About White Pine

White Pine Wilderness Academy, a 501c3 non-profit organization founded in 2014, is the premier leader in outdoor education in Central Indiana. Our mission is to address the effects of nature deficit disorder through reconnection to nature, community, ancestry, traditional cultures and skills. We are based in the riparian habitat of the Wapahani (White) River in Indianapolis.

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Our Culture

White Pine Wilderness Academy is a secular organization with students and staff from many cultural and religious backgrounds. There is no belief system that is required to attend, other than following the 5 Agreements that make up our ethical core. The agreements are symbolized by the 5 needles in the White Pine’s bundle:

  • Respect Life
  • Respect Each Other
  • Respect Ourselves
  • Respect The Circle
  • Be a Caretaker
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White Pine’s Unique Approach

Through intensive research and personal connections, White Pine uses a very successful, custom curriculum that is a combination of several well-known nature connection models, including Indigenous cultures from around the world. Some of these traditions we have a specific lineage to, and some we do not. Each story, tradition, or skill has different protocols and prohibitions depending on our degree of connection to the story.

The Core Routines

These highly researched and time-tested routines serve as critical gateways to connecting with nature, being practiced regularly over sustained periods of time. They are outlined in the book Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, by Jon Young, Ellen Haas and Evan McGown. Routines such as Sit Spot, Questioning, Journaling and Thanksgiving are seamlessly interwoven throughout our days to serve as a framework for a nature-connected life.

The Shikari Lineage

This lineage of Trackers from the jungles of northern India, where our founder Matt Shull’s father was born, is closely linked to our school. The stories and skills of the Shikari were passed down directly to White Pine’s founder Matt Shull from his Grandfather Ernie Shull, who spent 20 years as the Shikari Manager for the Dangs District in the gorgeous foothills of the Himalayas in India.

The famous author and Shikari Jim Corbett from the neighboring Kumaon region was the first western writer to document the ancient knowledge of interspecies communication. This, coupled with the eye of a master tracker, allowed Jim to stalk and harvest some of the most notorious man-eating cats in the region. Some, like the Temple Tiger, were responsible for killing over 300 people over a 10 year period. Like Jim, Ernie utilized his incredible naturalist knowledge, paired with bird language and tracking, to harvest several cats, like the Man-Eating Leopard of Subir. It is the skills, stories and philosophy of “jungle etiquette” that define the Shikari Lineage that we are so honored to carry.

Check out our expression of the Shikari Wilderness System and how we use it at White Pine.

Coyote Mentoring Philosophy

We owe the philosophy of Coyote Mentoring to the work of Tom Brown Jr. founder of The Tracker School in New Jersey. This system of storytelling, inspiration, shared passion and questioning guides students towards vision. The philosophy of Coyote Mentoring evolved through Stalking Wolf’s mentoring of Tom and Tom’s mentoring of Jon Young. The beauty of this method lies in its simplicity and it’s adherence to core principles. Through Coyote Mentoring, the primary function of education is to discover inspiration, passion and vision. An awesome resource for this philosophy is the book Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, co-authored by Ellen Haas, Evan McGown, and Jon Young.

8 Shields Curriculum

This lineage began at The Tracker School founded by Tom Brown Jr., and was further developed by Jon Young at Wilderness Awareness School. Matt Shull and several of our staff have studied and currently study directly with these Elders, who are revolutionizing the nature connection movement. We are very pleased with White Pine’s current expression of the 8 Shields Nature Connection model.

The name ‘8 Shields’ refers to a nature-based framework, created to organize a collection of design principles, practices and activities for deep nature connection and community building. Since 1983, the framework has been developed by founder – anthropologist and naturalist – Jon Young, his mentors and teachers, and an international community of practitioners. The framework is organized according to the 8 compass directions. For example, the East Shield includes beginnings, newness, birth, early morning, springtime, ‘new shoots’, and the qualities of inspiration and welcome. Based on observations of nature and an understanding of nature-connected cultures, the 8 Shields framework does not derive from any one tradition. The late elder M. Norman ‘Ingwe’ Powell and Jon Young surveyed hundreds of children and adults to assign meaning to each of the 8 directional archetypes. Much consideration has been given to how the framework can best avoid cultural appropriation while also honoring the traditions which have inspired it.

Primitive Skills Lineage

The Primitive Skills lineage was founded by Errett Callahan in the United State Southwest. The society sought to promote the practice and teaching of aboriginal skills, foster communication between teachers and practitioners, and set standards for authenticity, ethics, and quality.

