Sacred Circle


I was invited by a friend who works at the California Youth Authority in Stockton to come for a visit.  Two of our youths from the Iris Garrett Juvenile Hall in Merced were transferred there.  I was excited to see them because we had shared so many good experiences in Yosemite, and I looked forward to the opportunity to continue our friendship. This CYA prison is another level of intensity, a little more than I was used to, and it continued to expose me to some of the harsh realities that we live in. 

I met my friend Dennis at the gate, who gave a smile that immediately supported our working together over the years with the native community, where we participate in ceremonies in the Yosemite area.  As Dennis showed me around the facility, I had the realization of the scale of this issue of incarceration throughout this country.  It really challenges your willingness to look at this reality directly, without flinching.  In some ways it parallels the way in which my mind has developed as a rock climber, to be able to face these challenges.

To be in this kind of environment with Dennis felt good because we are both committed to the healing and mending as a way to participate in the world we live in. As the young men came into the building, we all greeted each other with respect.  Instantly, with the two young men who had been to Yosemite, we started sharing the particular memories of moments like swimming in the river, taking pictures of the leaves on the trees, doing trail work together, and watching the sunrise at camp. Dennis began to organize the group of young men into a circle with an opening prayer that is customary to their gathering. Pulling out a sacred eagle feather, he handed it to one of the boys who began to share his thoughts and prayers on the importance of the meeting and the preciousness of his life. When he was finished with his words, he passed the feather to the next young man and each one continued to give thanks -- how he respected this time together and the opportunity that was being created.  Each one shared in their own unique way.  Then we watched some of the climbing videos and read through the books that we created through Sacred Rok.  The fact that one of our youths was in that book inspired the idea of what’s possible when we all work together.  It was a great visit.


On my drive home, it was interesting to reflect on the reality of incarceration.  As I was flying down the Central Valley of California on Highway 99 towards Merced from Stockton, I considered that none of these buildings or businesses existed two hundred years ago, and that people had lived on this land for thousands of years without this industrialization and places for incarceration.  It continues to inspire me to consider even my own DNA lineage that leads back to my indigenous reality of being human from the earth -- I pondered the phenomenon we live in when we embrace that memory of ancestral history that would honor the intimate relationship with nature and natural laws.  My job is always to be a caretaker of nature in order to survive. I will continue to honor the nurturing environment of Yosemite that has brought me into this reality of what we are involved in with Sacred Rok.

Days later, I was with a group of youth from Juvenile Hall in Merced walking a seven-mile loop along the floor of Yosemite Valley on a nice autumn day.  In the midst of our walk, I asked one of our guys what should be the writing prompt for next week’s lunch meeting at the Hall. As he was considering the question, at that moment we could hear the birds, feel the breeze through the trees, and we were walking barefoot.  I said maybe we should write about our senses.  He looked back and me and said: “How about just common sense?”   It struck me like a lightning bolt, how profound that sounded at that moment.  And hearing that from him inspires me to think about the future of education for our youth to be able to create a foundation based on common sense and our relationship with the earth.  At Sacred Rok, we talk about education nature’s way, which has so much to do with common sense.  As Noam Chomsky asked: education for whom and for what?  I continue to marvel at the brilliance of the comment, and how much sense that makes.  Does that make sense?

- Ron Kauk, Executive Director



Bridging the World With the Merced Youth Council

For us at Sacred Rok it is always a great experience to have the Merced Youth Council come up as we join together for our walks and talks within Yosemite.

Our recent camping trip with the Merced Youth Council in Tuolumne Meadows reminded us of the spirit and commitment we have to connect with the wisdom of nature as the teacher.


We continue to facilitate the ceremony of nature which inspires ourselves along with our youth to go deeper into the reality of our responsibility to nature as our life source and how that applies to everything we do in our lives.

To have been together with the Merced Youth Council yet once again was the opportunity to work together in bridging these two environments of Merced and Yosemite, the urban with the natural.    

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 9.08.48 AM.png

The Merced Youth Council is getting involved in social issues that promote the health and wellness of their community. 

We are honored to continue this relationship with the Merced Youth Council and look forward to expanding these stories into their community, which will help the vision for the future of these young people to be the leaders that they already are becoming.

Ron Kauk, Executive Director


Traditional Foods: Old Ways to Wellness


When we first started in late July of 2009 I initially signed on as Camp Cook as I had always had an appreciation for good food and thought it would be a fun endeavor. Little did I know that several years later, inspired by the work we were doing in the Sacred Rok kitchen, I would embark on a journey into nutrition. 

