folks. Part of their preparations for that gathering was a total overhaul of the kitchen space from pipes to ceiling and the YPW gathering fell right in the time that the bulk of it was underway. As more of the organizing team and other participants arrived over the next few days, it was all hands on deck alongside Yolanda and the All Nations work crew to put the kitchen together and prepare the land for both gatherings. It was a close call but the work was finished right on schedule with the cuts, stains, and smiles to prove it right in time to celebrate Dallas’s birthday!

Meanwhile, the organizing team was still looking to find another cook to use the beautiful new kitchen. Becky mentioned they were considering hiring someone for their larger gathering and that he would be available to help with the Youth Passageways meals. After driving into Porcupine, Dane met Filmore Richards, a two-spirited man, in his early 50’s with a laugh for days. Alongside Aidoneus Bishop, a Sámi man who generously volunteered his time to create the menu and lead in the cooking, the kitchen was finally complete. The finishing touch was making sure the most important part made it back in the newly upgraded kitchen which Marisa lovingly hung next to the brand new industrial grill– the sign for Becky’s Kitchen!

In keeping with her invitation of healing, Becky had arranged for one of their medicine man, Leksi’ Johnny Gibbons to hold a Yuwipi healing ceremony for the members of Youth Passageways that had arrived and for their larger community on the Reservation. It was an incredibly powerful evening for all those who took part, directly in the ceremony or in their own ceremonies alongside. Folks shared and prayed and were opened up long into the early hours of the morning, before heading to their beds in anticipation of the official ‘start’ the next day.


Day One – A Map, Emerging: Folks that had been in ceremony the day before found themselves still very much in that space upon waking. Others arrived at different times, and were welcomed to the land and began to weave into the flow of our time. Collectively, those present began to develop a “Map of Wholeness” (a term shared with us by Gigi Coyle). Grounded in how All Nations holds the components of Mind, Heart, Body, and Spirit, in their work, this map provided the outline for how we would share responsibility for our time together. The map continued to develop over the weekend and continues to evolve as it becomes a core organizing framework for our operations as a network.

That morning, we sat together in a round of introductions: who we were, where we come from, why we were here. Becky’s mother and father joined the group to share about their lives at Pine Ridge and beyond, which reinforced a desire by many of the folks who had arrived to see more of the surrounding reservation. That afternoon, Becky took a group to Wounded Knee and the Badlands National Park to see some of the history of the place, and to bring it fully into the opening.

That evening, after everyone ate the first of many wonderful meals prepared by Aidon and Filmore, the participants came together in prayers and blessings to officially open the gathering. The Youth Passageways delegates brought gifts from their ancestral lineage or the lands they lived. One by one, each delegate was invited to come to the center and speak to what their gift was and to offer it to the center table or to a specific person from Pine Ridge. There were so many gifts offered that they filled the table and the floor around it! The Pine Ridge residents were then invited to choose the gift they wanted and the rest were placed next to the altar for those who would arrive throughout the gathering. The invitation to gather on the ancestral lands of the Lakota people was met with gratitude; it was a special moment for many of the delegates that had been holding the story of YPW all the way back to its origins in Hawai’i or even beyond. The evening ended with a round of introductions and acknowledgments, a rich sense of exchange clear and present in the air.


Day Two – Mind, Body, Heart: The second day started with the Facilitation Team, Clement Wilson and Ramon Parish, alongside Becky and Dallas, inviting the larger body to break up into self-identified caucus groups of Olders/Yelders/Elders, Queer, Youth, Settler, Indigenous, and “?”. Each was then asked to reflect and share on the challenges and gifts they saw as part of the group they were in, see photos for what came out (including the modern art provided by the Olders/Yelders/Elders). This was also a time for folks to get some time to be in smaller conversations. After lunch, the YouthVoice group held by Marisa, Lia, Kruti, and Delacina invited participants out for a no-holds-barred game of Capture the Flag (led by 2 youth captains Michael and Khalil) and oh what a game it was! Arguably, one of the biggest takeaways from the gathering is confirmation that Orland Bishop will indeed divebomb the ground in order to advance a game for his team! Afterward, there was a debrief and then some needed time to decompress.

