"Shi" - Child of the Holy People

byJoyce Tsinijinnie


Hamá hólǫ́ǫgo Hamá hólǫ́ǫgo 'ayóo jóníigo, 'ayóo jóníigo; t'áá bee hojílį́į łeh

Níítáá Diyin nimá t'áá kwiijį' bee hił niidlǫ́ǫ doo bee naa 'ahééh nidzin

Baa kodóó nenijį' yoołkááłjį' nihimá t'áá Diyingo t'áá nihá bik'i naajídłį́į doo

When you have a mother, you love her so and it makes you strong

Heavenly Father, we are here with our mother and we are thankful

From Earth, through the day, keep our spiritual mother among us

I am a Diné teacher and I want to work with my Diné students who are now coming to school with English as their first language and little or no familiarity with how to properly introduce themselves.  For non-Dine, it may sound so basic to introduce yourself, but within our Diné culture, kinship creates the balance to maintain the harmony between you as a human being and with the Holy Beings. Our children today do not know what their self-identity consists of and how unique they are.  With little or no knowledge or understanding of their history, language, culture, and disciplines, they are unbalanced, and that is what we see among our people who are like wanderers or lost psychologically. My father always says, “If you don’t know who you are, you will wander the Earth without knowledge of who your family is and where you come from. If you know your clans then you are rich Diné, because now you have disciplines that will get you far, you will see how big of a family you have that you can reach out to and help you when you psychologically and physically. Once you learn your clans, you have acknowledged and identified yourself to the Holy Beings to walk in harmony with.”

Among the Diné people, when a child is born he is given a name in Diné along with his four sacred clans that are passed down through his matrilineal side of the family to identify him as a warrior, a Holy Being. The main four sacred clans were created from the Holy Being Changing Woman, ’Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé.  Changing Woman took parts of her body to create these clans along with using Mother Earth, nahasdzáán, for the rest of the other clans. Clans are the connection to family as it creates a Diné child as a Being among the Holy People on Mother Earth. The stories of clanships have long been taught in the same way that was taught to me through oral stories, but today we have many that are written down, recorded books or online.

Teaching of the clans is usually provided by the parents, elders, Diné shamans in the family, or by teachers at school.  We all deeply depend on our oral storytelling to express our identity as a human being and as a Holy Being.  The stories of the creation of clans from our Diné culture gives us an understanding of who we are and how we are shaped in our life to live through many identities.  At the end we don’t identify to only ONE identity, however, through these main Diné deities Áłtsé Asdzą́ą́n, First Woman, Áłtsé Hastiin, First Man, Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé, Changing Woman, and the Twin Warriors; Tó Bájísh Chíní, Child Born of Water, and Naayéé Neezghání, Monster Slayer. A self-identity is critical during Diné ceremonies, starting a relationship with a partner, and at any vibrant family gatherings, such as during the Navajo Nation fairs or family celebrations. These immediate family and non-family gatherings create the family bonding through their clans. In the past, among the Diné people it wasn’t very common for people to include their name when they met new groups of people. Often, it is more relevant to state the clans and the places you are from that automatically connect the families you are each from and that starts the conversation of how they are related to each other.

All these parts of introduction define me as who I am and where I come from all in ONE. Not only do we correlate with the Holy One, but we are also individualized with that one Diné name in the real world and in the spiritual world. It’s like a key to the universe to be among the Holy Ones. The parents are identified as our makers to this world, but it’s their clans that are the vehicle to connect all us to family in the inner circle and to the outer circle. In addition to our clans, we introduce ourselves by the location we come from: the location gives us a place where we can call home and always come home to. These also teach us our discipline to understand our lineage and culture. As a baby girl is born, her clans will always be passed on from female to female. If it’s a boy, then he does get his mother’s first clan, but when he has a child, his wife will pass on her first clan to the children. By the fourth generation, none of the father’s clan will be alive. This is the reason why we revere our females and help our kids understand the importance and the cycle of life through clans.

Overall, we as Diné teachers have every opportunity to help our children learn their Diné language, culture, and disciplines. This unit is only one step towards each of aims through the learning of their self-identity of how to properly introduce themselves. The Diné Creation has rich in-depth stories on identity from different point of views within the four worlds and among the Diné deities.  Usage of the Diné Creation stories are vital to understanding how the Diné clans were created and how the students will implement their introduction of themselves in the “Shi” book. 


Mother and father become One, and then they give us life and our identity. This unit is targeted for the Diné student, but any teacher, whether native or non-native, can adopt this lesson based on their own heritage, language, identity or culture.

