En’owkin – Voluntary Deep Collaboration Across Generations

Happened across this article describing “Eníowkin”, which comes from the high language of the Okanagan people and as writer Jeannette Armstrong describes “has its origin in a philosophy perfected to nurture voluntary cooperation, an essential foundation for everyday living”.

As someone who works in the realm of participatory process, decision making and wise action I love discovering the indigenous taproots of this work. I imagine that much of En’owkin occurred in circle or council, creating the sacred space for sharing and listening.

This line really stood out for me “While the process does not mean that everyone agrees—for that is never possible — it does result in everyone being fully informed and agreeing fully on what must take place and what each will concede or contribute.” Particularly helpful language for me as I head into a conversation where there is disagreement and we are needing to journey to the place where we agree fully on what must take place and what each will concede or contribute. Beautiful.

Here is the full article and an except is copied below:

The Okanagan people used this word when there was a choice confronting the community. An elder would ask the people to engage in En’owkin, which requested each person contribute information about the subject at hand. What took place was not so much a debate as a process of clarification, incorporating bits of information from as many people as possible, no matter how irrelevant, trivial, or controversial these bits might seem, for in En’owkin, nothing is discarded or prejudged.

The process deliberately seeks no resolution in the first stage. Instead, it seeks concrete information; then inquires how people are affected and how other things might be affected, both in the long and the short term. It seeks out diversity of opinion. Persons with good analytical skills or special knowledge are usually given opportunity to speak, as are spokespersons for individuals or families. Anyone may speak, but only to add new information or insight.

The next stage “challenges” the group to suggest directions mindful of each area of concern put forward. The challenge usually takes the form of questions put to the “elders”, the “mothers”, the “fathers”, and the “youth”. Here, the term elders refers to those who are like-minded in protecting traditions. The group seeks their spiritual insight as a guiding force of connection to the land. The term mothers refers to those who are like-minded in their concern about the daily well-being of the family. The group seeks from the mothers sound advice on policy and on workable systems based on human relations. The term fathers refers to those who are like-minded in their concern about the things necessary for security, sustenance, and shelter. Usually the group seeks from the fathers practical strategy, logistics, and action. The term youth refers to those who are like-minded in their tremendous creative energy as they yearn for change that will bring a better future. Usually the group seeks from the youths their creative and artistic prowess in theorizing the innovative possibilities and their engagement in carrying it out.

Using this process does not require a rigid meeting format in which information is solicited. Rather, it is imperative that each person play his or her strongest natural role, because that is how each person can best contribute to the community. Persons speaking usually identify the role they’ve assumed by saying, for example, “I speak as a mother,” and proceed to outline what is understood that mothers are being challenged to contribute. Each role is then valued as indispensable to the unit.

YOUTH – innovative possibilities
FATHERS – security, sustenance, shelter
MOTHERS – policy, workable systems
ELDERS – connected to the land

Stated and unstated ground rules of the process “challenge” each member of the group to be considerate and compassionate to all others in the solution building. The process asks that each person be committed to creatively include in his or her own thinking the concerns of all others. It requires each person’s understanding to expand to accommodate the whole of the community. The point of the process is not to persuade the community that you are right, as in a debate; rather, the point is to bring you, as an individual, to understand as much as possible the reasons for opposite opinions. Your responsibility is to see the views of others, their concerns and their reasons, which will help you to choose willingly and intelligently the steps that will create a solution — because it is in your own best interest that all needs are addressed in the community. While the process does not mean that everyone agrees—for that is never possible — it does result in everyone being fully informed and agreeing fully on what must take place and what each will concede or contribute.

The action finally taken will be the best possible action, taking into consideration all the short-term, concrete social needs of the community as well as long-term psychological and spiritual needs, because all are essential to a healthy community and to sustainability. This is where diversity of thought and ingenuity resides. The elders describe it as a decision-making process of the group mind at its best. The word they use means something like “our completeness.” It creates complete solidarity in a group moving in the direction suggested, at the same time opening the door to a collaborative imagination and innovation much more likely to produce the best answer.

It seems to me that in diverse groups the En’owkin process is even more useful because there is a greater possibility of differing opinions. In modern decision-making, the “Roberts rules of democratic process,” in carrying out the will of the majority, creates great disparity and injustice to the minority, which in turn leads to division, polarity, and ongoing dissension. This type of process is in fact a way to guarantee the continuous hostility and division that give rise to aggressive actions that can destabilize the whole community, creating uncertainty, distrust, and prejudice. Different religions and ethnic origins, inequality of income levels, and inaccessible governing are the best reasons to invoke the En’owkin process.

Real democracy is not about power in numbers, it is about collaboration as an organizational system. Real democracy includes the right of the minority to a remedy, one that is unhampered by the tyranny of a complacent or aggressive majority. The En’owkin process is a mediation process especially designed for community. It is a process that seeks to build solidarity and develop remediated outcomes that will be acceptable, by informed choice, to all who will be affected. Its collaborative decision-making engages everyone in the process; decisions are not handed down by leaders “empowered” to decide for everyone. It is a negotiated process that creates trust and consensus because the solution belongs to everyone for all their own reasons. The process empowers the community, creating unity and strength for the long term. Because land is seen as a fundamental part of the self, along with family and community, it requires and insures sustainable practice in its practice.


“I am in love with the green earth.”  Charles LambCreative Commons License Ian Sane via Compfight