Later that evening after dinner, everyone met back in the central meeting space where Brother Larry Swallow, one of the ceremony and story holders of the All Nations community, gave a lively and interactive telling of the Lakota Creation story and the Seven Sacred Medicines gifted to the Lakota people by White Buffalo Calf Woman. The sharing of the traditions of the Lakota people opened conversation around the challenges and opportunities of the interfacing of these long-standing traditions with multi-cultural worldviews. One example that surfaced was how two-spirited and non-binary folks can feel seen and welcomed for who they are, across cultural differences.

As the evening closed, folks went to various spaces, with fireside conversations that emerged from the day weaving into the Dreamtime of the night and the gathering overall.


Day Three – Spirit Led: By the third day, the participants were living in the flow of “Spirit Led,” of letting go of agendas and accepting that what needed to happen will. That morning, Becky and Dallas invited community elders Leksi’ Chris Eagle Hawk and Leksi’ Cecil Cross to join the group and for a water blessing that would happen at some point during the day. Leksi’ Chris shared his story of being taken from his home and forced into a Catholic Boarding School and how that directly impacted the way he was unavailable for his children for most of their childhood, as well as the steps he took to come back to himself, his culture, and the lifesaving power of its medicine. Afterwards, the group convened to bless a freshwater spring on the property with the hopes for it to become an artesian well sometime in the next year.

The time in nature continued as Leksi’ Cecil and Dallas took a group up into the bluffs that line the Yellow Bear Canyon in which All Nations is perched. They spoke of the land, the medicines there, and the experiences they have had with young ones learning their traditional ways through All Nations. Through this the hike, the expansiveness of the land and of All Nations larger relationship to it, became infinitely clearer to the participants who walked the bluffs. It made for a breathtaking and nourishing time.

That evening was the Passion, or talent, Show. After dinner in the setting sun, Delacina met participants in the clearing at the center of the All Nations grounds on Horseback and spoke to her and the Lakota relationship to animals, dogs and horses in specific. For many people that were present, watching Delacina weave two traditions of her people–horse culture and hoop dancing–was a moving testament to the power of the ways young people can draw on their traditional ways to give birth to new cultural forms and their own unique expressions of creativity. Watching her father, Dallas, humbly and a little bit awkwardly support her added to the power of what she shared! Afterward, folks made their way back to the meeting space for the Youth MC team of Michael, Alex, and Khalil. From wholly raw and emotion filled poetry to uncontrollable laughter, many participants offered in a creative way a bit of who they are. This evening created a moment inside the larger moment of the gathering harkening back to the “Blessings and Beauty” public event held during the LA Gathering.


Day Four – What is Actually Needed – The Gift in Offering: The day began with movement held by Melissa Michaels. Participants began to move some of the energy and tension in our bodies from the weekend so far. As the gathering drew toward closure, there was a common sentiment that participants needed a chance to get to know what each present had brought in terms of skills and knowledge as one of the many ways YPW would live into the idea of alliance.

Simultaneously Dallas had started a conversation with Dane (and championed by sweet Khalil) about using their combined collection of bows to close the gathering with an arrow ceremony in which prayers were tied to arrows and shot out into the land. So as the morning session unfolded, each participant was encouraged to make a prayer tie, knowing that some folks had to leave earlier in the afternoon.

As each of the adults shared, one of the participants, Angus, recorded what each offered on a large drop cloth attached to one of the walls with a promise to translate to a spreadsheet and disseminate to the collective upon their return home. A common component of the sharing was a feeling of being under-resourced overall and simultaneously in need of more of the kinds of gatherings like those that Youth Passageways hosted. After each of the adults and elders had gone, everyone transitioned outside and formed a circle around the youth to center their voices and to hear what their needs were. Many listening felt humbled and heartbroken, listening to the challenges that the young ones faced. A common refrain the youth shared was a desire for more experiences like this weekend gathering. As each spoke, they lifted up the others and together began forming a protective and supportive bond, even while they offered clear and passionate appeals to the practitioners and facilitators surrounding them!

