Clanship Basics

In Navajo mythology a god named Changing Woman created the four original clans, who were then followed by other clans. Each of the clans has a story about how they were created and named. Some of the clans came from other tribes, and were adopted, while others were created out of circumstance, and some were found by some clans and were given names. From the four original clans, there are now 100-140 clans, some count even higher, from 21 major groups. In today’s modern age, Navajos have intermarried with non-Navajos, such as Chinese, Arab, Polynesian, and Germans. Some Navajos have given them their own clan name.

Navajo is a matrilineal and matrilocal society. Each Navajo is suppose to belong to four different, unrelated clans. But that has not been the case in some situations. A person belongs to his or her mother’s clan. He or she is born for his or her father’s clan. He or she has maternal and paternal grandfathers’ clans.

A person’s four grandparents (paternal and maternal) make up a clan. A person’s first clan is from the mother’s side. The second clan comes from the father’s side. Third clan is from the mother’s second clan. Fourth clan is from your father’s second clan (his father’s clan)

1. Grandmother’s clan
2. Paternal Grandmother’s clan
3. Grandfather’s clan
4. Paternal Grandfather’s clan

A person introduces themselves as follows:

“Yá’át’ééh my name is __________. I am ______ (name the 1st clan), born for the _____(name the 2nd clan). My grandfathers are ______ (3rd clan) and my paternal grandfathers are ________(4th clan).”

In Navajo society, K’é (pronounced Keeh’) is the Navajo kinship system and represents the strength of the People, the Diné.


K’é System

Center for American Indian Languages (Non-profit)

The Indigenous Language Institute (Non-profit)

Teaching American Indian and Alaska Native Languages in the Schools (Federal)

Wikipedia on Navajo language

Native Languages of the Americas (Non-profit)

Administration for Native Americans (Federal)

National Geographic “Vanishing Languages”