In 2014 I started a graduate degree program in Traditional Nutrition and after two years of study and one thesis later I was holding my degree with an emphasis on Type II Diabetes Prevention in Native Populations through Whole and Traditional Foods. 

Some of you may be wondering what Traditional Foods are. Well, simply put they are deeply nourishing foods, which are unprocessed, naturally raised, largely raw, unrefined and prepared in their traditional and appropriate ways. These foods represent the natural diet of humankind and nourished the natural growth and evolution of the human species for thousands of years prior to the industrialization of food. They are foods in their original form, are whole and nutrient-dense and are really quite simple like meat and poultry, eggs, whole grains, fish, beans and legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, dairy, fats.

As Sacred Rok delves deeper into the understanding of what it means to be nurtured by nature we look to our food more and more. Motivated to put my studies into practical use I've been delving into the wild edibles of the Sierra Nevada and have created a few recipes based on the local flora. One delicious ingredient that the Sacred Rok youth love to collect is Wild Onion. This Allium literally is food medicine as it is high in anti-cancer sulfur compounds; high in quercetin, a flavonoid beneficial in upper respiratory health; high in Vitamin A & C; rich in potassium, calcium, manganese, and selenium; can be used for bacterial diseases or as a preventative method when you first feel a cold coming on; and is even good for overall cholesterol. 

 The leaves can be eaten as a snack by rolling them into balls and sprinkling with salt but a new favorite of mine is a Wild Onoin Kimchi. Kimchi, for those who may not know, is a traditional fermented Korean dish made from vegetables like cabbage, green onions, carrots, radish, garlic, ginger and spices. It is made by a traditional fermentation process involving a salt brine and takes place inside tightly sealed glass jars or ceramic pots. The fermentation process takes anywhere from several days to several months. During this time the flavors, textures and health benefits of kimchi dramatically change and improve; like the production of beneficial lactobacilli bacteria which is really good for the health of our gut and as a result the health of our immune system. Additionally, the lactic acid bacteria formed during the fermentation of kimchi also helps your body break down toxins like pesticides. 

But, the health benefits of Kimchi don't stop there.  Beyond the pro-bacteria properties, Kimchi also has anticancer properties; anti-constipation properties; brain health promotion; immune health promotion; colorectal health promotion; antioxidative and anti-aging properties; anti-obesity effects; skin health promotion and aids in the treatment of leaky gut. 

Our modern diets are largely processed, consist of highly refined ingredients and man-made chemicals and are virtually void of any real nutritional value. As more and more youth are diagnosed with learning and behavioral disorders it is becoming increasingly important to look to their diets for the answers. Sensitivities to additives and processed sugars, allergies to processed dairy, wheat and gluten have all been found to be huge contributors to behavioral problems and illness. 

Our ancestors knew the secrets to wellness and it was through sustaining oneself on the natural foods found in nature. While we all may not be able to go into the mountains and woods for our food supply we can make an effort to plant gardens, join a CSA, and stick to the parameters of the grocery stores opting for organics and local produce as much as we can. In making an effort to eat whole foods we are returning to health and providing a brighter future for the youth of this earth. 

Happy Eating from your Sacred Rok COO and Nutritionist, 

Katie Lambert 



Celebration of Water

Tuolumne Meadows is awakening to a later summer this year, due to the heavy winter snow.  I was up there with Ron this past week, enjoying the strong flow of the Tuolumne River behind Pothole Dome.  The water level rises during the height of the day, then lowers as the snowmelt upstream slows in the cooler evening air.  I was struck by how this is like a daily pulse of the river.  And this daily pulse occurs within the annual pulse of the river as it goes through the seasons.  The river responds to the position of the planet and the sun, and it is one with the universe.  It will keep this up long after we are gone.

Sitting along the swirling pools created by the cascades is a mesmerizing experience.  I was lost in the appreciation of taking part in the pulse of the earth, then feeling my own pulse, and thinking of the relationship.  Our economy thinks of water as a commodity, but life is not a commodity.  We are all individuals passing through the earth, like the water pulsing through its cycles.  If we can develop and nurture the thought of unity and healing that water brings, we may find the art of appreciating life. 

I know that this is a distant thought for our youth caught up in the immediate culture of their technology devices and the constant struggle for economic survival.  But we all have just one life to live, and not much time to waste.  I developed a new appreciation of the mission of Sacred Rok – to support youth in nature, helping them learn to respect nature and through that to respect themselves.