As the group headed back to the central meeting space, departure time was approaching. Dallas rallied a group of seven folks from Pine Ridge and YPW to take up bows, each with a bundle of the prayer ties affixed and on the count of three, they were loosed out into the bluff overlooking the land. The cheers and laughter were riotous and as the circle came together in closing, each person was invited to embrace every other in a beautiful chain of love and doksha (farewell for now in Lakota).


What’s Happened Since & Next Steps: Since the gathering, many things have been moving in those who attended, in the All Nations and Pine Ridge communities themselves and between them and the greater YPW community, here are just a few.

  • Participant Follow Up Call: Participants gathered for a call in the month after the gathering to reflect on their time and to discuss what was most impactful for them and some of the steps below. You can listen/watch the call HERE.
  • All Nations / YPW Alliance: Dane (and other interested YPW delegates) will head back to All Nations this coming April for the next All Nations Annual Gathering to keep dreaming into the alliance as well as to continue the arrow ceremony started with Dallas this fall.
  • Youth Council – Delacina along with youth from around the reservation have also formulated a Youth Council to meet each month at All Nations with male and female delegates from each of the 9 districts (As well as the invitation to two-spirited delegates as well) to talk about what they want to see happen in the coming months and to hold a Passion/Talent Show those same evenings!
  • Elders Council – In September, Dallas and Chubbs began going to all the Elders in the 9 districts and inviting them to start an Elders council in response to the Youth Council with the goal of eventually having them be informed by each other!
  • All Nations & Golden Bridge Yolanda has already made a trek out to the Front Range to continue building relationship with Golden Bridge and Becky is slated to head out in the coming weeks. There are also plans solidifying to integrate movement programs into the All Nations program offerings in 2019 and for a joint dance center to be built at All Nations at some point in the future.

Deep and Enduring Thank Yous to the Many Hands Who Made the 2018 Gathering Possible:

The warmest of thanks to Becky and Dallas Chief Eagle who opened their home to Youth Passageways in the spirit of generosity and healing, and to the whole All Nations family including Brother Chubbs Francis Thunder Hawk, Brother Larry Swallow, Sister Yolanda Cordova-Swallow, Sister Carol Iron Rope-Herrera, Leksi’ Chris Eagle Hawk, Leksi’ Johnny Gibbons, and Leksi’ Cecil Cross.

And a specific and poignant thank you to the youth who brought such vulnerability, trust, courage and grace to our time together including Delacina Chief Eagle, Alex Swallow, Michael Bull Bear, Brittany Poor Bear, Duane Two Bulls, Khalil Parekh-Richardson and to the whole His Horse is Thunder clan (Akicita, Tessie, Sol Mahpiya Zi, and Anina)!

Flow of Resources – the Financial Report:

The gathering cost $26,097. Our goal for this gathering was to break even, and we did exactly that. In April, we launched our Making Kin fundraising campaign and secured funding from the Kalliopeia foundation as well as a new grant from the Arbonne Foundation, combined with individual contributions that brought us to $17,600 with another $3,200 in registrations costs which gave us exactly $3 in net revenue! The success of breaking even however, should not be understated, even, for a fact, allowed us not only to bring folks from across North American to Pine Ridge but additionally, to contract with local folks for various logistical needs and to keep the resources close to Pine Ridge!

