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Posted: Dec 13, 2007 13:06


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Third Honors Program Held by Redcliff Ascent
By Judith E. Bessette

As the sun set and the cool night began to unfold in the high desert area near Enterprise, UT, five men began playing drums - a selection entitled Djabe - signaling to those who had assembled that the third Clan of the Hand ceremony was about to begin. The Clan of the Hand is an honor society designed to recognize men and women who have made a significant contribution to working with troubled youth in a wilderness setting.

The evening activities were centered at the Outpost, a special place RedCliff has built for teaching outdoor skills to students as well as a place to hold ceremonies like their End of Trail graduation programs - and unique programs like the Clan of the Hand.

Guests followed the drummers, led by Clinical Director Dan Sanderson, PhD (Dr. Dan to those who know him) and were seated around a roaring fire in a pit at the Outpost's outdoor amphitheater. In a moving ceremony, George Church and Ken Stettler joined 2003 honorees Doug Nelson, Larry Dean Olsen, Ezekiel Sanchez, Larry Wells and David Wescott and 2005 honorees Kay Harris and Keith Hooker as the newest members of the Clan of the Hand.

While most of those previously inducted are well-known names in the outdoor and therapeutic world, this year's honorees share in being more behind the scenes - but every bit as important to the wilderness movement as their fellow Clan members.

George Church was one of the original four partners that breathed life into SUWS, managing the fledgling business's finances and recruiting its first students His work is all the more remarkable when you realize that his only outdoor experience was a ten-day Winter Survival Course he completed while in the Air Force! George's son Brian, who accepted the honor on behalf of his Dad, continues the family tradition of working in the therapeutic world to improve the lives of troubled teens and their families.

Ken Stettler spent 30 years with the State of Utah Department of Human Services, working both directly with troubled youth and in administrative capacities. Ken worked tirelessly to get state standards passed in Utah that protected children in outdoor programs while insuring that the rules were such that programs could still operate. Ken has offered advice and counsel to several other states - demonstrating his continuing commitment to properly and safely operated wilderness therapy programming.

Following the introduction of the honorees and a response from Brian on behalf of George and one from Ken, they joined Scott Schill and other Clan members in the showplace of the Outpost - a replica of a Chaco Era Kiva - for the induction ceremony. The Kiva is an amazing underground structure - built recently by staff and students from RedCliff Ascent using the same techniques Native Americans used over a thousand years ago. Ken's handprint is now on a special tile in the Kiva and George will be placing his handprint there soon.

In an interesting juxtaposition of history and technology, the "tech guys" at Redcliff were able to hook up a closed circuit camera and monitor so those of us around the fire pit could watch the ceremony in the Kiva and hear all that was said. New Clan members were greeted with hugs, handshakes and even a few tears as they emerged from the Kiva. The drummers who had called the Clan members to the Kiva with Yankadi signaled the end of the evening by playing Dibon.

Scott Shill, Field Director at RedCliff Ascent, was the driving force behind building the Kiva and the Clan of the Hand is his brainchild. Scott's own words best sum up the evening. He recently wrote, "Almost 20 years ago, I came out here to join the field staff. One of our drivers was taking me out on my first trip and he stopped at an overlook so I could take in the view. Having grown up in Tennessee, all I could see then were rocks, sticks and some bushes. A year later, I returned to that same overlook and this time, I saw food, tools, fire, shelter, medicine - but most of all, I saw healing. That is what the Clan ceremony is about…honoring those that have recognized that healing potential."

About the Author:
Woodbury Research Affiliate Judi Bessette, EdD, who wrote this article, had the pleasure of being present at The Clan of the Hand Honors program on September 29, 2007. You can reach her at 414-581-9146 or at

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