We are greatly indebted to the Primitive Skills movement that has raised the bar of expertise and professionalism in the ‘Survival Skills’ world. Tracing all the way back to Grandfather Ishi and the work of Carl Pope and Art Young, we see the emergence of an overwhelming sense of value and need to document that which was being lost. The movement owes itself to dedicated skills practitioners and experimental archeologists like Errett Callahan, Jim Hamm, Tim Baker, Paul Wescott, Jim Riggs and countless other ‘mountain men’ and visionaries who had the wisdom to save and revitalize the skills that were being lost.

The Peacemaker Lineage

The Peacemaker lineage from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy came to the 8 Shields lineage through the work of Chief Jake Swamp. The story of the Peacemaker is a beautiful saga of how 5 nations came to form a peace that lasted for generations. This story also influenced the creation of our own Declaration of Independence. Because of the cultural significance of these stories, we take great care to follow all of the protocols and prohibitions that Chief Jake Swamp mentored us in.

Hosting Beloved Elders

At times we are honored to host Elders from Native American, African, Asian and European traditions. The Inner Tracking framework we have established at White Pine allows us to present culture in a way that is respectful and reverent without being religious or culturally appropriative.

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Through this approach, we cultivate community + connection in the central Indiana area.

  • We have instructional programs for all ages: youth (ages 3-12), teen (ages 13-17) and adult (ages 18+), including our popular summer camps (ages 4-17).
  • We have a strong volunteer (ages 13+) program with opportunities for all levels of commitment and experience.
  • Our highly-trained and truly passionate staff are one-of-a-kind, dedicated to high-quality mentorship and constantly deepening their own skill levels.
  • Our partners support our mission through monetary and supply donations, keeping our focus on what matters most.
  • Because of our generous community, we are able to offer financial aid to help as many kids get outside as possible.
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Our History

White Pine Wilderness Academy was founded by Matt Shull in 2014 to address an urgent need for re-connection to nature. Prior to 2014, Matt facilitated workshops through the umbrella of Eehsipana Urban and Wilderness Survival School. Eehsipana (pronounced “ee-sa-pah-nah”) was co-founded by Matt Shull and Ethan Runnels in 2008. Ethan was an advanced primitive technologist and ‘coyote mentor’, and dedicated his life to helping people find Vision through nature. Ethan lost his life in 2009, and he is the inspiration for the Ethan Runnels Memorial Scholarship.

Since 2014, White Pine’s vision has continued to grow in strength and scope.

  • 2016: We hosted Spokane Elder Barry Moses, worked with the National Powow Association, supported the Standing Rock Movement and made strides in our commitment to Indigenous solidarity.
  • 2017: Our Forest School, AfterSchool and Summer Camp all begin filling and wait-listing through word of mouth.
  • 2018: Our Adult Programs started building big momentum through tracking intensives and quests.
  • 2019: The Shikari Wilderness System was formalized as our own unique, wilderness-based, community operating model.
  • 2020: Our school and community thrived throughout the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, by providing a safe place for human connection through expansion of our outdoor classrooms and proper protocols.
  • 2020: Amos Rodriguez (on our White Pine Board) participated in Alone: Season 7 (a survival competition TV series on The History Channel), and inspired thousands towards a deeper connection with nature by living off the land in the Arctic.
  • 2021: We partnered with Holliday Park in Indianapolis to grow our programming for our youngest students. Tree Frogs (ages 4-6) set up camp here, allowing programming to grow exponentially in both our Holliday Park and Rocky Ripple locations.
  • 2021: White Pine became a 501c3 non-profit.
  • 2022: Our Village Council parent volunteer group started small and mighty. In their first year, they raised over $1,000 for our youth programming, planned and hosted several community-building family events, and had countless conversations about keeping our forest school community connected and thriving.
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Our Future

Since 2014, White Pine has provided regenerative nature connection to thousands of students and families. We are proud of the strong, supportive community we’ve become, and all of the dreams we have accomplished so far. In the future, we plan to continue deepening and expanding the work we do by:

  • connecting with organizations for ongoing financial sponsorship opportunities and grants
  • continuing to diversify our community through scholarships and outreach
  • providing full-time career positions that include benefits
  • expanding our reach through land acquisition and stewardship
  • expanding programming to those under the age of 3
  • providing more regular adult intensives, rendezvouses, and residential programs

Of course, we always have our sights set on continuing our leadership in reversing the isolating effects of nature deficit disorder in the digital age both locally and globally.