Rothko Chapel hosts conversation on “Concept of the Divine: A Navajo Perspective on Reverence for Life”

Suzanne Benally, the first Indigenous Executive Director of Cultural Survival. Photo Credit: Runaway Productions

In a recent event at the Rothko Chapel, a Cooperation Circle member of the United Religions Initiative, hosted Suzanne Benally, the first Indigenous Executive Director of Cultural Survival to share her personal spiritual journey as a Navajo and Santa Clara from New Mexico and how this shapes her understanding of the concept of the divine. Benally explored the meaning of the Navajo concept “Hozho,” which is centered on living responsibly in a web of relationships emphasizing reciprocity with and reverence for all beings.

Suzanne Benally is the first Indigenous Executive Director of Cultural Survival, an organization that advocates for Indigenous Peoples’ rights and supports Indigenous communities’ self-determination, cultures and political resilience since 1972. She is Navajo and Santa Clara Tewa from New Mexico.

Continue reading “Rothko Chapel hosts conversation on “Concept of the Divine: A Navajo Perspective on Reverence for Life””

LISTEN: Standing Rock Interfaith Day of Prayer – Reporting Back and Moving Forward

The following is a video call recorded on Friday, December 16th by the United Religions Initiative, hosted by the Regional Coordinator of North America, Sari Heidenreich; Regional Coordinator of the Multiregion, Frederica Helmiere; and Coordinator of the Environmental Resource Cooperation Circle, Katherine Hreib.

The call is an opportunity for members of the URI delegation to Standing Rock for the Interfaith Day of Prayer on December 4, 2016 to share stories of our time there and to hear from Global Council Trustee Audri Scott Williams about some of the longstanding work with indigenous communities within the URI Network.

We end the call with a series of question that will hopefully inspire reflection on how we can best be allies to the indigenous community within and beyond the URI network.

The call begins with a reading of the United Religion Initiative’s Preamble, Purpose and Principles.

The United Religions Initiative to Join Hundreds at Standing Rock for Interfaith Day of Prayer


Global Interfaith Network to Join Hundreds at Standing Rock for Interfaith Day of Prayer

Standing Rock, ND, USA – December 1, 2016 – A delegation from the United Religions Initiative (URI) will travel to Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to join hundreds of people of faith for an Interfaith Day of Prayer on December 4, 2016. This comes at the invitation of Chief Arvol Looking Horse, URI member and representative of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota nations, and 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe.

“The hearts of all people’s faiths must now unite in believing we can change the path we are now on,” says Chief Looking Horse.  “We, from heart of Turtle Island, have a great message for the world to unite for our children’s future. We are asking the religious people to come and support our youth, to stand side by side with them, because they are standing in prayer. If you can find it in your heart, pray with them and stand beside them.”

The URI delegation will be led by Executive Director the Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr. URI is a global grassroots network of 816 interfaith groups in 96 countries, working across religious and cultural barriers to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for Mother Earth and all living beings.

“From its inception, URI has upheld the fundamental importance of including the diverse voices of Indigenous wisdom-keepers and ensures the full participation of the Indigenous Peoples of Mother Earth in every dimension of our work,” Kazanjian says.

“I am deeply moved by the prayerful and non-violent displays of peace and unity of Indigenous Nations and friends at Standing Rock to protect and restore our Sacred Mother Earth on behalf of the whole human community,” says Kazanjian. “Our prayer is that everyone will see the importance of non-violence and dialogue as the path forward. This day of prayer is specifically focused on our common concern for the environment and protecting our precious planet and water, which is one of the issues that binds together the world’s spiritual traditions. I invite people around the world to send prayers for the Standing Rock community, which we will deliver to those gathered for this sacred ceremony on December 4.”

Kazanjian will be joined by URI North America Regional Coordinator Sari Heidenreich, URI Multiregion Regional Coordinator Frederica Helmiere, URI Environmental Resource Coordinator Katherine Hreib, and Jaya Priya Reinhalter and Fred Fielding, members of the URI Global Council, which serves as the organization’s Board of Directors.

Prayers and statements of support to be presented to the Standing Rock Tribal Council can be submitted by filling out this form or sending them to

Members from Indigenous tribes across the United States and the world – and thousands of supporters –  have gathered peacefully at Oceti Sakowin Camp over the last seven months to protect sacred Indigenous sites and prevent the pollution of key water sources. Even as harsh winter weather rages at the camp, more witnesses, representing diverse traditions from around the world, are joining to stand in solidarity with those gathered at Standing Rock. This is a powerful example of strength through interfaith and intercultural cooperation.


Isabelle Ortega



URI is a global grassroots interfaith network that cultivates peace and justice by engaging people to bridge religious and cultural differences and work together for the good of their communities and the world. We implement our mission through local and global initiatives that build the capacity of our 816 member groups and organizations, called Cooperation Circles, to engage in community action such as conflict resolution and reconciliation, environmental sustainability, education, women’s and youth programs, and advocacy for human rights. Learn more at


DAPL: “Take a Peaceful Action to Show Support”

dakota access pipeline protest:

United Religions Initiative North America is in the midst of a campaign called #TangibleHope. It focuses on sharing stories of people finding tangible hope in their lives. It is time that we all offer tangible hope to those who need it.

