An Okanagan Worldview of Society, Armstrong 2020

Compendium Volume 5 Number 1 July 2021

Jeannette Christine Armstrong is a Canadian author, educator, artist, and activist, who wrote this article about the traditional decision-making process in Okanagan, called “enowkinwixw,” which demonstrates a great practice of biophilia.

Okanagan, the Penticton Indian reservation in Canada where the author was born and raised, has a very fragile ecosystem. However, the author discovered that this community treats the land differently compared to other communities. They treasure natural resources and believe that the land is the people. They bear in mind that everything they have came from the land and that their every decision has a possibility to destroy the land. Therefore, they not only pay attention to the relationship among human beings but also how human relationships affect the land.

When the author was searching to understand how the community developed this form of interaction, the traditional decision-making process enowkinwixw caught her attention. The model is accomplished with four criteria:

This word demands four things from us: 1) that we solicit the most opposing views; 2) that we seek to understand those views using non-adversarial protocols; 3) that we each agree to be willing to make adjustments in our own interests to accommodate diverse needs expressed; and 4) that we collaboratively commit to support the outcomes [Armstrong 2020: 166].

Through this process, the minority voice is valued as it could point out the most important things that have been ignored. It is how the Okanagan could bring the minority into balance with the majority, minimize the conflicts and bring everyone to work together.

If we begin to think about the minority, about why there is a minority, why there is poverty, then we should be able to find creative ways to meet the needs of the minorities [Armstrong 2020 : 167].

The author believes that this is why the Okanagan community could add preservation of land into the decision-making process. By adopting enowkinwixw, the community respects every opinion from every perspective. Therefore, they train people to speak for different components that make up their existence, such as the children, the elders, and the water; while the author herself was appointed as a land speaker, who thinks and speaks for the land. In this way, the people realize that material things are not as important as the power of the land, which is what sustains them.

This mindset is meant to help the world achieve a harmonic relationship between people and nature.

Armstrong, Jeannette, 2020, An Okanagan worldview of society, Living Earth Community: Multiple Ways of Being and Knowing, Mickey, Tucker & Grim (eds), Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 

For the full PDF version of the compendium issue where this article appears, visit Compendium Volume 5 Number 1 July 2021