John Stokes

John Stokes at NIYLP Summer Camp 2009
John Stokes at NIYLP Summer Camp 2009

John Stokes

John Stokes, founder & Director of  The Tracking Project, Inc. in Corrales, New Mexico, is a well-known musician, performer, writer and teacher of hard ground tracking.  Since 1978 he has worked and traveled extensively in his efforts to bring awareness of the Natural World and the integrity of indigenous peoples to interested people around the world. 

Born in Lakewood, Ohio (1952), he spent much of his early life on the Gulf coast of Florida.  He graduated from Princeton University with a Bachelor’s degree in 1974 and spent the following year as a teaching fellow at the Athens College, Psychiko, Greece.  From 1975 – 1977, John worked as an assistant to the Senior Editor at the Beacon Press in Boston, generating new titles in the area of social awareness. In 1976, he edited The Rastafarians: Sounds of Cultural Dissonance by Dr. Leonard Barrett, one of the first books on Rastafarianism (still in print).

From l978 – l984,  he taught language and music skills at Tauondi, Inc. (formerly known as the Aboriginal Community College) in Adelaide, South Australia.  Work with this community – initiated college dedicated to Aboriginal self-management brought him in contact with tribal, rural and urban Aboriginals from communities around Australia.   His involvement with Aboriginal land rights causes, especially those of the Pitjantjatjara and their lands in the central desert, introduced him to the global indigenous network. 

Through friendships with traditional elders— notably the distinguished tracker Jimmy James of the Pitjantjatjara— John became aware of the need to preserve the wealth of indigenous knowledge regarding the Natural World. He clearly saw the role traditional tracking and bush survival skills could play in training and enhancing the cultural and natural awareness and self-esteem of a community, especially the youth.

For further study in Native American style tracking, John worked and studied at Tom Brown’s Tracking/ Wilderness Survival School, New Jersey in 1984 &  ‘85. During this time he was asked by traditional Native elders to initiate tracking/survival outreach programs to Native American communities. His work with the Mohawk nation newspaper Akwesasne Notes led to a series of workshops with Ray Tehanetorens Fadden and John Kahionhes Fadden at the Six Nations Indian Museum in Onchiota, New York.  Classes with Native youth soon followed throughout the Northeast and in the Four Corners area of the Southwest.

In late 1985 he moved to Corrales, New Mexico and began to work with the 19 Pueblos and the Navajo Nation.  Working with the Title VII Bilingual Multi-cultural unit of Albuquerque Public Schools, he wrote a tracking curriculum for Grades K, 1, 2.

To meet growing requests from Native communities, John established The Tracking Project (TTP)® in 1986 as a not – for – profit organization dedicated to working with traditional Native elders and community educators from around the world to design a series of teachings which would connect individuals directly to the Natural World, while practicing traditional skills and preserving tribal knowledge.  The name Art of Life ® was chosen to describe this unique program of natural and cultural awareness which blends a wide range of skills — from traditional tracking and survival skills to music, storytelling, dance, peacemaking and martial arts training.  Arts of Life programs emphasize indigenous knowledge, the lessons of Nature and the power of art.

Over the past thirty-eight years John and a diverse team of artist/ educators and traditional Native elders have shared this unique awareness program with more than 150,000 people of all ages.  Through Nurturing the Roots ®, a community mentor program which began in 1996, the Project’s curriculum was shared with more than 250 trained mentors.  The work of NTR with the international community now includes partners/programs throughout the United States, as well as Hawai’i, Brazil, Sweden, the Philippines, Spain,  Japan and Australia.    


John has designed a wide range of programs and curricula to meet the diverse needs of the many communities working with TTP:

* Arts of Life programs promote art, awareness skills and wildlife preservation through education, both nationally and inter

* Secrets of Natural Movement, a workout system based on energy work and animal forms, promotes physical, mental and spiritual well-being

* Nurturing the Roots provides mentor training for community artists/educators in the global community

* Tracking the Roots of Peace provides peace gatherings nationally and internationally with Native elders and leaders of the Iroquois confederacy

* The Art of Tracking provides tracking courses for the public

* Hawkeye Training, Hawkeye Scout and Dreamtracking ® provide wilderness skills camps for young men and women

* Youth and Elder gatherings/ Native youth camps provide skills training in Native communities where Native youth can come to learn about themselves, their language, culture, history and meet their Native elders

* Leadership camps provide higher skills training for young leaders and peacemakers

* On-line Dream Circles utilizing the Tracking Project’s unique Dreamtracking® techniques

* Cultural Perspectives on Dreams and Dreaming provide seminars in ways that we can learn from the dream sharing techniques of various Native communities around the world who have worked with TTP


A sampling of projects from around the world which have sprung from the inspiration of our mentor graduates:

Back to Earth, Northern California. A wilderness immersion program and rites of passage for youth under the leadership of Jesse Sachs and Tracking Project mentor, Eli Marienthal.

Better Humans, Texas. An institute dedicated to creating health, abundance and self mastery. Founded by international wellness consultant and Tracking Project mentor, Erika Ramelli.

SHEA Tree Center (Sacred Healing Earth Arts), New York. Tracking Project mentor and staff member, Lisa Bennett Matkin, envisioned a non-profit to facilitate a healing relationship with the Earth through practices from ancient wisdom and sacred arts.

Wild Society, Washington. Launched by mentor circle member Forrest Nichols, a non- profit wilderness education program that reconnects humans (especially the youth) to the everyday wild through backpacking, year-round naturalist programs and events.

