Bitsé siléí / Biníí’siléí
Last Updated on July 28, 2008
February 1, 2008 – Peacemaking Program and Liaisons
Revised February 28, 2008 – Peacemaking Program and Probation Officers
Revised March 11, 2008 – Diné Principles Team, Rules Harmonization Project
Revised March 25, 2008 -- Peacemaking Program
Revised May 23, 2008 -- Peacemaking Program
bitsé – that which is in front or ahead
bitsé siléí – foundational essence
siléí – foundation; that which lies before
bitsé siléí – the very beginning, nothing better before it.
Oral Bitsé Siléí
These bitsé siléí are prepared to assist in the efforts of the Harmonization Project to reform processes and procedures of the Navajo Nation courts. Those who are undertaking the task of reform of the courts need a writing on which to base changes in a system that is, itself, heavily dependent on written papers. They must be able to explain to the Navajo people and other courts and governments the basis on which each reform was made. This is why this document is needed.
Bitsé siléí were not intended to be written down. Bitse means that which is in front or ahead, or in the forefront. Siléí means that which lies before. Bitsé siléí together may mean putting into descriptive words what someone at the head of the line has seen in order to lay down a road. It may mean that which is put down, like a path, to be perceived and followed. Bitsé siléí is foundational essence.
In our prayers and songs, when we sing and pray about the foundation of the Diné Life Way or the foundation of the Diné home, or the foundation of any subject of Diné Life Way, we say, nizhoni go siléí jini which means, it has been said that somewhere in our origins it was laid out for us in harmony and beauty. When speaking of foundational essence and other matters of Diné Life Way importance, a Navajo will never attribute knowledge to him or herself. He or she will always attribute the knowledge as having been gained through revelations from his or her elders. It is considered arrogant to say, "I know,” or “My knowledge is." Navajos will always say "It has been said," or "As I understand it," or "It has been revealed to me."
The principles embodied in bitsé siléí are intended to be passed down verbally to continue forever. When principles are passed on in this way, they are living principles that are made relevant, through stories, to the present life circumstances of the person or persons being told in order that they are absorbed in the core of their being. The teller connects the listener to the continuum of the Diné. Written principles of any kind lack this quality. As you read this document, bear in mind that spoken transmission of these principles, linked to stories, is preferred.
The effort to compile oral bitsé siléí in written form is a complicated task and will have many shortcomings. Questions such as the following have no ready answers: In what format should one write down verbal teachings that are non-linear, that weave into one another, and which have never been grouped or classed under simple headings? In addition, each bitsé siléí may contain multiple stories, each carrying variations of meanings, and each may contain multiple applications, or may each be classed separately under further bitsé siléí. How should these be captured? Without these layers, this document must, essentially, be only a summary.
It is foreseen that the format of presenting these bitsé siléí will be much changed over time. Most likely, the format of these bitsé siléí will never be firmly set. This is in keeping with the emphasis on orality in Navajo culture.
Is reform that weaves in the Diné Life Way in the processes and procedures of the courts possible to accomplish, and is such reform desirable? These are questions that have been asked.
Anglo American-style courts have existed in Diné Bikeyah now for a prolonged period of more than a hundred years, from the establishment of the Navajo Courts of Indian Offenses in 1892 run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to the present Navajo Nation court system. The courts institutionalized bilagáana bi nahaz’áanii or the Anglo American Law Way in the procedures of the modern courts, while our judges have sought to apply the Diné Life Way in the substance of their decisions. Court processes and procedures have been largely left to the Anglo American Law Way.
The court system of resolving disputes or administering justice has displaced the processes and procedures of Navajo culture. It is not unusual to find elderly Navajos in a courtroom who are bewildered, even angry, that baa yáti is not encouraged by the presiding judge. Many Navajos are deeply resentful of courtroom protocols that seem to silence discussion and silence the introduction of good evidence. People have expressed an emptiness and lack of satisfaction at the outcomes available through courts. Punishment by incarceration, without a community component, is a further anomaly in the court system that adds to a public sense that the court system is removed from Navajo life and does not fully address Navajo needs, both in the outcome of the litigation, and the manner in which a matter is resolved. Finally, the courts are adversarial in nature. The parties are kept in a confrontational position until the end of the proceedings at which there is a winner and loser, which is counter to our cultural value of a middle way.
The return of the Diné Life Way to the processes and procedures of the modern court is what the Rules Harmonization Project seeks to rectify. Their effort will be on the basis of this document, revised and refined with the feedback and assistance of the Navajo people.
