Imagine that a great killer stalks your society, emerging as the fourth leading cause of death. Imagine a small group of people coming together to neutralize this wave of death. This is where our journey began 15 years ago on Navajo Nation. A group of Diné/Navajo and allies came together to address diabetes.
Our epidemiologically-based research on what works led us to community wellness models that prioritize community engagement, responsibility and healing. The effectiveness of community wellness planning is directly related to the degree of local community ownership and control. It is vital for communities to state what is important to and for them. This led us to explore different community models of leadership and facilitation.
Developing a cadre of Diné facilitators was central to our plan to address diabetes across Navajo Nation. They would facilitate the development of leadership and collaboration within communities, community responsibility and contribution, and a commitment to growth and learning.
As we developed our model, a “light bulb” went off. We had been reviewing and adapting the best of modern facilitation and leadership practices. All of a sudden, we realized that the essential components of facilitation (collaborative problem solving, conflict resolution, mindful communication, etc.) were practices that Diné people had mastered over thousands of years. However, for many, perhaps most, Diné, these practices had fallen by the wayside. So we went to some of the most sacred people of the Nation, those entrusted to carry and continue the oral history traditions of the Tribe, as well as peacemakers and other elders, to transmit to us knowledge of how, over thousands of years, these practices had been done.
They transmitted to us their stories and knowledge, and approved our codification of such into a living, breathing, series of workshops to revivify these traditions amongst the Diné people. On our journey, we discovered that we needed to supplement our traditional ways with some contemporary innovations, while remaining true to core aspects of traditions that have been successful for millennia. The success of the program was astounding.
67 Diné facilitators participated in an Advanced Facilitation Workshop to learn new tools and techniques for enhancing their effectiveness as facilitators working with Navajo communities. Multiple community wellness plans have been developed across the Navajo Nation with the guidance and support of Diné facilitators. Beyond the Diné, the Healthy Native Communities Fellowship curriculum incorporated key components of the Advanced Facilitation Workshop, and has trained over 300 Native facilitators in numerous Native nations across the United States.
Such efforts are often measured in four levels (Kirkpatrick's Levels of Evaluation): (1) workshop participants' reactions, (2) acquisition of new learning, (3) changes in behavior, (4) results/outcomes (i.e., the degree to which our workshops impacted the prevalence, severity, etc. of diabetes). While we did not receive funding to assess level 4, the data on levels 1-3 points to a resounding success. Additionally, successes in dimensions of cultural revitalization, and global citizenship, are of the utmost importance. Words cannot convey the palpable pride, joy and upliftment that occurs when a people taps into the very best of its traditions, uses those in service to its own protection, healing and betterment; and begins to sense the power and possibility of extending these gifts to the entire world.
A very brief case overview of the project is here: http://pathstochange.com/case_studies/casestudies_hncp1.html.
From this creative enterprise was born a methodology for bringing the best of ancient wisdom, in tandem with some of the best contemporary advances, as “medicine” to heal many ills of the modern world. Clearly this prototype and pilot centered on diabetes. Our aim is to tap into some of the best Indigenous traditions and modern advances in leadership, transformation and related fields, and apply them especially to sustainability, *broadly defined* (i.e., meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs; and living in harmonious interconnectedness with all life, all our relations, on Mother Earth). This set of definitions from the UN Brundtland Report, and from many Indigenous nations, encompasses and bridges themes of peace, prosperity and planet.
Two people from the original project independently nurtured an idea to expand the initial model, and came together years later. They noticed the worldwide resurgence of Indigenous wisdom and leadership, as well as continued and intensified attacks on Indigenous lands, people, resources, and ways-of-being around the globe.
The world stands on the brink of many shifts. Global warming threatens the entire biosphere and all its inhabitants of many species. We are in the midst of the 6th mass extinction on the planet. The gap of wealth and income, between haves and have-nots, has increased globally and brings with it a host of ills of inequality and inequity. In the midst of these and other changes, we propose a solution that enables Indigenous people across the planet, working within their own nations, to tap into the best of their most ancient traditions; to blend this with contemporary innovations; to connect with other Indigenous and non-Indigenous people through OpenIDEO – in order to develop leadership practices for peace, prosperity, and planetary sustainability that will strengthen and revive our Indigenous nations, while also strengthening and reviving our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters, while also providing medicine to strengthen and heal many of the ills of the modern world. That is our journey so far.