- Kenji Hakuta

Sacred Rok Board Members Reflect on Experience with Incarcerated Youth

Sacred Rok Board Members Reflect on Experience with Incarcerated Youth

Last week Board members Kenji Hakuta and Nancy Goodban were privileged to accompany Ron Kauk as he led five young men on a hike in Yosemite.   

These young men are incarcerated at the Iris Garrett Juvenile Justice Correctional Complex in Merced, otherwise known as Juvenile Hall.  They are enrolled in the Bear Creek Academy (BCA), which adds a classroom component for selected youth at Juvenile Hall.  Ron visits Juvenile Hall every two weeks, bringing organic lunch fixings, and joins them to share reflections about their trips to Yosemite. The BCA youth have worked with Ron and their classroom teacher to create the BCA Mission I’mpossible program – they also set up a website at and they shared their thoughts and feelings in our collaborative book, Voices From the Inside Out.

Kenji and Nancy walked with these young men and Ron and the Probation staff on a warm springtime day in Yosemite Valley.  We first stopped at Fern Spring, the entrance to Yosemite Valley, to appreciate the fresh water coming right out of the ground, filling our water bottles and enjoying sitting in the shade.  We then took a hike around Mirror Lake, past the rushing roaring waters of Tenaya Creek and up Tenaya Canyon with its spectacular views of Half Dome and other granite peaks.  The young men were respectful and kind. There was a lot of talking and laughing, as well as playing in the placid waters of Mirror Lake  – a sense of freedom and of appreciation for the magnificence of the springtime of newly budding trees and wildflowers, and the joy of being in nature.

A few days later, we joined them for their lunch meeting at Juvenile Hall where they looked at photos of the trip and reflected on what it meant to them to be in nature.  Each young man had written down his thoughts about the trip and the impact of being in nature, and took turns reading them aloud to the rest of the class. 

Articulate, poised, and well spoken, these young men have their whole lives ahead of them.  We hope that their experiences with Sacred Rok in nature and the classroom will help them to see the world beyond their own neighborhood, and make positive choices in their lives when they get out.  More than ever we realized the need for a place they can go to after they exit Juvenile Hall, for a day or a week, to feel again the sanctuary of time in nature and time to reflect. Our Sacred Rok Board is committed to help raise funds for a house, a vehicle, and a staff to assist Ron as we do our best to transform lives in a meaningful way, one person at a time.

- Nancy Goodban and Kenji Hakuta


Thank you to the family and friends of David John Kangas, who have donated to Sacred Rok in his memory.  Dr. Kangas received his PhD from Yale University in philosophy of religion, and was an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Cal State Stanislaus.  An avid mountaineer, hiker, and skier, he loved Yosemite.  When he passed away in September 2016, his family asked that donations be made to Sacred Rok in his name.  We are honored and grateful.

San Benito County Probation – Trips to Pinnacles


Executive Director Ron Kauk along with Board member and former Superintendent at Pinnacles Steve Shackelton have led several trips to Pinnacles National Park for incarcerated youth in San Benito County.  Here are some of their reflections.

From E.E.:

Being out in nature reminds of life before I started getting locked up. ” Peacefulness.”  That peace is still there… if you have the desire to go out and find it.


From J.P.:

When I first went I was afraid. I thought differently about life when I was at Pinnacles. I felt like I was escaping from my problems & it felt good to get a little bit of freedom.

Nature is so beautiful, Pinnacles is such a peaceful place to be at & let go of problems. It cleared my mind.

My favorite part was that I actually made it, without giving up! At first I wanted too… But I put my mind to it and did it…… So now I know if I put my mind to something…… I can make it in Life!

From D.C.:

I felt free yesterday… I felt like we were back in time when our ancient brothers walked the earth. I realized that, in life… when you put effort in good behavior, good stuff happens to you.

Everything has a story, water, rocks, animals and humans… we all learn from one another.

From G.Z.:

The “Go Day” – The Day I went to the hiking at Pinnacles was Heaven to me. I loved it. It made me think about life. Being out there, in the mountains, climbing high in the rocks, getting a beautiful view of everything… The reason I’m calling this “Go Day” I because I never thought I was going to go hiking at Juvenile Hall and because we were stomping and stomping our way to the top… Me personally, I didn’t want to stop! I wanted to keep going and going… How much I love being out there! Hopefully, I will be gone when the next group of kids makes the trip…. Maybe they will realize what can be accomplished.