According to peacemaking liaisons, the concept of naachid is highly relevant to reform efforts. Naachid is a complex word, meaning many things.
Naachid means a process; this is what we are engaging in. It means the procedure of naachid in which the societal situation is recognized and confronted. It is also a noun-- naachid is the person with the plan, the person who points. Naachid is the way human beings and creatures solved problems at a particular time in the pre-history of the Diné, in the early pre-language years of emergence, in the days of origin. Naachid is the relationship between the planner and the people for whom the plan is intended. The process of naachid is inclusive, important, deliberate, and invokes the Holy People. It governs the manner in which our reformers shall consider changes.
The original naachid gathered and used gesture and signs. Insects, birds and animals were the first to have known and practiced naachid and it carried over to use by the people following emergence. Bizhi means "its name,” and bilai astlai bizhi means "named as the five fingered beings" which distinguishes human beings from other earth beings which do not have five fingers (insects, animals, etc.). The naachid council, in history, was formed of the exact number of 12 original clans. Tthe 12 chiefs of the naachid council formed around a problem to address that problem either in a time of peace (peace chiefs) or war (war chiefs) to recognize and acknowledge the concern and to confront it, find methods and means for solutions according to the pressing need of the people.
Often, peacetime gatherings addressed drought, deep snow, powerful wind storms and bad weather. In these, few words were spoken and the Holy People were invoked for help. When wartime problems required offensive strategies, the process involved the use of Where, When, How, and Whys. Those necessary to be heard from are heard. There is an inclusiveness of voices after which the council makes a decision according to the two sides or the middle way. Naachid is based on a pragmatism in Navajo culture that ensures that the process of the council is done in an enlightened and natural way in order for the people to survive and prosper by keeping pace with crises and solutions of the present time. It is also a gathering rooted in the natural world, and therefore, a core historical concept in Diné bi beenahaz’áanii in which
Earth and universe embody thinking,
Water and the sacred mountains embody planning,
Air and variegated vegetation embody life,
Fire, light, and offering sites of variegated sacred stones embody wisdom.
In the modern courts, where the people present the concern, and the concern is taken away from them to be resolved by powers other than the individual or community, naachid is not acknowledged. The naachid relationship is considered absent when decision-making is surrendered to an external entity. The naachid way of addressing a problem emphasizes a middle way, that is also seldom given weight in modern courts where someone wins or loses. The naachid process mirrors the methods of our ancestors in which the concern is recognized, acknowledged, and confronted, and solutions found according to the pressing need of the people.
Naachid still involves invoking the Holy People with offerings in order to enlighten the participants in recognizing, acknowledging and confronting the crisis, and to look at two sides and the middle solution.
When engaging in our reform efforts, we will engage in thorough discussion, much as our ancestors did. Naachid is at the very core of rulemaking, in returning the Navajo way to the processes and procedures of our courts.
nitsÁhakees, nahat’Á, iinÁ, sihasin
The Diné thought process, Diné k’ehgo nitsáhákees involves an understanding of wholistic life process – involving thinking, living, planning solutions, and achieving solutions – illustrated by a circle. Diné k’ehgo nitsáhákees is paramount in Navajo cultural teachings. The manner in which a thing is done trumps even the final outcome, in that even if that outcome might be capable of achieving harmony, if the process has been wrong, harmony will not be achieved.
There is a circle of equal quadrants, beginning in the East – nitsáhakees (the thinking process), nahat’á (planning together), iiná (doing the plan), and sihasin (the result). Nitsáhakees, nahat’á, iiná, and sihasin comprise Diné Bina’nitin Bitsé Siléí – the foundation of Diné teachings.
In conveying Diné values, the teller will explain the circle and return again and again to its terms after exploring stories, history, and other bitsé siléí. The circle is the springboard to the principles that shall be considered by our reformers. There will be repetition and circular references, unlike the Anglo manner of thinking, Bila gáana k’ehgo nitsáhakees, which strives to be like a line or spear leading away from the point of beginning, towards a target.
Below are core principles grouped loosely under headings that refer to some common aspect of the principles that is relevant to our reformers. Some principles are cross-listed.
Comprehensiveness, or ná bináhaazláo, is achieved when community members are brought back into a state of beauty, harmony and balance, hózhọ.
Laws that are fair, and that reinforce relationships, are an essential component of dispute resolution from the creation of the Holy People and the Diné People through an emergence through four world stages to present time.
3. Personal Responsibility
4. Cornerstones of Navajo Culture
Navajo values are established from connection with one another and with the natural world.
POWERS OF JUDGES naayéé’héhgo