BIRDSPRINGS — On Jan. 6, Ann Walker and Lena Cody welcomed 18 social workers from the Leupp Family Service Unit and the Southwest Region Social Service office to a training at Birdsprings Chapter House designed to unite service providers and share information. They said they hoped that community resources would be revealed as tools service providers can use to better serve their clients.
Cecelia Kescole offered an invocation, while Lena Cody explained the purpose of the meeting.
Bessie Yellowhair-Simpson, a staff assistant in first lady Vicki Shirley’s MADD/MAM efforts, shared materials, information and showed a moving documentary about the efforts. This included the voices of members and victims.
Thomas Walker Jr., the council delegate for Birdsprings, Leupp and Tolani Lake Chapters, discussed the importance of establishing positive working relationships through the Navajo concept of ké. Walker described ké as the result of four components, or four “Rs.”
“Reverence, responsibility, relationships and respect make up ké,” Walker said.
Walker told attendees that much of his work has been focused on Navajo elders and youth, and that he views community elders as institutions of love and education.
“As members of the community, we need to recognize them and treat them as such all of the time,” Walker said. “The challenge is to appreciate them that way each and every day.”
Though Walker constantly speaks to Navajo youth and formal assemblies about the importance of ké, he sees a strong conflict between life seen through traditional eyes and the more contemporary lifestyle experienced by young people today.
“We are told to be professionals in the white world, to not get too personal with our services,” Walker said. “You can’t even hug a student these days, you can’t hold someone’s hand. The use of ké is a comfort, a pain reliever. How important is ké? Some say that traditional ways are outdated, but anything can be achieved through the use of ké.”
He offered the example of a maternal grandmother as an embodiment of ké.
“She had nothing but positive words for the people and environment,” Walker said. “She taught me that all human beings are wonderful, spiritual beings. She taught me to have nothing but positive descriptive words to describe the people I come in contact with. I find her outlook very amazing.”
Walker said that where the concept of ké is used in the working environment, it is hard to say no to any request.
Walker described the 16 social workers present for the training as 16 of the most powerful people in the world. He also recognized the difficulties they face daily in their work.
“It’s immeasurable—your power of intent if applied to your profession. You have the power of kindness and understanding,” Walker said.
Susie Wauneka, one of the social workers in attendance, rose to comment on Walker’s comments.
“I’d like to share a story,” Wauneka said, explaining that she was educated in a boarding school in Oklahoma. There, she said, it seemed as though she lost the teachings of ké. When she returned to the Navajo Nation as a social worker she found herself facing a lot of incidents of child sexual abuse.
“I didn’t have a way to work with families,” Wauneka said. “Family members shy away from dealing with this problem. One day my supervisor told me to bring in all of the members of a certain family. He identified himself [introduced himself by clan] and suddenly people started talking. I swear the atmosphere changed once ké was established. This is very important to us in the social work field. I didn’t know it. We don’t try to reinforce our work with our Navajo teachings.”
The final presentation was by Wilfred Shirley, a substance abuse counselor. Shirley distributed a test by which attendees could assess the possibility of codependent behavior.
“It is important that you be honest with yourself,” Shirley said. “It is important that we admit that one way or another we are affected by alcohol. Whether it is our spouse, parents, brothers, sisters, uncles or aunts, we are all affected.”
Social workers, Shirley said, work in an environment of helping, but many have not dealt with their own issues. If a person has not dealt with their own codependency issues, they may end up hurting, not helping. Further, it is important to recognize that a person who is supported by codependency recognizes those tendencies and others and preys on them.
“One indicator of whether or not you have codependency tendencies is where you feel super-responsibility for your client, where you have difficulty viewing a client as an alcoholic. Another way is where you put way more hours into a case than you need to, or where you view a certain behavior by your client as not unusual, or just another problem he or she faces.”
Shirley said that it was important to get people to the point where they accept that their situation is their own fault and to assist them in dealing with their problems, and offered some tools towards this end.
“I wanted to bring the community together and see issues of domestic violence and substance abuse, Mothers against Drunk Driving and Mothers Against Meth issues brought together,” Walker said. “We wanted workers who deal with these issues every day, who handle them from different departments, to come together and face these issues together.”
Walker said that youth from the community, including her own son, were present at her invitation.
“I wanted them to hear how substance abuse affects them and their families,” Walker explained. There is a lot of abuse, and many people don’t know where to go. I wanted people to come together and learn where help is available.”
Cecelia Kescole, the Dilkon Unit supervisor, said that until the training, she had no idea what MADD was.
“We’re really glad that this event happened,” Kescole and Walker said.