The Center for Jackson Hole Holds Retreat in Navajo Nation

Center for Jackson Hole board and staff with Jonah Yellowman (far right) at Yellowman’s home in Monument Valley, Utah.

From May 10-11, 2018, The Center for Jackson Hole, which runs SHIFT and The Emerging Leader Program, held a retreat for staff and board members to discuss the future of both initiatives as well as that of the organization overall. The retreat was held on the Navajo Reservation in Utah’s Monument Valley at the home of Jonah Yellowman, spiritual advisor of Utah Diné Bikéyah, the Native American organization that spearheaded the creation of Bears Ears National Monument.

The retreat, which was facilitated by the Meridian Institute’s Robyn Paulekas, included board members Alfonso Orozco, Frederick Reimers, Len Necefer and José Gonzalez, and staff Grace Anderson, Francesca Weikert, Gerben Scherpbier and Christian Beckwith.

A summary of the retreat’s outcomes may be found here.

Jonah Yellowman and Robyn Paulekas in the ceremonial octagon on Yellowman’s property, where most of the retreat was held.

Objectives of the retreat were as follows:

  • Develop a well-defined roadmap for the future leadership of SHIFT, including specific milestones for each year through 2020.
  • Discuss and identify potential solutions to some of the “big challenges” facing SHIFT.
  • Define how planning for SHIFT 2018 activities could align with the longer-term goals of the intergenerational leadership transfer.
  • Discuss feedback from SHIFT 2017 and identify specific approaches to addressing major concerns as part of planning for SHIFT 2018.
  • Identify major adjustments or changes to the approach for SHIFT and the Emerging Leader Program (ELP) 2018.

The decision to hold the retreat at Mr. Yellowman’s resulted from his participation at last year’s SHIFT, where he was a keynote speaker.

Following the event, The Center’s Executive Director, Christian Beckwith, traveled to Yellowman’s home, where he joined him in a sweat with military veterans. A week later, Yellowman invited Beckwith and his family to a Veterans’ Day celebration for Navajo veterans, and a friendship between the two men sprung up.

Board members Len Necefer, Frederick Reimers and board chair Alfonso Orozco during the sweatlodge ceremony held at the end of the retreat.

In early winter 2018, The Center began bringing Emerging Leaders Program alumni onto its staff and board, including Len Necefer, a 2017 participant. Necefer, the Navajo founder of Natives Outdoors, met with Beckwith at The Center’s office in Jackson and introduced him to the Navajo concept of “k’é,” an exchange documented in this essay.

The Navajo, or Diné, society is based primarily upon kinship arising from clan affiliation, as each person is a member of the tribe by reason of his or her affiliation to one of the numerous Clans. K’é extends to the surrounding world as well, and fosters respect for all natural things, animate and inanimate, as part of the Navajos’ extended family.

When the retreat was being planned, Beckwith reached out to Yellowman to inquire whether it could be held at his home. The hope was that retreat, and thus The Center’s work, might be imbued with the spirit of k’é.

During the retreat, participants developed a road map for the organization in an octagon used for Navajo ceremonial purposes on Yellowman’s property. Meals were held in an adjacent shadehouse.

Participants cooking meals in the shadehouse.

Yellowman participated throughout, illuminating the meaning behind k’é and offering both guidance and Navajo stories to the Center for Jackson Hole staff and board.

The proceedings of the retreat will guide the organization’s evolution through this year’s SHIFT and ELP, and inform next steps for the future of The Center for Jackson Hole.


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