The Diné Nation extends into the states of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, covering over 27,000 square miles of unparalleled beauty. Diné Bikéyah, or Navajoland, as the U.S. Government refers to it, is larger than 10 of the 50 states in the United States. According to the 2000 Census and other language surveys, the largest Native American language-speaking community by far is the Diné. Diné is an Athabascan language of the Na-Dené family, with 178,000 speakers, primarily in the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Altogether, Diné speakers make up more than 50% of all Native American language speakers in the United States.1

This unit is created for students in the third through fifth grade. There are about 98% Diné children living on the Navajo Reservation. Of them, 95% of students do not speak the Diné language and 93% do not understand the Diné language. Classroom sizes range from 18 to 25 students per class, with 68% reading below grade level even though their first language is English.

This unit is taught in an environment among Diné children who are brought up to learn their clans from their immediate family and at schools, which is pursued under the Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education bylaws. Due to our Diné children coming to school with English as their first language, their primary opportunity to learn their identity and lessons of clanship, kinship, or K’é is in the elective Diné Studies class for 45 minutes a week, a possible total of 40 days. This curriculum unit can be used within the general social studies short daily lessons and under the Navajo Nation Standards.

Today, students are growing up not knowing their clans and how to introduce themselves in the Diné language.  Within the Diné Culture, one important step in life that needs to be presented to a child is to know his or her clans and to learn how to correctly introduce himself.  The PreK-5th Diné Character Building standards under the Department Office of Diné Education urge teachers of the Diné Nation to give students the opportunity to be actively involved in developing and applying critical thinking to establish relationships with the environment as well as to practice and maintain the sacredness of self-identity.  My hope is to show that these types of activities can incorporate the importance of recognition of learning their self-identity at an early age with help from their parents, grandparents, family members, within their community and at school. The unit also aims to give students the understanding of where they are coming from by using the tools of oral stories of their family, clans, location of where they come from and whom they are related to. 


I am a Diné teacher and I am strengthening my Diné language by sharing it with my students.  I would like for our students to become proud of who they are and for learning how to introduce themselves properly with an understanding of each part of the introduction. Today, when Diné children come to school and you ask them to introduce themselves, they only see themselves as Westernized and not as an “Indigenous person”, “Native American Indian”, “Indian”, “Navajo”, or “Diné”. They will only respond, “I am Jack,” “I don’t know how,” “My parents didn’t teach me,” “Not again,”, or they will look at you like a deer staring at the headlights of a car and don’t say anything. There are Diné children who are born out of wedlock and do not know their father’s clans, this child becomes half Diné, because the mother may not know the father’s clans or is embarrassed due to being the same clan as the father, so she will not reveal the clans.  At times like this, mothers do not teach the child all his clans properly to introduce himself or the essence of kinship was never taught in the home by the parent.

Diné children today are growing up with video games, cellphones, iPods, computers, and/or TV which all act as babysitters, their temporary parent, their culture teacher, and their language teacher. It is very rare to have a child to introduce himself in the Diné language. There are families that do speak the Diné language, which influences the culture and the disciplines, but they tend to be living in remote areas away from smaller towns, no electricity, no cell phone towers, and minimal electronic usage to the outside world.  Another positive factor is when a Diné child is placed with their grandparents, elderly uncle or aunt, who are still fluent Diné speakers, culturally based, and the discipline is there for this child to grow up knowing how to introduce himself.  You have parents today that work off the reservation, divorces, child custody cases where the child is removed, death, and many other situations that can qualify to place the child in another family’s home.  A Diné child is “lucky” to be located with an immediate family on his mother’s side that will engage them into the Diné language, culture, and discipline. This is where the child will have a positive influence to know their identity.  Whereas, for all other situations, school would be the only place to learn their identity.

My objective for my Diné students is to learn how to properly introduce themselves using the Diné language to help them understand how important clans are for connecting themselves to their culture and the discipline to help connect to their family. This unit will open students’ eyes to how unique and special they are as a Diné.  Students will engage in daily practice of their introduction and learn how they are related to one another and to others. They will see how they will have a bigger family and show their pride in speaking the Diné language and making a connection back with their language and culture. When they get a Diné partner, that is where clans are very important, because the clans enforce who you can marry and who you can’t, all due to the relationships of clans. Once you find out your “friend’s” clans and you’re related, you can only be friends, but not become partners.  Diné clans connect you to other clans, where you have another mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandparent, nephew, or niece. Knowing your clans is also a big help, because the Diné Reservation is a big area that covers three states, and IF you get stranded somewhere, you can ask for help. Introducing yourself properly you get home safely through the extended family members of your clans.