Our brothers and sisters at Standing Rock are facing another critical moment in their struggle to protect their sacred lands and stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. I ask everyone receiving this message to take a peaceful action to show support. It could be reposting this message, signing an online petition, or calling on authorities to bring a peaceful resolution to this crisis. Please do what you are able and feel is right. I ask and pray that all involved dedicate themselves to peaceful, respectful communication and interactions.

As a United Religions Initiative Global Trustee and Leadership Council Member representing North America, I reaffirm the following URI statement of support for our brothers and sisters at Standing Rock in stopping construction of the DAPL.

May peace prevail on Earth,

Fred FieldingFred Fielding
Global Trustee, United Religions Initiative
Leadership Council Member, United Religions Initiative North America


I am writing today with a heavy heart and great concern as I witness the events unfolding in North Dakota. Scenes of armed and militarized police from multiple states forcibly moving on non-violent protesters, including elders in the midst of prayer, recalls memories of centuries of violent actions against Indigenous peoples. For how long must we repeat this same horrific pattern of America’s history? While the massacre at Wounded Knee is relegated to this tragic history and out of our reach, Standing Rock is happening right now, in our time, and I believe that we as people of conscience must act so as not to stand idly by and let history repeat itself once again at the expense of our Indigenous sisters and brothers.  

Trustees of the United Religions Initiative traveled to Standing Rock several weeks ago carrying a statement of solidarity. The statement concludes “The United Religions Initiative will pray and stand beside Standing Rock as long as it takes for all Members of our Human Family to fully understand that your struggle is not only for the way of life of the Great Sioux Nation, but for the health, safety and well-being of all current and future generations of the Human Family and Life everywhere on Mother Earth!”

It seems clear that local authorities are not protecting the civil rights of our sisters and brothers at Standing Rock, nor engaging in any reasonable kind of dialogue that could bring the situation to a peaceful resolution. The misuse of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, the arrests of journalists and the mistreatment of citizens exercising their rights to peaceful protest and prayer are among the indicators that the local authorities have ceased to carry out their duties to serve and protect. I urge us all to raise our voices and call upon President Obama and appropriate administration officials to intervene in this situation and protect the rights of the citizens of the Sioux Nation, citizens of the United States, who are raising their voices on behalf of us all and our planet. And most of all, we need to listen, listen to the wisdom being offered through this protest and learn about living in harmony with one another and the Earth. May peace prevail at Standing Rock. May peace prevail on Earth. 

In peace…

The Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian Jr.
Executive Director
United Religions Initiative

Bearing witness to, and responsibility for, the Earth

“What gives you #TangibleHope in the world today? How do your values and/or belief systems come into conversation with this #TangibleHope?”

Katherine Hreib, Environmental Network Coordinator at the United Religions Initiative:

Recently during a moment of meditation I returned to a place where I grew up: the meek woods of New England. I’m clothed in a dark night sky polluted only by the glow of the stars, where the cool air invites a deep openness of breath and cradles me in silent aloneness. When I allow myself to return to the woods of Massachusetts in my memory, or when I take an afternoon to visit the Pacific shores near my new home on the west coast, I am reminded of how my sense of well-being, confidence and stillness mirrors my experience of the natural world.

Just as my sense of peace relies on both my physical and spiritual well-being, so too do I rely on the natural world for physical and spiritual health. In this sense my relationship to the natural world—the land, waters, skies, winds and light— is just as much physical as it is non-physical. In an era of climate change and accelerating environmental degradation we are asked to confront how the changing Earth impacts and will continue to impact our access to necessary resources like water and nutritious sustenance, as well as our emotional and spiritual well-being under various ecological stresses like air pollution and saltwater intrusion.

The Earth is our provider. In turn she only asks for our attention, our care, our being-as-witness to her and all that she does. We are to watch the land as we plant, to observe how new life comes into being and to how her many rhythms influence our lives.

As witnesses we are also responsible to attend to the signs and symptoms of illness and weakening. We must direct our eyes to the eroding Bayou of New Orleans, to the sea-life washing ashore the Pacific coast, to the floods around the world that disrupt antiquated agricultural calendars and practices, and even to how industry prods, pillages, and blackens the Earth in the name of a certain type of economic growth.

These past few weeks mark for me a special moment of responsibility: The call to stewardship comes from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota to halt the construction of the four-state Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

The DAPL is a proposed 1,172-mile oil pipeline that has potentially devastating consequences for the All Earth— frequent oil spills, water contamination, biodiversity loss, to name a few; infringes upon the sacred lands, waters, resources and legal standing of the Standing Rock Sioux; and signifies a disregard for the growing consensus to move towards a zero-emissions, non-exploitative, renewables-based energy economy.

The call is loud and clear. Over the past few weeks I’ve received email blasts asking for supplies for the Standing Rock Sioux and for those standing in solidarity with them and for rides to North Dakota to join the growing number of Earth allies. I’ve seen a growing number of people raining their virtual-voices on Twitter, expressing their dissent and care for the Earth and solidarity with those who are on the front lines of justice for the Earth, for life, for sacred land and tradition.

