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

court procedure


nitsÁhakees, nahat’Á, iinÁ, sihasin

core principles

1.         Comprehensiveness

2.         Fairness

3.         Personal Responsibility

4.         Cornerstones of Navajo Culture

powers of judges

today's society--come together


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. 

court procedure

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. 


 core principles

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.

 1.         Comprehensiveness

Comprehensiveness, or ná bináhaazláo, is achieved when community members are brought back into a state of beauty, harmony and balance, hózhọ.


Nahat’á is part of the core circle.  Nahat’á may include preventive measures or planning for solutions. 

Ná bináhaazláo

Ná bináhaazláo means providing parties with a sense of completeness or comprehensiveness.  It also means fairness and doing whatever is necessary in bringing in all problems, solving a problem or coming to a comprehensive solution. 

Baa gé’ahónáago

Baa gé’ahónáago means take time to do it right, with careful consideration.  Use the brain right.

Baa yáti’

Baa yáti’ means the opportunity to speak, or talking things out.


Banyazti’ means it was talked about; it was discussed.


Baayádiiti means it will be talked about; it will be discussed.


Haleebee means given the opportunity.


Nabík’íyáti’ means particularity of the discussion or talk; to discuss a certain issue.


Na’ák’íyáníłi’ means defending oneself through talking things out.


Na’ák’íyáti’ means the right to defend oneself.  In Navajo, it includes the right to apologize to oneself and others, and to make right and also to plead for mercy, ídaa ná’ookąąh.

ídaa ná’ookąąh

ídaa ná’ookąąh means you speak for yourself.

 2.         Fairness

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. 

Ná bináhaazláo

Ná bináhaazláo means providing parties with a sense of completeness or comprehensiveness.  It also means fairness and doing whatever is necessary in bringing in all problems, solving a problem or coming to a comprehensive solution. 


Naat’ááh means leaders, or the decisions made by the leaders according to existing laws. Our forefathers set the standards and principles which we abide by and believe in today. 


Natahnii’ or nantaagooi alaagii means to lead; specifically, to look out for.

Yíní dílyínee

Yíní dílyínee means modestly, humbly


Aheełt’éigo means people are treated the same.  As we talk about this problem, we need to respect each other treat each other equally.


Ádił’ídlį means respect for self and others. 

3.         Personal Responsibility

Bee K’éndzísdlįį’

Bee K’éndzísdlįį’ also means the offender has the personal responsibility to confront the violation, acknowledge his or her conduct, and make right. The offender must face the consequences of his or her conduct.  You may try to hide the truth and may even get away with it now, but will be held accountable, because you will be harmed somehow by your actions.

The Fundamental Laws of the Diné are necessary to maintain an orderly society in the modern world, and it is the duty and responsibility for everyone living and working in Dinétah to learn these laws.  There are consequences for violation of these laws. 

Bee K’éndzísdlįį’ also means the offender has the personal responsibility to confront the violation and make right. The offender must face the consequences of his or her conduct.


Kana’adá means experiencing consequences. Bik’ee kana’adá / bíni’dineesdlįį means the consequences will obsess your mind.

4.         Cornerstones of Navajo Culture

Navajo values are established from connection with one another and with the natural world.

Iiná dóó á’ál’į’

Iiná dóó á’ál’į’ means Diné life and culture.


Shábik’ehgo means the natural path of the sun.

Bee yis'ah go oodááł

Bee yis'ah go oodááł means strength of body and mind.

Hózhó/Akehi hozhoon

Hózhó or Akehi hozhoon  means harmony, beauty and balance.


Bíla’ashdla’ii is an affirmation.  We affirm our name, nihízhi', Diné, which means the people, human, or beings with five fingers, Bíla’ashdla’ii. We also have a spiritual name, Diyin Nohookáá Dine’é, or Holy Earth-Surface-People. Through our name, we affirm the human in all tribes and nations, and respect for the individual, all our relatives, and all living beings, ádił’ídlį.  Through respect, we affirm there is a proper place and value for all human beings.

Bíla’ashdla’ii may also mean the stories within the five fingered hand and the lines of the hand.  A judge might advise an offender that the hand is intended to provide, the fist points the fingers back at the offender.  Another example is one’s shadow, which is always with you.


K’é is a basic beenahaz’áanii.  The Diné are related to all creation through K’é. Through K’é we are related to one another and to our ancestors.  K’é must be observed if we are to continue to exist as Diné.  K’é imposes a duty on us to instruct and guide one another.  It emphasizes restorative justice, ensuring that individuals living in disharmony are brought back into right relationships and into the community to re-establish order.

Sa’ąh Naaghéí Bik’eh


Sa’ąh Naaghéí Bik’eh means the balance of our lives with the natural path of the sun.  We strive to follow the established path of life, signified by the natural path of Hózhọón Niidlį  the sun, Shábik’ehgo, and this is the foundation of iiná dóó á’ál’į’, Diné life and culture. Diné values are established from the connection with the natural world, including comprehension of the cardinal directions, the circle of life, four seasons, and the creation stories.  The goal is proper balance between Sa’ąh Naaghéí Ashkii and Bik’eh Hózhọón Ałééd.  When we achieve the balance, Sa’ąh Naaghéí Bik’eh Hózhọón Niidlį, and complete our life cycle, Hats'íís dóó háni' haatih, we have walked the right path and maintained our connection.  Our human journeys, Oodááł, shall be helped by our human institutions, as we follow the natural path of the sun, Shábik’ehgo, in strength of body, mind, and spirit, Bee yis'ah go oodááł.

Sa’ąh Naaghéí Bik’eh Hózhọón Niidlį

Sa’ąh Naaghéí Bik’eh Hózhọón Niidlį means the wholistic or holy path of male and female beings.

Navajo Philosophy tells us that everything we are and do as Diné People is a reflection of our Diné Origin.  A reflection in which we are considered sacred people from the bottom of our feet to the top of our heads and that we are all bounded by the laws of nature.  In this respect, we are all very sacred, yet very susceptible to things that are considered natural order of life; that we have to atone to what we violate, hurt or destroy that is considered sacred in places, animals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and even insects.  The Universe, Mother Earth and Nature was created and set in ways accordingly to the four sacred directions in time and balance; balance and time that revolves each day as revolution by the Sun, the moon and the stars.  The balance therein dictates the seasonal changes in Daan / Spring, Shį / Summer, Aak’eed / Fall and Hai / Winter.

 POWERS OF JUDGES  naayéé’héhgo

Bee bits’áhoníyéé’

Emanates authority/power

Bee bits’áhodilyééh

Uses authority/power to strengthen

Ba’álííł bee bits’áhoníyéé

Uses natural authority/power

Nayéé shisiih

Avoids destruction

Bikáa’jį hazlįį

Avoids danger/death

Sa’ah naayéé yee bits’á honíyéé

Blessed with the strength of the Beauty Way, sa’ah naayéé bih’eh hózhóón

Sa’ah naayéé bee bikéé’náhásdlįį

Protected by the Beauty Way

Hashkééyéé deenigo bee nihoot’aah

Conviction in an extreme way



The Enemy Way


Modern Adversarial Court System

Peacemaking Court

Harmony Way






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  come together