K’é – Diné (Navajo) Kinship System

The Diné society is based primarily upon kinship arising from clan affiliation, as each person is a member of the tribe by reason of his or her affiliation to one of the numerous Clans.

It is very important for a person to know K’e – The Kinship System.
Below are the Diné (Navajo) terms for the extended family:

Diné (Navajo) Kinship System

Graphic: Rough Rock  School Press  | © 2013 | All Rights Reserved

The main attributes of Navajo kinship are:

  • The basic term k’é refers to affective action and solidarity, including such concepts as love, compassion, kindness, friendliness, generosity, and peacefulness.
  • Matrilineal — descent is traced through one’s mother
  • Matrilocal — husbands go to reside among the wife’s family. This means that older females will have substantial authority in the organizing and running of the household and control of the property.

The learning of kinship begins with the family which consists of a man, his wife , and his unmarried children.

Clanship is determined through the mother’s clan, and a child is “born for” the father’s clan.

Clanship also determines marriage, as one should marry into one’s own clan, into one’s father’s clan, or with someone whose father’s clan is the same as your father.

K’é is central to maintaining the Diné language and culture. Diné young people must know their clan relatives to avoid marriage within their own clans.

When the Diné greet each other, it is appropriate for them to introduce themselves by telling their clans.

It is critical that all Diné understand their ancestral history so that they can maintain and respect the clan traditions.

The knowledge of these traditions, passed down through many generations, must continue to be taught and respected. This is crucial for survival of the traditional ways of the Diné people.


 K’e Graphic source:
Rough Rock School Press
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Dine Culture Awareness Handbook, Central Consolidated School District No.22, NM.

Navajo Clan Legends, compiled by Don Mose Jr., SJSD Media Center, Blanding UT. 2001

Navajo Nation 1997 Close Up Program, Darrell Watchman, ed. Navajo Nation Division of Education, 1997.

Franciscans, Saint Michaels, Ariz. An ethnologic dictionary of the Navaho language (Kindle Locations 9337-9341). Saint Michaels, Ariz., Franciscan Fathers.

Navajo Family by Wood Stick Hogan

Navajo Family by Wood Stick Hogan Description – Navajo family with wikiup hogan in the background
Publisher – Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico
Date Original – ca. 1920-1940

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Navajo Family in Canyon de Chelly, AZ 1920-1940

Navajo family in Canyon De Chelly, AZ. Date  1920-1940

Title: Navajo family in Canyon de Chelly, AZ
Subject: Navajo Indians; Chelly, Canyon de (Ariz.)
Description: Navajo family in Canyon de Chelly, AZ.
Publisher: Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico
Date Original: ca. 1920-1940

Photo of Navajo Family in Corn Field

Navajo family in a corn field in northern New Mexico

Publisher: Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico
Date Original ca. 1920-1940


Navajo Religious And Social Views

The Navajos call themselves Dine’ — “the People” — which implies that other humans are “not-people” or are enemy people (anaii dine’e). Dine’ has a broad meaning; it means not just earth people, but holy people — diyin dine’e — with whom the Navajos are closely associated, thus giving them a sense of their divinity, or contentedness to the gods.

Peshlakai Etsetti Navajo Family with Christmas Tree

Peshlakai Etsetti Navajo Family with Christmas Tree – 1935 Christmas at Wupatki 

Photo courtesy NAU Cline Library Special Collections

In this, of course, they are not unique. All ethnic groups imagine themselves as chosen. James Axtell has written that the Indians of Canada and New England believed that they were superior to the French and English.

They thought their way of life the best, and when runaway Indian schoolboys returned to their tenacious cultures, they quickly relapsed into the old way. The prideful eastern Natives, whose conceit the Christian divines condemned as sinful, simply did not believe in the superiority of “civilization.”

The same may be said for the Navajo. The proscriptions laid on the true people by the Holy Beings did not apply to the non-Navajo. For instance, at one time (and still perhaps today), Navajos relied on Anglos to bury corpses as a way to avoid contamination by the dead.

Flora Bailey was asked to examine a corral of dead, blackened sheep that had been struck by lightning. If Navajos observed the lightning-struck sheep, they would become ill; if Bailey looked at them, she would not get sick because she was a white person, a non-Navajo.

In the early part of this century, Little Gambler asked William T. Williams to bury his brother, who was killed by lightning. Williams also shot a horse over his grave as Little Gambler requested. Little Gambler, however, would not attend the burial, and Williams did not tell him that before he got the corpse in the ground a coyote had fed on his brother’s body.

The proscriptions of the Holy Beings did not apply to the whites, so that Williams would not contaminate himself as the Navajo ran the risk of doing.

Navajo religion — its beauties, its curing, and indeed its taboos — extended its advantages and restrictions only to the Navajos.

Source: William H. Lyon, “Americans and Other Aliens in the Navajo Historical Imagination in the Nineteenth Century,” American Indian Quarterly24.1 (2000): 143, Questia, 20 Oct. 2007 

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