The Original Caretakers Initiative: Honoring and Partnering with Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous traditions hold important knowledge for the challenge posed by our ecological crisis, including practices to honor the elements of nature to which we are all inter-connected, and the mindfulness of past and future generations. Much of the academy has failed to honor this great knowledge and many religious institutions have disparaged, demonized and even banned it. Indigenous knowledge and experience is urgently needed in our world today – a world where indigenous people are especially vulnerable to the impacts of ecological destruction, including extreme poverty, hunger and illness. In a circle of shared leadership with indigenous partners, CEE works to raise awareness about the struggles of Native peoples and to bring their knowledge and insights to bear in the global conversation about climate change.

Our Work

Our Original Caretakers Fellowship Program supports the work of faith-keepers in Native American communities and seeks their guidance for our own educational programs and materials.  Lyla June Johnston from Diné Tah, the ancestral Navajo homeland, became our first our first Original Caretakers Fellow. By offering this fellowship, we recognize the critical importance of indigenous sovereignty and cultural and political survival to the project of an ecological society. 

It is an important part of the CEE's work to insure that Native voices are heard in interfaith dialogue, especially around matters of ecology. To that end, we offer regular courses at Union Theological Seminary on "Indigenous Voices on Ecology, Spirituality and Colonization," co-taught with our indigenous partners and advisers.  These dialogues inform the heart of all of CEE's work in the realm of Sustainability and Global Affairs, and especially, in the educational components of our Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement work.

In addition, for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years, CEE has welcomed Mindahi Bastida Muñoz and Geraldine Patrick Encina to Union as Scholars-in-Residence. Their work extends from the recognition of all sacred sites as part of the spiritual reserves of humanity to the revitalization of Mayan ecological knowledge. As we continue to develop our Original Caretakers programming, CEE is dedicated to the non-commodified recognition of this body of knowledge by non-Native communities, and, through our indigenous scholars and partnerships, assisting attempts to reclaim and promote heritage within indigenous communities. 

Original Caretakers Voices


CEE's Original Caretakers Advisory Circle includes:

Chief Arvol Lookinghorse - Lakota, Sioux Nation

Tiokasin Ghosthorse - Lakota, Sioux Nation / First Voices Indigenous Radio

Betty Lyons - Onondaga Nation

Roberto Borrero - Taino Nation

Tommy Blackhorse - Diné, Navajo Nation

Tommy Atonwa Benedict - Mohawk Nation

Leonard Little Finger - Lakota, Sioux Nation