However, on Friday September 9th, we were met with a devastating statement by a federal judge denying the Standing Rock Sioux’s request for an injunction to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. The tone suddenly changed: environmentalists and allies, sighed a sigh of disappointment. The decision was a clear instance of the privilege of profit of the fossil fuel industry over the voice of a people calling for the protection of drinking water and sacred lands.

But within an hour of the federal ruling the US Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior issued a statement effectively halting construction on an especially sensitive area along the pipeline’s construction bordering Lake Oahe, a large reservoir on the Missouri River. This is a clear sign that our calls were heard, and that—as the statement reads—“thousands of demonstrators [came] together peacefully, with the support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sights.”

By raising our voices as One, we showed that we are committed to upholding our responsibilities as stewards of the Earth and as caretakers of our fellow human.

In addition to calling for the protection of sacred waters, the diversity of voices calling for the federal government to respect the sacredness of indigenous wisdom led the Department of Justice to declare a “need for serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.”

This is a moment of tangible hope. It is a moment of hope for the Standing Rock Sioux, for their ancestors, and for the caretakers of Earth’s wisdom; it is a moment of hope for all those touched by the waters of the Missouri River, for environmentalists across the country, and for all of us who dream of a healthy and abundant Earth for ourselves and our grandchildren.

When we find ourselves wondering if the fight for resources is an invitation for divisiveness and territorialization, we ought to keep in mind that scarcity and vulnerability is an opportunity for new solidarities and innovation.


katherineKatherine joined the URI team in September 2016. She is responsible for building a strong and diverse network among environmentally focused CCs. A recent graduate of Columbia University, Katherine studied sustainable development, taking special interest in climate change law, environmental anthropology and the sociological impacts of environmental degradation. She is especially concerned with how climate change, while a common problem, has diverse local manifestations with strong negative implications for certain geographic and cultural communities. After working with groups in eastern Uganda, upstate New York and Staten Island, she understands the importance of privileging local knowledge and community engagement in the fight to address climate change issues. Katherine believes environmental justice and interfaith peacebuilding are of the same root and must addressed hand-in-hand. In her free time she enjoys live music, writing prose, camping and reading all things philosophy.

Every Tuesday, the #TangibleHope Diaries series features responses from North American grassroots peacebuilders on what gives them tangible hope in the world today. See you next week! Learn more here.

URI members express support, solidarity for Standing Rock


Several URI members are among the thousands standing in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation’s protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Protestors say the oil pipeline would disrupt a sacred Indigenous burial ground and threaten water supplies.

Hereditary Chief Phil Lane Jr., a member of the URI Global Council, and an enrolled member of the Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chickasaw Nations, spoke from Sacred Stone Camp on Sunday.

“It’s the prayers and the ceremonies and the kindness and the peace that’s going to distinguish what we’re doing here from other actions,” he said in a video posted on YouTube.

“I am really thankful that I have lived to this day to see the sacred prophecies fulfilled before our eyes,” he said. “Behind me you see the prayer of all the great Indigenous leaders who have prayed for this day when we could all come together with one heart and one mind and many bodies in a prayerful, peaceful manner. ”

19th Generation Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nations published a call to unity around this issue.

“Our vision is for the peoples of all continents, regardless of their beliefs in the Creator, to come together as one at their Sacred Sites to pray and meditate and commune with one another, thus promoting an energy shift to heal our Mother Earth and achieve a universal consciousness toward attaining Peace,” he said. Read more here. 

URI Global Council Trustee Audri Scott Williams has also raised her voice in solidarity through her radio show and Cooperation Circle NOWTIME Radio, where she interviewed Chief Phil Lane. You listen here.

UNIFY, a URI Cooperation Circle, voiced their support, posting on Facebook,
“We have so much gratitude & respect for the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, ND!” They also shared a video calling for prayer and action.

The Marin Interfaith Council shared with their members a petition from longtime member Macha NightMare and the group’s Pagan brothers and sisters.

“The vested interests of the fossil fuel industry continue to exploit dirty and unsustainable sources of oil, delving for every last drop in ways that assault Mother Earth and fracture her very bones, spilling filth onto the lands and spoiling the waters,” NightMare said. “We invite groups and individuals from all faith traditions to join with us in heeding the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and the Sacred Stone Camp’s calls for solidarity and support. Supporters are being asked to call their elected representatives, and donate to support the well-being of defenders at Sacred Stone camp.”

She also invited members to sign a petition.

“Moving into All-Inclusiveness:” The Spiritual Heritage Education Network’s 7th Annual 2-Day Conference


The Spiritual Heritage Education Network, a URI North America Affiliate based out of Ontario, is getting ready to host their 7th annual 2-day SHeN* conference. This year’s conference theme is “Bringing Oneness to All” and highlights elements from certain practices that promote oneness, inclusion and the spirit of oneness.

Over the course of two days, panelists from a variety of faith traditions will draw from their experiences, expertise and practices to share tips for fully embodying the spirit of inclusion.

Click on the image below for an in-depth look at the agenda.


shen conference