Individual & Organizational Financial Donations:

Mick Rhodes, Kruti Parekh, Munro Sickafoose, Scott Lawrance, Wendy Kaas
Darcy Ottey, Anna Coffman, Pegi Eyers, Rob Meltzer, the Schick Foundation, the Arbonne Foundation, the Kalliopeia Foundation, Golden Bridge, the School of Lost Borders, Gigi Coyle

Donations/Volunteer Time:

Including but not limited to: Kruti Parekh, Marisa Taborga Byrne, Darcy Ottey, Sobey Wing, Ramon Parish, Melissa Michaels, Gigi Coyle, Orland Bishop, Dane Zahorsky, JO Jett Oestreich-Cazeaux, Frederick Marx, Lia Bently, Clement Wilson, Siri Gunnarson, Will Scott, and Angus Maria Moore.

And a special thank you to Aidoneus Bishop who offered his hands and his amazing food alongside brother Filmore Richards in the kitchen, and to David Moskowitz who so graciously gifted us with so many beautiful images!


Marisa Taborga Byrne
JO Jett Oestreich-Cazeaux
Aidoneus BishopDarcy Ottey
Siri Gunnarson
Will Scott
Ramon Parish
Kruti Parekh
Cameron Withey
Yolanda Cordova-Swallow
Melissa Michaels
Sarita Rivard
Angus Maria Moore
Chubbs Francis Thunder Hawk.
Akicita His Horse Is Thunder
Tessie His Horse is Thunder
Sol Mahpiya Zi His Horse Is Thunder
Anina His Horse is Thunder
Manuela Welton
Mariah Tuffy
Lia Bentley
Gigi Coyle
Orland Bishop
Clement Wilson
Sobey Wing
Larry Swallow
Michael Bull Bear
Brittany Poor Bear
Delacina Chief Eagle
Becky Chief Eagle
Duane Two Bulls
Pedro H. Silva
David Moskowitz
Dane Zahorsky
Pınar Ateş Sinopoulos-Lloyd
So Sinopoulos-Lloyd

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Though Youth Passageways holding a gathering at All Nations would be a momentous gift and opportunity, it felt important to be very thoughtful saying ‘yes’ to the invitation. Embedded in the very fabric of YPW from the start has been a steadily evolving practice of permission seeking and the intention of coming to the places it gathers in service and in right relationship with those places and the peoples that reside there. Over the rest of 2017 and January 2018, finding that ‘YES’ was explored deeply alongside Becky, as a new SC member, and in collaboration with the Cross-Cultural Protocols Working Group. An organizing team formed consisting of Becky and Dallas Chief Eagle, Dane Zahorsky and Darcy Ottey, and supported Gathering by Yolanda Cordova-Swallow, Gigi Coyle and Sobey Wing. This team, in dialogue with the whole SC, decided that a small gathering of 35 to 40 people would best serve the place and people of the land. Half of the attendees would come from All Nations and Pine Ridge, and the other half would be a “delegation” from the greater YPW network. Becky, Dallas, the CCP, and others helped offer a mindful and heartfelt process of preparing and informing the YPW delegates to contribute and collaborate with the Place so that reciprocity would be at the heart of the gathering.

Below are some of the steps in this preparation and trust building process:

March 2018 – All Nations Site Visit:

In early March, Dane Zahorsky, YPW’s Director/Broom pusher, and his partner, headed to All Nations Gathering Center on behalf of YPW, to deepen the relationship with All Nations and get a working understanding of the place, its capacity, and ways of possible collaboration between the two organizations. Learn more about that journey and what came out HERE.

June – PC Episode 3 – The Spirit of Wellness & The YouthVoice Team Forms:

After the site visit, and in preparation of heading to All Nations later that summer, Becky and Dallas were invited to be guests on the newly launched YPW Podcast: Practicing Community.  You can listen to Becky and Dallas dive into their work HERE.  At the same time Marisa Taborga Byrne, YPW’s Network Mapper, had started to develop a bond with Dallas’s daughter, Delacina Chief Eagle and joined the organizing team as the Youth Voice Track point person.

July – August – Participant Calls:

The preparation process included two calls; the first shared historical and current context on Pine Ridge Reservation and All Nations Gathering Center and offered deeper awareness of the socio-economic and political issues affecting the community. You can listen to the first call HERE. The second, hosted by Sobey Wing and Gigi Coyle, focused on the relationships between settlers and indigenous peoples and provided examples of asking permission and consent to organize events on traditional territories that are not one’s ancestral homelands. You can listen to that call HERE.


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Youth Passageways Advisor Frederick Marx first introduced Rebecca (Becky) Chief Eagle to Youth Passageways in 2016, and she attended the 2016 gathering in Los Angeles. Over the course of the weekend, Becky fell ill and Marisa Taborga Byrne, JO Jett Cazeaux and Sharon Black Wolf (three amazing Stewardship Council members) nursed her back to health. Even a bit under the weather, Becky showed up in a strong way and it was made clear that tending this new relationship and the unfolding bond among her and those she met at the gathering was important for many people, and for Youth Passageways. There were many threads that came out of this gathering and wove together in a way that wouldn’t be made clear for nearly a year after. Here are two:

Drawing on what transpired in Los Angeles, the Cross Cultural Protocols (CCP) Working Group offered a six week web-based Learning Journey in spring 2017,  in which participants were asked to dive deep into the ways in which who we are and where we come from has an impact on our work as rite of passage facilitators. Topics covered included ancestral lineage, social and cultural change, queer initiation, as well as the ways that rites have been lost through systemic oppression and how they can be reclaimed through reconciliation and healing. This Journey had a significant impact on many of its participants, and ended with the call for the work of reparations in concrete ways.

Another thread was a call from practitioners working along the Front Range in Colorado to explore the possibility of the next YPW gathering taking place there. Through dialogue over a year and a half, it became clear that the timing was not quite right. The question of where the next gathering would be was opened again, with the focus being a localized, community-specific offering. At the same time, Becky accepted an invitation to join the Stewardship Council (SC) during the annual retreat in November 2017, during which she and her husband Dallas graciously invited Youth Passageways for a small gathering of healing and celebration at the All Nations Gathering Center. This center is their home and base of operations on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where for more than 10 years, Becky and Dallas, along with a growing team, have impacted and transformed lives through a “blending of modern practices with the beautiful traditions of the Lakota Way”.

Another thread was a call from practitioners working along the Front Range in Colorado to explore the possibility of the next YPW gathering taking place there. Through dialogue over a year and a half, it became clear that the timing was not quite right. The question of where the next gathering would be was opened again, with the focus being a localized, community-specific offering. At the same time, Becky accepted an invitation to join the Stewardship Council (SC) during the annual retreat in November 2017, during which she and her husband Dallas graciously invited Youth Passageways for a small gathering of healing and celebration at the All Nations Gathering Center. This center is their home and base of operations on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where for more than 10 years, Becky and Dallas, along with a growing team, have impacted and transformed lives through a “blending of modern practices with the beautiful traditions of the Lakota Way”.

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This letter to the editor was written in response to an article printed in the September 2018 edition of Outside Magazine, related to rites of passage. It doesn’t appear as if the magazine will be publishing it, but we wanted to share it with the Youth Passageways community!

Dear Editor of Outside magazine,

Thank you for making “Rewilding the American Child” the cover story of your September issue, and for including rites of passage as part of this important discussion. The loss of rites of passage has implications not just for the lives of individual young people, but for public health more broadly. Renewing rites of passage in meaningful ways is a powerful strategy to address issues as seemingly unrelated as the rise of violent extremists and school shootings, unprecedented pharmaceutical dependency, and the increasing polarization in society. Because this is such a pressing yet often-neglected topic, I was disappointed to see gaps in your reporting of this subject, and what felt like an outdated perspective. 

What especially concerned me was the absence of the cultural context of rites of passage within the piece. An essential part of rites of passage is the community and cultural context in which they occur—which in today’s world is deeply effected by race, ethnicity, gender, geographical location, and a host of other factors. These factors were noticeably absent from this article’s descriptions.