Today, many young Diné don’t believe in their culture, perhaps because they don’t know their clans and/or the stories behind them.  Diné stories come from the immediate or extended families of their family history in backtracking their lineage as far as they can through oral stories that were passed down. Oral stories were very important, because each story held the history of where clans came from, not just by identifying the family members involved, but also the location of where the families were from.  Many Diné children are great artists and one way they will show their clans through the stories they heard is by drawing them out to give that ownership of who they are.  Another way children can portray their clans is by making a family tree and adding clans to each family member and connecting to who and how they are related.  In class, the curriculum unit will be used so that each child will create their “Shi” book to keep records of their family’s clans for himself and have that ownership and understanding of how he is connected to the Diné Creation stories, the Holy Beings, and to their families. The students’ big project will be making the “Shi” book, which they will add to throughout the year, whereas the Diné introduction unit will be taught and placed at the beginning of the book. I hope to have them appreciate their identity as a Diné child and take pride in learning the Diné language as much as they can. I can and will go out of my way to make this fun, exciting, and to reach out to their parents too, for their help and even to help the parents learn their identity, too. I have the spirit to share my Diné language, my knowledge of clanship, of connecting to their family, of bringing the discipline, and to have them absorb their culture.  My mind is set to teach and fulfill these young Diné minds.

Diné Creation Story

Usually a Diné elder is called upon to explain why clanship is important. He will always go into a storytelling mode to show how extensive it is from the time a Diné child is born to have over thousands of relatives across the Diné Nation, the United States, and in other countries. When a Diné child is born, he is born without a name. He is given a name at his first Blessingway ceremony or a blessing from an elderly family member a couple of days after he is born. He is given a Diné name; a traditional (warrior) name, a nickname (define what they have done, how he looks, or a description of how their inner and outer personality is), where he’s from, by his clan, or after a relative.  Along with his name, four clans are passed down to him from his parents, two from his mother and two from his father.

These clans were created by Áłtsé Asdzą́ą́n, Changing Woman.  At the time of the beginning there were only the Diné Holy People, Changing Woman, First Man and First Woman, Twin Warriors, and many animal beings living. She decides there should be more people not looking like animal beings, but human beings, so she created people. I have included short version stories of the Diné Emergence, Changing Woman, and the Twin Warrior’s journey to help lead into the origins of the clans.  These stories, which were instilled in many of us Dine people to remember and follow the disciplines they teach us, are passed down in families, in schools, and through my unit.

Diné clans will open the doors to creating a bigger family beyond a child’s immediate family. These clans are going to be his root as he grows and identifies himself as one person to thousands others.  Establishing kinship among people through clans helps create more acquaintances and creates a bigger community.

Diné Emergence

My father, Amos Lincoln, who is a well-known Diné medicine man, informed me orally that when you are going to talk about any of the Diné Holy Beings you must always begin your stories from the beginning of time of the Diné people with the Emergence story, Hajíínéé. He says the Diné went through three worlds and each world consist of only Holy Beings, Diyiin Diné’é, and they looked more like animals, insects, and Mist Being. My father begins telling the story after he smokes a special mountain tobacco to clear his mind and to focus. He begins…. “The First World was the black world where only flying insects lived and this is where Áłtsé Asdzą́ą́n, First Woman and Áłtsé Hastiin, First Man were the first two made, along with the Coyote, Áłtsé hashké which means "first scolder”, and this is where the natural laws were established. They escaped this world from fire.  The Second World was a blue world where Beings and the flying insects escaped, plus there were swallows, and larger animals like foxes, badgers, wolves, and mountain lions already living. They escaped from this world due to the world freezing up.  The Third World was the yellow world where the bluebird was the first to enter, then First Man and Woman, with all the other Beings following thereafter.  In this world there were squirrel, chipmunk, mice, turkey, deer, cat, spider, lizard, and snake beings already living. There was just too much power struggle among the Beings, but what made them escape this world was after Coyote stole water monster’s baby and therefore it started to rain and flooded this world.  All the Beings then escaped by climbing a reed, that was planted by First Man, into the Fourth World.”

Fourth World - Glittering World

Amos continues and becomes a bit more serious. “When the Holy Beings and the People came into the Fourth World, one of the Beings, Haashch’ééłti’í, Talking God, instructed them to build a sweat house and sing the Blessingway Song. Then they built another house, which was the hooghan. In the hooghan they set up their world in order. They named the four sacred mountains that were placed. In the eastern boundary is Mt. Blanca, Sisnaajiní, near Alamosa, Colorado. In the southern boundary is Mt. Taylor, Tsoodził, northeast of Grants, New Mexico.  The western boundary is San Francisco Peaks, Dook’o’oosłííd, is right next to Flagstaff, Arizona.  The northern boundary is Mt. Hesperus, Dibé Nitsaa, is near Cortez and Durango, Colorado.  Amos says that in many of our prayers and songs, we include the names of our Holy Beings, the names or our mountains, and what they are dressed with along with the protectors. These mountains became the boundary for the Diné. When you go beyond it, you sing the mountain songs so you will always be protected while you’re away from the Diné land and when you come back into the Dinéland, you sing it again to let the Holy Ones know you’re back home.”

Áłtsé Asdzą́ą́n, Changing Woman Or Yołgaii Asdzą́ą́n, White Shell Woman

My mother, Lorissa, tells of Áłtsé Asdzą́ą́n, Changing Woman. “Many times we tell of a myth of how a woman or man comes of age within such a short time, or even overnight, who have that spiritual sense.   Áłtsé Asdzą́ą́n, Changing Woman, comes closest to being the representation of the earth, Nahasdzáán, and of the natural order of Yádi hi Bii' Bi Haz'ánígíí, the universe, as to any other brief way of describing her. Her representation is a symbol of a cycle in seasons and in life itself: birth, toddler, adolescent, young adult, old age, and death.  Changing woman is in our prayers, songs, and our inner self as a human being.”  The story is always told with reverence. 

Lorissa continues.  “One morning, First Man and First Woman saw a dark cloud over Ch'oolii, Gobernador Knob, which is by Farmington, New Mexico. They heard a baby crying and they climb Gobernador Knob and in the clouds of mist they found a baby girl. She was the daughter born of darkness and the dawn was her father. Under the directions of the Holy People, they fed her sun-ray pollen, cloud pollen, plant pollen, and the dew off of flowers. They named her Áłtsé Asdzą́ą́n, Changing Woman. She is within all of us as Diné, because she is our Mother. She grew within days from a baby to a young woman and she came of age, puberty stage, a Blessingway ceremony, where the first Hooghan songs were made, was held over her, called Kinaalda, Walked Into Beauty, that lasted for four days. Within this ceremony she received another name, Yołgaii Asdzą́ą́n, White Shell Woman with white representing pure.

Today, young Diné girls have the same ceremony as a passageway to womanhood. The Kinaalda is a teaching to young girls of what their responsibilities will be in life. They learn about their culture, language, and each feels responsible for her family. At the end of the ceremony, the girl is now a woman.  She was Changing Woman during her ceremony she came out to be White Shell Woman. So, when you hear Changing Woman and White Shell Woman, they are the same. Changing Woman grew up near Dził Na'oodilii, El Huerfano Mesa, near Farmington, New Mexico.”

Twin Warriors; Tó Bájísh Chíní, Child Born Of Water, And Naayéé Neezghání, Monster Slayer

My father, Amos starts the story again. “As Changing Woman grew, she married the Johonaa’ei, The Sun, and bore two son, twins, Naayéé’neizghání, Slayer of Monsters, and Tóbájíshchíní, Born for Water. They were warriors and became heroes to the Diné. They grew up with their mother on Earth and became strong young boys and powerful warriors. This was still at the beginning of the movement into the Fourth World, so there were also giants living in this world.  Changing Woman never let the Twins play or go too far from their home due to the evil giants living nearby, and one day a giant followed the Twins’ footprint back to the hogan. The giant asked Changing Woman whose tracks those were, and she responded saying that she wished she had children so she would not be so lonely. With that, the giant believed her and he went away. Right after this, Changing Woman told the Twins to go to their father, The Sun, to get help on getting rid of the monsters, because they were eating the people. As they started their journey, they met Na’ashje’ii Asdzą́ą́n, Spider Woman, who taught the boys ways to overcome the obstacles that they needed to pass to get to their father in the sky. As The Twin journeyed to their father, The Sun, they passed all the obstacles that were presented to them.  When at the end they reached their father, he gave them lightning bolts as weapons to fight and kill the monsters. The Twins returned back to Earth and killed all the monsters, so the people can repopulate the land. Today, when twins are born, they are revered as good blessings to the family, and many families that do have twins in their family have ceremonies almost every season and to have twins at a ceremony is good too, even if it’s not for them. They are revered back to The Twins, in the Diné Creation Story.”

Áłtsé Asdzą́ą́n, Changing Woman – Creation of The Clans

Lorissa begins, “The creation of the clans are taught from the beginning of a child’s life. As a baby enters our world, he already is identified through his clans. As the child grows, he is told the story of how Changing Woman created the clans. After her sons, The Twins, kill of all the monsters, The Sun took Changing Woman to the Western Ocean and created a beautiful home, made of mist, for her. Some of the Beings went with her and the Beings were still in animal form or Mist Beings. They followed her so she would not be alone. As time went by the Holy Beings got lonely because in the other Worlds they left behind were many of their people still living there. The Holy Beings left the Fourth World and that was the last time they were seen. Changing Woman said that there should be more human people to populate the Fourth World. Her creation of the people was from her body and to each of them she gave them a clan. She started with the four main clans that represented places or things she had witnessed into naming her clans that we still use today. First, from the skin of her breast came the Kiiyaa’aanii clan, Towering House People, for at one time in her travels they rested at a Puebloan ruins while they were in search of water. From the left arm came the Hashlisnii, Mud People, named for a place where they traveled through people making pots out of mud. From the skin under her right arm came the Todich’ii’nii, Bitter Water People, named after drinking of bitter water. From her back came the Honaghaahnii, He-Walks-Around-One People, named after a warrior who used to keep an eye over his people to protect them.”


This unit shows the beauty in a Diné storytelling that makes a connection to the Dinéway of life and belief. My vision is to help my Diné students and other students in my class to become aware of who they are through their immediate clans and how it connects them to others. This unit can be used in the Diné Culture and Language and also under the social studies standards. When K’e, kinship, or clanship is introduced, the instructor needs to correlate it with Diné stories that will open up to how the Diné clans were created, why we use it, and when and where can we use it.  The oral stories by my father and mother on the Diné Emergence Stories are a good start to read to the students, so they can envision and make it real to themselves and become one of the characters.  Pictures that are added on as resources can be used along with the passages. Book resources are included not only to help the teacher to understand how and where to use the stories, but also to help the students see how identity is very important. The main focus as an instructor is to keep your mind open to many valuable stories. As one of the Diné lessons we were brought up with was, “Don’t ask too many questions, but if you listen, then you will see and understand.”

The beginning of the school year is the best time to start this unit, due to the students being new or some coming in knowing one another already only by name, but creating that bond among the students is crucially important through introduction. This unit will take the whole nine weeks to make it successful and to change the classroom environment from just student-teacher to family oriented.  Within our Diné Studies elective course that they attend for 45 minutes a week, we will also be doing the same type of lesson with their own activities, but this unit will be for the immediate class to be used every day. It will create the bond among the students and instructor.

The oral stories by my father and mother on the Diné Emergence Stories let the students become aware of how storytelling is important within our Diné culture, because it creates our life, humanity, lessons, and being one with the Diné Holy People.  Students are taught to listen carefully to not just words, but to their surroundings by using their senses and most of all their imagination.  The imagination will open them to a new world that they have never heard of or have been to, by just keeping their mind and hearts open to this revelation. Oral storytelling creates the world around our students of their culture, language, and gives them an identity of where they are coming from. Always remind the students to understand their story more that they can carefully look at each illustration and that there are many versions of these stories.

At the beginning of the school year, a form will be sent home with each student for their parents to fill in the information of their child’s name, parents’ names, their four clans in order, and where they are from. These forms will be broken up into sections to show the students why we introduce ourselves in such a way to promote our identity. The following areas will be included; naming themselves, naming of the parents, naming of the four clans, and location of where they are from.  An assignment can be given as a homework for the student for their parent to help them illustrate or take notes in these sections. It is important to always have the parents or family involved with this unit. This home involvement will hopefully keep the family interested too, to also learn more of themselves and their children. Throughout the give and returns of the activities, information will be transferred into their “Shi” book. This book will be the end result for each student, and by the end of the nine weeks each student should be able to introduce themselves in Diné language and properly.

Classroom Activities

The classroom activities will begin on the second week of the first nine weeks. This can take place as a small part of the social studies, but a larger part of the Character Building standards under the Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education.  Activities will include listening to oral stories, reading books relating to identity, researching among the student’s family, hands-on art, writing, and creating the “Shi” book. It is up to the instructor to decide when and where to add more to it with what resources are given. Each section of this unit will allow parent involvement to monitor classroom activities, and to coordinate their efforts with teachers to encourage positive Diné culture and language to be used to ensure that the child completes the activity.  I, as the teacher of students with highly involved parents, will give greater attention to these students, and be more likely to identify at an early stage to assist parents how to find answers to their clans to advance student learning.  Positive parental involvement and parent-teacher interactions will have a positive effect on my self-perception and job satisfaction with this activity.

Before starting the unit, I read the following books; Little Herder in Summer by Ann Clark, Annie and the Old One by Miska Miles, Songs of the Shiprock Fair by Luci Tapahonso, and Father’s Boots: Azhe’e Bikenidootso’osii  to the students to give them an idea of how family, kinship, and events can bring people together.

Activity 1

Objective: Students will take a pretest, so the teacher will see how much of the lesson will need to be covered beforehand and during the unit. It can identify how many of the students know how to introduce themselves with their clans and how many will need help.  This test will be given orally to each student while the teacher is checking it off on the check list.  This test will be given after the teacher does a demonstration of how to introduce yourself.  There will be a chart on the wall with the parts they can use to help them read off of if they need assistance, but to fill in the blanks on their own. A check mark is for the student’s response in the Diné language. I used a circle to indicate the student didn’t know their answer. If it says English in the box, then that’s how they responded and all the answers were correct. Once the oral introduction has been completed there can be a checklist made by the teachers to show the understanding of introduction by the students.


The following template will be used by the students.

Shí éí ___(1)____ yinishyé

Shíma éí __(2)_____ wolye doo Shizhe’e éí __(2)_____ wolye

Shí éí __(3)_____ nishłį́

___(4)____ bashishchiin 

___(5)____ dashicheii

___(6)____ dashinalí

Shí éí ___(7)____ naashá

The following template will be used to record the student’s response.


Intro of Name


Intro of  Both Parents


1st Clan


2nd Clan


3rd Clan


4th Clan


Location of Home (7)































English: the child’s response named them in English, not Navajo

ü  Yes, student know

  • No, student does not know


This is an example of how the student should respond.

Shí éí Joyce yinishyé

My name is Joyce

Shíma éí Lorissa Lincoln wolyé doo Shizhe’e éí Amos Lincoln wolyé

My mother is Lorissa Lincoln and my father is Amos Lincoln

Shí éí Ashihii  nishłį́

I am of the Salt People

Ma’ii deshgizhnii bashishchiin 

I am born for the Jemez Pueblo Coyote Pass People

Na’kaai Dine’e T’abahaa dashichéii

The Mexican-Near the Water People are my maternal grandparents

T’aneezaani dashinalí

The Banana Fruit People are my paternal grandparents

Shí éí Na’iisho’ii bit’oo déé’ naashá

I am from Burnside

The first two lessons will begin at basic level starting off with just the introduction of name and parents in Diné. A form will be sent home at the beginning of the school year for parents to fill out.  The information will then be transferred to an index card, which the students will use to read off of to introduce themselves, so that they don’t feel stuck on their introduction. Students will repeatedly introduce themselves on a daily basis to three different students every day. 

Activity 2

This activity will help the student understand why their name identifies him and it may be the only name they will receive or other names will also be given as he grows.

Shí éí Joyce Tsinijinnie yinishyé

My name is Joyce Tsinijinnie

The truth is that names are a part of every culture and that they are of enormous importance both to the people who receive names and to the societies that given them. ... In some cases, the name given at birth is only the first of several names a person will bear throughout life.2  Within the Diné culture a name is given at birth to a child by a highly respected family member or in a Blessingway Ceremony.  A name can be a traditional (warrior) name, a nickname (define what he has done, or description of how their inner and outer personnel is), where he is from, by their clan, or by a relative. These names can change as a child grows, or through different events in their lives.  Our sacred names are not shared out in the open because it’s only for ceremonial purposes, so we only identify to the outside using our English name.

Students will work on a worksheet, “All About My Name,” with help from their parents.  They will write their name down, tell who gave them the name, the story behind their first and last name, and the story behind any special name they may have. The special name can be their Diné name or nickname.  The activity will help the student understand how important their name is. 

Activity 3

This activity will give the students an understanding of how important it is to have parents. Students will interview their parents with a sheet of questions to learn more about their parents.

Shíma éí Lorissa Lincoln wolye doo Shizhe’e éí Amos Lincoln wolye

My mother is Lorissa Lincoln and my father is Amos Lincoln

Introduction of the parents already makes that connection to which family you are coming from and the connection to other extended families in the community.  Others can already say, oh you are so and so’s daughter, granddaughter, or niece. Interviewing the parents will help the student understand where their parents came from to where they are at now and they may share some of the same traits, personality or physically.  Students will also understand why their parents create rules and consequences. Parents will have the opportunity to share their upbringing to their child. 

After students have accomplished introducing themselves with ease by their name and parents’ names, with the help from their parents they will identify what their four clans are: who he is, who he is born for, who his maternal grandparents are, and who his paternal grandparents are. They will use this information and fill out the back of the index card they already have their name and parents’ names on.  Different clans are grouped into smaller branches and each will be color coded with one color to show which clans are related.  There are going to be fifteen color coded groups of clans that will be used. With the information of their name and parent’s names already on the card, the four clans will be added on. Students will continue to practice their introduction to three different students every day.  After a while, students will soon be introducing themselves in the Diné language without the card. That is a sign that they are ready to continue to the next lesson.

Activity 4

This activity will give the student an understanding of why the first clan is the most important clan out of the four clans that are given to a child.

Shí éí Ashihii  nishłį́

I am of the Salt People

The first clan is the most important clan of the four.  When a Diné baby is born, he or she belongs to the clan of the mother. The clan is passed on through her to her children. When a young man marries, it must be to someone completely outside of his clan. This way, the blood would be strong and produce healthy offspring. Within this activity, the student will take a look at how the first clan is passed down through the matrilineal line. Students will also learn what their clan means and where it originated from.  A family tree activity will be started here to show how the first is passed on. If the student is a girl, then she will understand how her clan will continue if she has a daughter, a granddaughter, and continuing on among the daughters in the future. 

Activity 5

This activity will give the student an understanding of why the second clan is also an important clan out of the four clans that are given to a child.

Ma’ii deshgizhnii bashishchiin 

I am born for the Jemez Coyote Pass

This is my father’s first clan. This is my father’s mother’s first clan. This clan has been passed down through his mother and grandmother.  This clan will be passed onto my child as their paternal grandmother’s clan, so it will become his third clan.  This clan also affect the marriage between two individuals, so I had to marry someone outside of this clan. To marry outside this clan will not affect the bloodline and strong, healthy offspring will be the result. Within this activity, the student will take a look at how the second clan is passed down through the paternal line. Students will also learn what their clan means and where it originated from.  A family tree activity will be used here to show how the second clan is passed on. By the second generation this class will be void.

Activity 6

This activity will give the student an understanding of why the third clan is an important clan out of the four clans that are given to a child. He will see that this clan is their maternal grandmother’s clan.

Na’kaai Dine’e T’abahaa dashicheii

The Mexican-Near the Water are my maternal grandparents

This is my maternal grandfather’s first clan. This is my maternal grandfather’s mother’s clan.  . This clan has been passed down as my mother’s father’s second clan.  This clan will not be passed on to my child because only the first two clans are passed on and the third clan is void.  Within this activity, the student will take a look at how the third clan is passed down through the maternal line. Students will also learn what their clan means and where it originated from.  A family tree activity will be used here to show how the third clan is passed on. By the second generation this class will be void.

Activity 7

This activity will give the student an understanding of why the fourth clan is an important clan out of the four clans that are given to a child. He will see that this clan is their paternal grandmother’s clan.

T’aneezaani dashinalí

The Banana Fruit are my paternal grandparents

This is my paternal grandfather’s first clan. This is my paternal grandfather’s mother’s clan.  This clan has been passed down as my mother’s father’s second clan.  This clan will not be passed onto my child because only the first two clans are passed on and the fourth clan is void.  Within this activity, the student will take a look at how the third clan is passed down through the maternal line. Students will also learn what their clan means and where it originated from.  A family tree activity will be used here to show how the third clan is passed on. By the second generation this class will be void.

Activity 8

This activity will give the student an opportunity to learn about where they are from. The towns and small communities on the Navajo Reservation have stories of how they were created and many of them connect to the Diné Emergence stories.

Shí éí Na’iisho’ii bit’oo déé’ naashá

I am from Burnside

Sometimes just informing others of where you are from, many clans are localized, and right away others will know some of your relatives from there, too.  This last lesson will teach the student of the place where they live in Diné. An assignment will be sent home to identify the place where they live at in Diné and English. They will add this information on another index card and continue to practice sharing their location of home to other students in Diné right after their introduction of their name and clans.

I plan to have the students create a “SHI” book about themselves, too. The first unit of the book will have information about their clan.  This will be part of their introduction of themselves and of their family. It will include an introduction page as you see above using their clans, parents, and where they come from. Another part of this unit will be an explanation or history of their clan. Last, they will complete this unit with a family tree to see how far their family can trace their lineage and take a closer look at how names changed.

I will give each student a survey to compare attitudes, interest, and understanding of this unit of how they would use it in a real-world application. My hope is that the students will grasp the basic introduction using their clans in the Navajo language comfortably and easily, plus to be able to relate this knowledge in a very real way when they enter a contest that usually requires an introduction, at a function where they are asked to do a small speech, or even at their own family event.


Standards follow the Arizona Social Studies Standards, Arizona Common Core standards in the English Language Arts, and will also include standards from the Department of Diné Education.

Arizona Social Studies Standards: S3.C1.PO2- Recognize that people in the US have varied backgrounds but may share principles, goals, customs and traditions

CommonCore.3.RI.7- Use information gained from the illustrations and words in print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters setting or plot.

CommonCore.3.SL.2- Recount or describe key ideas or details from a text read aloud or information presented orally through other media.

CommonCore.3.W.3- Write narratives in which they recount a well elaborated event or short sequence of events, include details to describe actions, thoughts, and feelings, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide a sense of closure.

CommonCore.3.W.5- With guidance and support from adults and peers, focus on a topic and strengthen writing as needed by revising and editing.

S&S: S 3C R1: PO4, P07: 1)  Student will identify facts to Navajo clans and clan membership. 2) Student will learn what Navajo oral stories say about the founding of the first four original clans, related clans and adopted clans.  Students will be able to design their own personal symbol for his/her clan.

Navajo Nation Standard: I will develop and apply critical thinking to establish relationships with the environment. Concept 3- PO 4. I will express and value my grandparent’s Diné way of life teaching.

Navajo Nation Standard: I will understand and apply the Navajo Nation Laws. Concept 2- I will identify my life goals. PO 1. I will recognize the value of positive self-esteem.

Teacher Resources

Browne, Vee. Monster Slayer: A Navajo Folktale. Northland Publishing. 1991

Clark, Ann. Little Herder in Summer. A Publication of Haskell Indian Nations University. 1997

Clark, Ann. Who wants to be a Prairie Dog? A Publication of Haskell Indian Nations University. 1996

Miles, Miska. Annie and the Old One.  Boston Toronto London: Little, Brown and Company. 1971

Schick, Eleanor. Navajo Wedding Day: A Dine Marriage Ceremony. New York: Marshall Cavendish. 1999

Tapahonso, Luci. Songs of the Shiprock Fair. Kiva Publishing. 1999

Whitethorne Sr., Baje. Father’s Boots: Azhe’e Bikenidootso’osii. Salina Bookshelf, Inc. 2001

Internet References

"K’é – Diné (Navajo) Kinship System." Navajo People Culture History. Accessed July 17, 2017. http://navajopeople.org/blog/ke-dine-navajo-kinship-system/.

"VLog: Navajo "Baby Names" & Navajo Naming Concepts." YouTube. April 09, 2012. Accessed July 17, 2017. https://youtu.be/lCJ4YXKMK3s.

"VLog: Navajo Clans & the Navajo Clan System (Adééhániih)." YouTube. April 12, 2012. Accessed July 17, 2017. https://youtu.be/VYAd9KuScoc.

"Doone'e (Clans)." PDF Clan Chart. Accessed July 17, 2017. http://www.nndss.navajo-nsn.gov/Portals/0/PDF%20Files/D%D3ONE.pdf.

"My Kinaaldà." YouTube. July 30, 2012. Accessed July 17, 2017. https://youtu.be/VWLOwP2iLNw.

How White Shell Woman / Yoołgaii Asdzáán Became Known as Changing Woman / Yoołgaii Nádleehé. http://www.navajocourts.org/AspectsDineTeaching/whiteshellwoman.pdf

Introducing yourself in Navajo.  http://navajowotd.com/word/introducing-yourself-in-navajo/

KJ Bigman Kinaalda Ceremony. (2009)  https://youtu.be/mZ4qir1gRyw

Todacheene, Heidi J. (2015). She Saves Us From Monsters: The Navajo Creation Story and Modern Tribal Justice.

Which Clan Are You From? (2008). https://vistarezdoc.wordpress.com/2008/09/10/which-clan-are-you-from/

Oral Interview References

Dennison, Lorinda. Navajo family member: Oral interview of how important it is to be a twin and what are some of the roles within the Diné culture and identity.

Lincoln, Amos. Navajo Medicineman: Oral interview of how clans were introduced to him and what is the story behind his four clans. June 8, 2017.

Lincoln (Yazzie), Lorissa. Oral interview of how clans were introduced to him and what is the story behind his four clans. June 8, 2017.

McCray, Kathy.  Navajo teacher at  Tsehootsoi Diné Bi’Olta’ (Immersion School): Oral Interview of importance of having children say and learn their clans in Navajo. May 25, 2017.


  1. Wikipedia: Diné Language
  2. Behind the Name: Names and Personal Identity

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