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The Impact of Community in Navajo Life

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For the Navajo people, the concept of K’e, or kinship, is one of the most fundamental lessons taught to every child. This begins with the child learning their four inherited clans, which connects them to extended families within the tribal nation. The child is then taught what to call those with whom they share a clan—strangers may acquire titles such as mother or brother through this system—, and the specific set of mutual responsibilities that accompany these terms. To demonstrate the importance of having a positive, inclusive community during National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, StopBullying.gov is honored to share the experiences of Sam Slater, a member of the Navajo Nation.

“Growing up, this was the most powerful anti-bullying tool in my belt. K’e demonstrated for me how to treat everyone like a relative. This meant understanding my role in helping and learning from other people. We raise one another up and value the individuality of our collective voice, further extending these teachings into a compassionate community and beyond.

“However, I contrast this ideal with my reality of growing up away from the Navajo Nation in a community where I was the only American Indian student—an environment now common for many Native youth. In our schools, many of us feel our voices are not heard; we are not uplifted alongside our non-Native peers. In some classes, our history is ignored altogether or manipulated,   further perpetuating our people as belonging wholly to the past. For example, on Halloween, our classmates run around in fake headdresses and provocative stereotypes of our women, reminding us that our culture and sexuality do not belong to us and exist to profit from once a year. The list goes on.

“These degrading images and outright erasure slowly accumulate in the minds of Native youth to the point of believing we are less than. We question whether our peers really look back at us and see a bila ashdlaa’i—a five fingered human relative. There does not need to be a bully for a student to feel devalued, alone, or oppressed—sometimes the culture of our communities does a good enough job bullying on its own. I share these lessons of K’e, because I believe they are crucial to creating communities of resilience and hope, communities free from bullying in all its varied forms.”

It is imperative to remember there are things we all can do to create a safer community environment and stop all forms of bullying this month and the months and years ahead. Acceptance, inclusion and celebrating diversity can help foster change, from individuals to communities alike. Check out Prevent Bullying and StopBullying.gov.