Navajo people call human beings “five-fingered” people. This refers to the way that Navajos relate their clan connections using the fingers of their hands. The thumb is “shay”, myself. And each one is imprinted with a unique spiral pattern. This spiral pattern is said to emerge when a child has spirit blown into it be the ye’i – the ancestors, who also produce the spiral of hair on the top of each person’s head. The spiral gives life. From there, each person can recite their clan heritage through the remaining four fingers, their father and mother, their father’s mother and mother;s father.
In reciting these clans, Navajo people tell their names and clan and then say “born for the” clans of their ancestors. This recitation is an acknowledgement of k’e – the relationship that binds us together. When you say the word k’e in Navajo country, the first thing that comes to mind is the relationship to your clans.
When we were designing this particular Art of Hosting gathering with our friends from the Healthy Native Communities Fellowship at the Shiprock Medical Centre, Orlando Pioche, Karen Sandoval, Tina Tso and Chris Percy, we dived very deeply into the idea of k’e. In seeking to understand more about this concept, we began to realize that the word refers to a quality of connection that flow between people and indeed between people and all living things including the land. It is this particular connection that we decided to explore in this Art of Hosting. Indeed, it might be said that the essence of the Art of Hosting in general is about how we work with the space between people to produce good in the world. It quickly became clear that we were designing a four day learning laboratory on how to use k’e.
In the context of a facilitation and leadership training, I began to think of k’e as the water that flows in a river. That water flows all the time, and if you want to use it, you have to use appropriate tools. You can build a turbine to produce power, build a sluice gate to channel it into a field, dip into it to drink it. The water does not change but it does different things depending on how to use it. In fact as we talked about this, Orlando, a spiritual man and a man moving beautifully into his Eldership, made the connection between this idea and the iina twho the river of life.
As we explored this further in the design day, lights came on in all of us. We lit up with the idea that the art of working with groups was the artful use of tools and processes that worked with k’e to shape the changes that were needed in the world. We designed a four day process to enter a learning journey on this idea. (see the photo gallery for images).
Our first day was really about wrapping our heads around the concepts we were discovering. The 63 people that joined us I think weren’t expecting us to be working so explicitly with k’e but as we moved through a day of storytelling, appreciative inquiry and world cafe we explored the concept very deeply By the end of the day everyone was excited about what they were discovering about a concept that they had forgotten that they knew about. K’e is everywhere in Navajo families and communities and it was perhaps this close proximity, this fabulous intimacy, that had made the concept so common place that few people remembered that it was the Navajo’s strongest resources for building wellness and sustainable communities.
On day two, after exploring the idea in depth, we began to talk about working with it, spending much of the day in Open Space to see how k’e applied to real word projects. This was followed on day three by grounding these projects in real commitments, a process which deepened on day four when we worked with a smaller community of practice who were actively facilitating community wellness projects and who were looking for ways to bring k’e deeply into the relationships that they need to cultivate with on another.
I learned a huge amount in this Art of Hosting. I learned that in fact k’e,like the Nuu-Chah-Nulth concepts of heshook ish tsawalk (everything is one) and teechma (the heart path) or the Nisga’a and Tsimshian idea of sayt k’uulum goot (of one heart) is the essential element that produces all things. It is what illuminates the social spaces between us, what allows us to produce quality work together. In fact, if you think of all human endeavour, there is nothing you can think of that was not produced by k’e. We sometimes think it is great people or great teams that produce great results, but more and more I am seeing that it is great k’e that is the source. I’m willing to be that everything – peace, food, shopping malls, aircraft, marketing campaigns, shoes, families, buildings, art – arises from this source. It is love and power combined, to use Adam Kahane’s framing. We can choose how to work with k’e using it to produce acts of beauty or terror. Our Navajo friends warned us that k’e on it’s own is no guarantee of wellness or peace. We must work skilfully with these connections to produce what the call nizhooni – beauty. K’e itself is beautiful, but only with attention can we work with it to produce more beauty. This is wazhonshay the Navajo “beauty way.”
It is simple. When we give attention to the ways in which we work together, connecting as deeply as we can and paying attention to the quality of the relationships between us, we produce good things. If the Art of Hosting is about anything – indeed if working with groups at all is about anything essential – it is that. Beyond methodology, beyond concept, beyond language.