Navajo Clans > Introduction

A narrative of the Navajo clan system.

Changing Woman, was a powerful deity among the Navajo people. She was considered a kind goddess who represented both creation and protection. As such, she was recognized as the goddess of fertility and reproduction.

Changing Woman established the first four Navajo clans: Kiiyaa'áanii (Towering House), Honágháahnii (One Who walks Around You), Tó Dích'íi'nii (Bitter Water), and Hashtl'ishnii (Mud). The four Navajo clans settled inside the area bounded by the four sacred mountains which became the Navajo Reservation.

The Navajo people have a kinship pattern that follows the lineage of the women. After the four original Navajo clans were established, women who came into the tribe's membership either brought a clan name with them, or were assigned a clan on acceptance into the tribe. Some were existing clans from other tribes, while others were created out of circumstance.

Today, the total number of Navajo clans represented is assumed to be over one hundred and forty, from twenty-one major groups. The Navajo kinship pattern is the strength of the Navajo people. It keeps the Navajo people together. The tribe is a matrilineal and matrilocal society.

Navajo children are "born to" the mother's clan and take her clan name, and are "born for" the father's clan. Therefore, it makes it possible for the Navajo people to know who they are through identification by their mother's, father's, maternal grandfather's and paternal grandfather's clans.

When a Navajo baby is born, he or she belongs to the clan of the mother. The clan name proceeds on through her to her children. When a young man marries, it must be to someone completely outside of his clan. In this way, it is a means to keep the people strong and produce healthy offsprings. Even though people in his clan are not all blood-related, it is considered inappropriate to marry within one's own clan. This practice is strictly observed. It should not occur because it would be considered as "incest" to the Navajo people.

An important Navajo custom is to introduce one's maternal and paternal clans on both sides of his family when meeting another Navajo or introducing yourself to the Navajo public for the first time. It is considered the Navajo way to know each others relationship and family members.


Hello! My name is Sam Etcitty. I am of the (Red-Running-Into-Water Clan), born for the (Salt Water Clan). The (Red House Clan) are my maternal grandfather's clan and the (Within His Clover Clan) are my paternal grandfather's clan.

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