II.   Áłchíní BáNdazhnit’á –  (Diné Family Group Conferencing)


         In 2009, the Program received a Tribal Youth Program grant to plan for peacemaking, life value engagements, and family group conferencing services upon referrals from agencies and schools.  STAR schools, Dept. of Diné Language, Culture and Education; Navajo Nation DBHS; Diné Hatathli Association; American Humane Society; Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention at the U.S. Dept. of Justice; Peacemaking Program; and consultants all contributed to planning and designing Diné family group conferencing services.  Planning is completed and services are now being provided.

         Family Group Conferencing (FGC) originated in New Zealand. It was originally used to allow social work practice to work with and not against Maori values and culture.  In 1989, the New Zealand government made FGC a central part of practice and services in call cases concerning children, including dependency up through delinquency-type cases.    

         Áłchíní báNdazhnit’á (Diné family group conferencing) through the Peacemaking Program is an extension of peacemaking in response to the requirements of the Álchíní Bi Beehaz’ áannii Act of 2011 calling upon the Navajo Nation “to seek out culturally appropriate methods for prevention, intervention and treatment of family disharmony” and “to facilitate family harmony using measures consistent with Navajo Nation statutes and Diné bi beehaz’áannii.”[1]  The Program will assist in family preservation and reunification when called upon by courts, agencies and families in the spirit and intent of the Act and on the basis of Diné bi beehaz’áannii.  The Program understands these requirements to mean that traditional principles and skills in achieving hózh̨̨ó are to be explained and provided in such situations.

         The Program will also arrange áłchíní báNdazhnit’á upon referrals from the prosecutor and schools in matters concerning CHINS, delinquency and disciplinary matters.

         Peacemaking is the foundation of áłchíní báNdazhnit’á, in that a peacemaker’s skills in guiding a family out of hóóchx̨o’/anáhóót’i’ toward hózh̨̨ó is called upon.  However there are critical institutional factors also present that impact an individual’s liberty or a family’s preservation for which the family is given a first opportunity, a generational responsibility using elders also, to put forward a plan for implementation by the responsible agency. 

         For example, a juvenile in diversion may need his or her family to ensure delinquent acts do not reoccur, by planning for a family member to serve as a “traditional probation officer” in the community, family curfew hours, and participation in traditional services through the Program or other resources.  Such matters may be referred by the prosecutor, and the plan would be monitored by Probation Services pursuant to the Álchíní Bi Beehaz’ áannii Act.  The family and child must follow through with the plan, both in order to evade harsher punishments and to realize an important sense of self-empowerment.

         Courts and Social Services may refer dependency cases in which children are neglected.  In áłchíní báNdazhnit’á the family plan might be to enroll the neglectful family members in other Program services, have extended family take responsibility to check on them regularly, alcohol treatment, or require the family to visit grandmother every weekend for traditional counseling by her.  Such cases would be referred back to Social Services as the responsible monitoring agency, or to other agencies as the court sees fit.  Families must be able to follow through with their plan in order for the family to be preserved.  A referral back to Social Services also ensures that any child welfare support needs identified in the áłchíní báNdazhnit’á are met.

         Additionally, there is a need for a circle of resources to surround the áłchíní báNdazhnit’á to support individuals and families in hóóchx̨o’/anáhóót’i’.  A list of resources, such as treatment, classes, learned individuals in specific problems, and service providers would be provided to the family and explained. 

         Finally, the attendance of a representative of the responsible agency is a given without the normal requirement for an individual’s or family’s consent.  The agency representative is there to explain the agency’s concerns, clarify the discussion, and otherwise to speak when called upon.  The Program requires this representative to be mindful that the naałchidí is on the journey from hóóchx̨o’/anáhóót’i’ to hózh̨̨ó at their own pace and must reach self-realization themselves, and establish their own plan without interference. The agency representative must have an understanding of hózh̨óji naat’aah and his or her role in the process.  Teachers, psychologists, extended family, and friends of the family, may also participate as atah naaldeehí.   

         Especially when a stubborn or angry child will not open up, the function of the peacemaker and those around him or her is to make sure the child knows he or she is part of a family and community that is concerned about their health, safety and well-being, and are here to help them.  The positive planning encourages a child and family’s upward thinking.  It may take a long or short time, but with expressions of concern and love, hózh̨̨ó is striven for and achieved. 

         As the Program learns from how the service performs and the effect on families and children, the Program will continue to revise, develop and perfect the fine details of this program service. 

[1] 9 N.N.C. § 1001(F) and (H)