Círculo dos Saberes, Brazil. A Native spiritual Youth and Elder gathering in the state of Mato Grosso, founded by Isabel Taukane, a member of our mentor circle from the Kurá-Bakairí tribe.

Projeto Pegadas Brasil. A branch of The Tracking Project based in Brasília, Brazil, initiated by mentor Bento Viana, with assistance from Edison Luis Guedes Neves and others.

Mebuyan Peace Project, Mindanao, the Philippines. A collective of Filipina artists, composers and performers in the southern Philippines dedicated to peace performances and peace activism, inspired by Geejay Arriola and other members of our mentor circle.

Ndakinna Wilderness Project, New York. A Native tracking and wilderness awareness project founded by Jim Bruchac and his father, Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac, in Saratoga, New York. Joe Bruchac is a member of The Tracking Project’s Native American Advisory Council.

Santa Fe Council for Environmental Excellence, New Mexico. A council which created a series of gatherings from 1991 – 2001 to provide natural and cultural awareness training for environmental lawyers, advocates and educators, initiated by mentor Michael Last.

Wild Friends, New Mexico. A program of the Center for Wildlife Law at the University of New Mexico which advocates wildlife preservation through education, founded by mentor Ruth Musgrave.


Artistic Inspirations

The work of The Tracking Project has been shaped from the teachings of many Native elders and masters of various artistic traditions.  John has spent years studying with:  internationally recognized potter/ ceramicist Toshiko Takaezu;  legendary Australian Aboriginal tracker Jimmy James;  Hawaiian educator/ spiritual leader Parley Kanaka’ole; noted painter, drummer and storyteller Jose Rey Toledo from Walatowa (Jemez Pueblo);  Jake Tekaronianekon Swamp, Wolf clan leader of the Mohawk Nation and Founder of the Tree of Peace Society; distinguished Mohawk elder, educator and author Ray Tehanetorens Fadden.

John has performed musically with: dancer Zuleikha; Nigerian drummer, educator and cultural activist Babatunde Olatunji;  musician Paul Winter and the Paul Winter Consort;  renowned New Orleans pianist Professor Longhair;  Abenaki poet, author and storyteller Joseph Bruchac; drummer John Densmore of  The Doors;   Japanese poet Kazuko Shiraishi; and many others. 

In 1981, John conceived, coordinated and traveled with poets Gary Snyder and Nanao Sakaki in “Poems of Land and Life”, a six-week tour of Australian Aboriginal urban and outback communities.  In 2023, he created a short film on the tour for an international event in honor of what would have been Nanao’s 100th birthday.

From 1989 – 1993 he took part in national Mens’ Gatherings around the United States with friend/ poet Robert Bly, psychologists James Hillman and Robert Moore and storyteller, Michael Meade.


Writings and Publications

John Stokes has written numerous articles and several small books.  Aboriginal Country Music Festival  (a paperback published in Australia in l980).

In 1991 John was asked by Mohawk elder Jake Swamp to produce a short version of Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen for the general public.  The Thanksgiving Address: Greetings to the Natural World is a version of the traditional Iroquois opening address, and was first published in 1993 by The Tracking Project together with three Mohawk groups — Tree of Peace Society, Six Nations Indian Museum and the Native Self Sufficiency Center

The original Thanksgiving Address was published in the English and Mohawk languages.  Since that first edition, other versions have been printed in German/ Mohawk(1997);  Swedish (1998);  Spanish (1999);  Japanese (1999);  Portuguese (2000); Bisayan (2002); French (2004); Hawaiian (2010); Italian (2013) and Hebrew (2018)  with more than 154,000 copies of the book in print.

His stories have been anthologized in:  Walking Swiftly — a  collection of works celebrating Robert Bly’s 65th Birthday, 1992 ;  Nanao or Never — a collection of stories celebrating the life of Japanese poet Nanao Sakaki; and The Soul Unearthed:  Celebrating Wildness and Personal Renewal Through Nature, edited by Cass Adams, 1996. 

John has been the subject of writings by noted Native American writer and storyteller Joseph Bruchac  in Tell Me A Tale: A Book about Storytelling, Harcourt Brace, 1997).  Jim and Joseph Bruchac also write of his work in At Home on the Earth (Modern Curriculum Press, 2001) and in Native American Games and Stories (Fulcrum Publishing, 2000)

Other writings include: the foreword to Song & Silence: Voicing the Soul, by Susan E. Hale (La Alameda Press, 1995); articles for Orion Afield (2000), the Traditional Studies Journal (1997-2000); Akwesasne Notes ( 1984 & 1985);  Indian Time (1985); Raise the Stakes (1981); Fellowship in Prayer ( 1984); the EastWest Journal (May, 1978) and other environmental magazines.

Articles about his work with The Tracking Project have appeared in numerous magazines and journals in the United States — Audubon (March 1991), New Age Journal (March 1994), Akwesasne Notes ( Spring 1997) , Business & Industry Connection Magazine (March/April 1993, May/June 1993 and November/December 1993) as well as magazines in Sweden and Brazil.

Interviews with John have appeared in Wingspan Magazine, Santa Fe Lifestyles, Resonance Magazine, Rocky Mountain Spiritual Emergence Network, New Age Journal,  Guide Ressource (a French Canadian magazine) and The Journal of Family Life

He is currently working on several books on dreams and tracking.