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Leon Secatero 1943-2008

Leon Secatero, spiritual elder and headman of the Canoncito Band of Navajo, died September 28, 2008, at the age of 65. He worked as an indigenous leader, raising awareness to balance the environmental, social, and spiritual energies of the universe.

Secatero spent much of his life as a sheepherder in New Mexico. As an adult, Secatero emerged as a teacher and advisor, speaking widely about social, environmental and indigenous rights. He founded The Spiritual Elders for Mother Earth and acted as an advisor to the United Nations. Within these organizations and others, Secatero united indigenous elders to guide humanity toward respect, unity, and wisdom.

Deeply concerned about the future of humanity and the future of our Mother Earth, Secatero advised all “5-fingered ones” to leave behind negative feelings and move forward united, as one nation. In “A Return to Prayer,” Secatero said, “Look at the environment. Look at the clouds, the mountains, the plants, your people, and the grandchildren that are unborn yet. We want to make an entrance, a pathway, a blessing way. . . . So we are going to have to hold hands and go in one direction. All of us have to communicate, sing one song, say one prayer, and walk the next decade together with one voice, for our survival and the survival of future generations.”1

Secatero encouraged dialogues to bridge ancient wisdom and modern knowledge. He also worked as an advisor to the Sacred Earth Network, Friends of Indigenous Elders, the SEED (Source for Educational Empowerment and Community Development) graduate program, and as a Navajo language teacher.

Secatero was honorary grandfather to the Medicinal Plant Working Group (MPWG) of the Plant Conservation Alliance. Patricia DeAngelis, chair person of the MPWG, spoke about Leon with fondness: “I remember [him] as a man who sought to bring all people together—as one—for Mother Earth. He touched many lives” (e-mail, October 16, 2008).

“Leon Secatero’s knowledge of how humans and plants are intimately connected was truly impressive because he used it to teach and inspire others,” said Peggy Olwell, the Bureau of Land Management’s Plant Conservation Program lead and chair of the Plant Conservation Alliance. “During the Plant Conservation Alliance’s MPWG Symposium in 2003, Leon spoke about the indigenous peoples’ 500-year plan for the future. His words motivated the attendees to think of the future on a broader timescale, especially when dealing with vital issues such as sustainability and climate change. His work with the MPWG’s Elder Circle provided valuable insight into the perspective of indigenous peoples on medicinal plant topics. Leon will be missed, but his wisdom will be remembered and applied by the native plant conservation community” (e-mail, November 17, 2008).

Secatero served as principal elder adviser and trustee director for Sacred Seed Project (SSP), a division of the Washington, DC-based nonprofit Environmental Consulting Services. According to Katherine Koumoutseas, executive director of SSP, Secatero assisted in the founding of SSP and proposed various fruitful SSP directives. Koumoutseas offered these words in memory of Secatero: “I humbly extend my gratitude along with the gratitude of the Plant Nation, which we serve, and for which you gave me voice to speak. We are grateful for the goals, directives, and initiatives you set forth towards the preservation of sacred medicine, plants, seeds, and indigenous knowledge and culture . . . The Plant Nation mourns the loss of a great ally. I am personally grateful for the transformative lessons that your presence has brought to my life. Many thanks to you for your wisdom, patience, guidance, gentle grace and beauty, and for the many blessings you’ve bestowed on me and my family, and to all whose lives you have gently touched” (e-mail to M. Blumenthal, November 30, 2008).

Chief Ray Couch, principal chief of the Appalachian Cherokee Nation, spoke fondly of Secatero after his passing. “He was one of my closest friends,” said the chief, “and one of the most honest Indians I knew.” Chief Ray was familiar with the spiritual power that Secatero voiced. “He had great spiritual advice that was well taken by members of our tribe” (oral communication, November 13, 2008).

Leon seemed comfortable with passing to another realm.2 In 2007, Secatero suffered a stroke that offered him a journey to the other side. He spoke about this near-death experience in a number of interviews. While unconscious, Secatero saw many Navajo elders and other spirits who spoke about positivity and moving forward with positive energy so to continue the path of humanity. “The elders talked about positive things, focusing on the positive to make things happen, to bring in good energy so that life will continue. They said to use song, prayer, dance to focus on positive thought, and to help us go forward on the path to the future in a good way, in a sacred way.”3 It was this message that Secatero carried to all of those he touched.

As part of his work, Secatero also spoke about the 500-year cycle of the indigenous calendar. Indigenous elders have recognized that the 500-year calendar is ending, and we must thoughtfully plan for the next 500 years. “It is the time of the reawakening of the wisdom and the prophecies, which must be shared to teach, heal, and preserve. We must take responsibility to work toward the restoration of harmony, balance, and peace for the wellbeing of our Mother Earth and All Living Beings.”4

In one of his last meetings, Secatero commented, “Hope cannot be without peace; that’s all I want to leave the people. I want them to know there is hope and peace in this time. Now it is all up to you, as individuals, to make it happen.”5 Secatero planted seeds of hope and peace wherever he traveled.

Though Leon’s body has run out of energy, we know that his spirit continues to influence humanity. Secatero is survived by his children Alvira, Orlando, Shawn and Renee, his many grandchildren, sisters and an extended spiritual family.5

—Megan Haidet


  1. Secatero L. “A Return to Prayer.” Spiritual Elders of Mother Earth Web site. Available at:

  2. “What Happens When you Die?” Native America Calling radio program. September 23, 2008. Available at: shtml#sep.

  3. McFadden, S. Journey among the wind walkers: grandfather Secatero recovers from stroke. April 21, 2007. Chiron Communique Web site. Available at: http://

  4. “Ancestral Mandates and Spiritual Voices -Our Journey on the Sacred Path to the Next 500 Years.” Spiritual Elders of Mother Earth Web site. Available at: http://

  5. Leon Secatero, friend, and global teacher passes. SEED Graduate Institute Web site. Available at: