Photo Credit: Danielle Shirley
from Perry Robinson
If there is a single word that summarizes the complexity of Navajo thought about the world we live in, it has to be the term “k’4” meaning “relationship.” The creation story is filled with animate beings who interacted with each other as they established patterns to guide the Navajo in proper behavior. Rocks, rivers, trees, animals, and even diseases have powers within that can be prayed to for assistance. Also in the beginning, the clan system began to evolve, resulting in today’s approximately ninety clans, an important part of the tribe’s growing population. As Perry Robinson explains, there is no reason for any Navajo to feel alone and depressed since the people and their world are filled with many different types of friendly relationships.
As the holy people placed the main elements of fire, water, earth, and air together, they saw that all four were related and depended on each other; they felt the same would be good for the Earth Surface Beings. As the people began wandering and separating over the land, different groups assumed names because of qualities, experiences, homelands, or origins. One of the rules that evolved was that no one could marry into his or her own clan or another clan that was closely related.A person’s mother’s and father’s clans, reaching back on both sides of each, should be avoided in marriage. This guaranteed that prospective partners needed to seek a mate outside of their own group, creating a wide pool of unrelated people with which to share friendship, assistance, responsibilities, and new bonds in an ever-widening circle of friends and family.
Perry speaks to the strength and sense of well-being that this series of connections create: “The relationship through k’4 helps people feel that ‘I do belong to someone.’ Every time you go someplace, you introduce yourself by clan and say ‘I am coming from here,’ and soon you will find that someone is from that area or belongs to your clan; this helps you to feel good about yourself. To be a Navajo is always to have family. The holy ones said that this was a good way for people to come together and provide a sense that you belong. This is why it was developed; it is a way that will never die out—it has always been there.”
The same thing happens when a person needs to use plants or goes to a sacred place to pray.“ You have to introduce yourself to the holy ones and say ‘This is who I am.I am your grandson and my sacred name is so-and-so. The people have given us their thoughts here and they trust us today that you and I will come together and heal a person. This is why I am asking you for help and it is here that I am going to make an offering. This is going to be done in a good way, the way that it has been established, and then you will give me your medicine and I will take it back.” Perry would then pick a plant of the same species close by, leaving the one he talked to as a representative and witness that proper respect through relationship had been established. The whole process is based on the healer and a one-on-one agreement with the plant, object, or place where the two come together. A person can return to the same spot or plants once this bond is formed and recognized. The plant or place will say, “This is good, here comes my grandson.”
The Utah Navajo Health System (UNHS) believes in the importance of relationships and how welcoming it feels to be connected with people and an environment
that is friendly and helpful. For that reason, there are three clinics (Montezuma Creek, Monument Valley, and Navajo Mountain) on the Navajo Reservation
as well as one in Blanding, serving the people in a warm, hospitable environment. There is also a full-time medicine man available to heal with traditional
practices alongside up-to-date western medicine. Learn More
I am Perry Robinson my clans is Edge Water born for Nakaii’dine. I am from Pinon Arizona born and raised there. I finished high school at Intermountain H.S. in Brigham City Utah in 1974 went to school in Utah State University for a year. I got inducted into military. I was in Marines for 4 years. Worked in construction, as a Boilermaker and iron worker for some years. I slowly worked my way back into schools to get licensed in counseling grandfathered in and a license to do traditional counseling- ceremony. I worked for Navajo Nation behavioral health for 25 years as a traditional practitioner. Retired last year. Started working with UNHS. Now as traditional consultant- practitioner.
Many articles in this section were adapted from WeRNative.org, a website for Native Youth by Native Youth