In a nation with a founding story that involves enslavement of Africans and genocide of indigenous peoples, it is critical that rite of passage ceremonies help folks develop a healthy sense of cultural rootedness and identity (which is possible for all people regardless of racial/ethnic background), in ways that do not reinforce structural inequity and white supremacy. Many indigenous peoples have pointed out that the use of certain ceremonial practices by non-indigenous peoples is cultural appropriation, and they have asked for (and at times demanded) this to stop. Yet the lead-in story to this article references sweatlodge without giving any context for the practice. While some form of sweat-house for purification and prayer can be found the world over, generally the practice that “sweatlodge” refers to is based on the Lakota inipiceremony, one of the sacred ceremonies passed down to the Lakota people by their ancestors. 

In this article, there is not enough context to know if this is an act of cultural appropriation—but this is context that is important in publishing a piece like this. Cultural appropriation is part of the legacy of rites of passage in many settler communities, and many are working to address this issue. In the continued struggles for indigenous sovereignty—where lands and waters are still taken despite treaty rights, where rates of poverty and violence disproportionately affect indigenous peoples, many of us are exploring deeply the context of rites of passage in our communities today. This context includes how many of these ceremonies were lost or driven underground through violence, fear of persecution, forced assimilation, removal of children from their families into boarding schools, and more; how many of these cultural forms have continued to be preserved despite these threats, because their continued practice is so important to the survival of a culture; and how now they are being borrowed, stolen, and commodified by others outside of the culture, in ways that harm everyone involved.

As your article so aptly points out, rites of passage are an important part of the raising of healthy young people, and of community vitality, and by encouraging a broader perspective I don’t want to discourage readers for learning more or experimenting in their families or communities! I do want to challenge folks to understand the complexity of the terrain, and to seek out diverse resources from which to learn.

I hope you will consider a follow-up piece with a broader, more inclusive view of the topic, as I expect it would be of great interest to your readers. I also hope you will refer your readers to Youth Passageways, a diverse coalition of rite of passage providers (some of the organizations you mentioned are partners of the Youth Passageways network). Youth Passageways does not advocate any particular form of rites of passage, but rather provides education for providers, and a broad picture for the general public to see what rite of passage experiences exist, and find the right fit for them, their students, and their children.

Thank you,
Darcy Ottey, Board Chair, Youth Passageways 

This month, join Becky and Dallas ChiefEagle, Marisa Taborga Byrne, and Dane Zahorsky as they discuss Whole Person Wellness and how their work is to sustain and reconnect spirit in peoples lives is impacting and transforming their community!

Read the Transcript

You can read and download the full transcript in PDF format HERE

About This Month’s Guests –  Becky and Dallas ChiefEagle

Becky and Dallas Chief Eagle are co-founders of the All Nations Gathering Center on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Both do work that’s hard to contain to any short intro, a few of the things we might mention are Dallas’s work as an artist-in-residence in schools across the nation since the mid 1980’s using Hoop Dancing and other techniques to teach the lessons of the Lakota Way or Becky’s work as the compliance officer of the Oglala Sioux Lakota Housing where she helps manage 1500 low rent rental units across the 9 districts of the reservation.

Over the more than 10 years they along with a growing team of folks have impacted and transformed many people’s lives. The Center blends modern practices with the beautiful traditions of the Lakota Way in the lush and vibrant Yellow Bear Canyon just outside the Black Hills south of the Badlands in South Dakota.

From getting out of unhealthy relationships, stopping suicidal intentions to healing bodies and minds, their healing has been a powerful catalyst for many men and women of all nations to heal and live healthier lives.

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Health as a Whole Journey

Whole person Wellness is much more than the health of our individual mind, body, heart, and spirit. Yes, it’s all of those things, and also it is interrelated to place and community. There is a continual mutual exchange between our place on this earth and our unique way of being in the world. Expanding our view of Wellness can open a deeper connection with ourselves, with the land we call home, with the communities we are surrounded by.



