Sacred Earth Foundation
A Brief History
What begins the story of a place? This land has been here, and been sacred, since long before memory, a legacy of the volcanoes and floods, ice and water, fire and life and death that created this corner of the Columbia River watershed. The Ekone valley was a gathering place for the native peoples of this land long before European faces were ever seen here. Recent archeological study in collaboration with the Yakama Nation has yielded clear evidence of a previously unrecorded, large and extraordinary upland habitation site on this land.
With great respect for the long history of this land and the people that came before, the modern story of what is now known as Ekone Ranch, and incorporated as Sacred Earth Foundation, begins in 1972.
At the age of 26, Ray Mitchell and childhood friend Frank McJunkin of Vancouver, WA purchased 160 acres at the end of a long rough road, 16 miles east of Goldendale, with an idea of going “back to the land". Frank moved on to other adventures, but the land hooked Ray deeply. As the seasons passed, in exceptionally rough living conditions, struggling to make land payments, with a colorful assortment of people coming and going, Ray’s fundamental view of the world, his vision, became clear.
The earth is sacred, in and of itself—not a possession of humanity. Our proper role in the evolution of the earth is of stewards and caretakers—not owners and masters.
With this foundational understanding, Ray set about the creation of a land trust in 1986, as a way to acquire and hold lands adjacent to Ekone that were threatened by logging and development. A group of residents and friends drafted a statement of intent, and Sacred Earth Foundation was incorporated as a Washington State non-profit (not yet a federal 501(c)3). Ray proceeded to leverage his substantial charm and sincerity to garner contributions to the cause of land protection.
Also in 1986, with his wife Susan, eight paying campers, and a herd of horses descended from his first stallion, Mizar, Ray began what would become Ekone Summer Camps. On our bulletin board is a scribbled note of Ray’s; Beauty will save the world—But who will save beauty? The children, if we take them to nature. He had a tremendous belief in the combination of land, children, horses, and community to make the world a better place.
Years passed, people came, people went, and many gave years of their life and huge contributions to the work of Ekone Ranch. This land has a way of inspiring people to say yes, dedicating themselves to stewardship and earthcare. Under Ray's leadership, the holdings of Sacred Earth Foundation grew from 160 acres to 1,060 acres, and camps were filled to as many as 30 campers in each session. Thousands of children had magical experiences at Ekone, immersed in nature, sleeping under the stars, learning from horses, and working, playing, and living in community. Transformative education grew ever closer to the heart of Ekone’s mission.
In December of 2007, with partner Nancy Fisse and longtime community members Bob, Chris and Jade at his side, Ray died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 61—the epitome of health and vigor, on fire with his love for the earth, recently returned from a deeply inspiring trip to Italy, having just walked his daughter down the aisle and called all his old friends to tell them about his trip.
First, there was shock and grieving. Then, the questions—how would Ekone and Sacred Earth Foundation continue? Would summer camp go on? What would become of the land and the community upon it? And where would Ray’s body be laid to rest? A group was formed to establish a legal cemetery on the land, one of Ray’s dreams. The Sacred Earth Foundation board of directors was called upon to take a more active role in leadership than ever before. Residents were “holding down the fort” in bigger ways than ever, and young members of the summer camp staff, whom Ray had cultivated for years, found themselves with the responsibility of guiding the camp program through huge transitions (and a national recession).
A group of dedicated Ekone residents, board members, summer camp alumni, and extended community gathered in the fall of 2008 to chart a course for the future. It was decided to pursue 501(c)3 non-profit status, engage in board development, move towards expanded programming, and grow Ekone’s capacity for earth stewardship, human inspiration and changing the world.
Since that time, Sacred Earth Foundation has grown into a viable nonprofit organization, based on Ray’s vision of Earthcare with a mission to hold SEF lands in trust, to steward with reverence, and to teach sustainable living to children of all ages. A dynamic board of directors governs policy and oversight of operations, bringing widely varied professional backgrounds and sincere dedication to Ekone’s work. Nine year-round residential staff members dedicate themselves to stewardship and sharing of Ekone land. And a growing extended community offers their generous support, time, and love to the land and its work.
Summer camp has continued and grown, with a deepening philosophy of empowerment through horses, community, and meaningful participation. Expanding programs and gatherings for schools, families, children, and adults offer soul nourishment and sustainability education year-round.
Ray’s parting gift, the White Eagle Memorial Preserve green cemetery, is a leader in a national movement towards sustainable and soulful deathcare practices. WEMP is one of 9 Conservation burial grounds in the country, and a founding member of the Conservation Burial Alliance.
And Ekone land is held as sacred, in and of itself, with human stewards and caretakers doing our best to guard, serve, and follow the intention of the land, in its wildness, through its seasons, touching countless lives along the way, and making the human earth community just a little more careful, humble, loving, and hardworking.
We invite you to visit the virtual altar in remembrance of Ray Mitchell, and to share YOUR Ekone stories! We love to hear from old friends and have many opportunities to come visit—please join us.