Approaches / Tools




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Join Kruti Parekh, Marisa Taborga Byrne, and Dane Zahorsky as they discuss Transformative Justice and how Kruti’s work is expressed throughout her life and how it shows up in our community!

Read the Transcript

You can read and download the full transcript in PDF format HERE

About This Month’s Guest –  Kruti Parekh

Kruti Perekh

Kruti Parekh has been working synergistically with young people and families in the most marginalized communities in both New York and Los Angeles for 18 years.

Kruti’s experience includes adult ally at the Youth Justice Coalition, organizing to transform the juvenile and criminal injustice systems; director for youth programs, including YouthBuild, Teen Court, and Workforce Investment Act Programs as well as domestic violence accountability, workforce development, youth empowerment, youth leadership and wellness programs.

She would like to use her experience to help create the necessary infrastructure within Los Angeles City and County to prevent harm, death and incarceration for youth and increase graduation rates, financial independence and positive social contribution. Kruti has a Bachelor’s Degree from Brandeis University, Masters Degree in Social Worker from Hunter College and a self-proclaimed PhD (People’s health Degree) from the Youth Justice Coalition.

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Resources and a Personal Narrative on Transformative Justice

In a time when we are faced with the disheartening truth that our government and society have often neither been righteous nor equitable, how do we rebuild relationship, repair harms caused and return to trust? “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Many of us have heard and even used this quotation attributed to one of the greatest icons of peace of the 21st century, Gandhi. Even so, somehow in our society, when conflict arises, we blindly follow the “justice” systems in place that present and promote punitive consequences, criminalization, and cycles of oppression. What is an alternative? Transformative justice.

Finding transformative justice, or TJ, changed my life and made the seemingly impossible possible. It was a light in the void, gifting hope after a lifetime of desperation. At a young age I was harmed by an adult in my family. I disclosed this harm to my mama, and she immediately sought help with the “authorities.” The police, Child Protective Services, and the public defender were all involved, with the promise of “justice.” It took over a year to go through all the legal battles, which of and in themselves were traumatic, and in the end, the harm was dismissed and the perpetrator found not guilty.

Our government system failed my family and me, “victimized” us, tore us and our community apart, and uprooted every belief I’d had injustice. A deep mistrust of our government and how wrongs were “righted” was seeded. The adults around me followed the system like sheep following the herd off the cliff.  There were no other models to help us move towards a deeper, more holistic kind of justice, forgiveness and reparation based on love.

After wandering in a field of pain and mistrust for over a decade afterwards, I still had the longing for peace and chose to reconnect with the one who had caused me harm. I thought that love and determination for healing would be enough to repair the relationship and the pain. I was wrong. The renewed contact was hopeful, but I felt unable to address the harm and work toward the repair needed. A stronger container was needed with witnesses, companions, allies who believed in us and the re-union we hoped for.

And then the way of transformative justice came to me and the teaching that harm (like most things) has to be held within a community for transformative healing to be attained. It is a model where each has an understanding of both the effects of the harm that was caused and the history or story of the harm. Through using TJ, I have felt empowered. Conflict still has not been easy, but at least it’s easier. And in the rebuilding of my relationship with that loved relative, TJ has given the opportunity for a greater healing within our community as well, as they have taken their part in our conversations. It does take a village!

In our times, TJ is regenerating in many places, and there are increasingly more resources. Below are organizations, links, books and articles I’ve found or been gifted along the way. My prayer is n all relationships we can begin to open our eyes, our hearts and open up the possibility for true healing. Let’s practice and live in what justice truly is, simultaneously empowering and strengthening individuals and communities!

YPW Partners Doing the Work:

Youth Justice Organizations:

*Many of these were found at


*Many of these were found at


    • Ruth Morris, (2000) Stories of Transformative Justice
    • John F. Wozniak, Michael C. Braswell, Ronald E. Vogel and Kristie R. Blevins. (2008). Transformative Justice: Critical and Peacemaking Themes Influenced by Richard Quinney.