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maternal grandfather

Shicheii is my mother’s father, or my grandfather (aka maternal grandfather).

In the Navajo way, shicheii is also my grandson by my daughter (a kind of nickname or recognition). In the clanship way, shicheii’s first clan is my “dashicheii” clan, which often is the third to be listed after my father’s clan (“báshíshchíín”).

The horned toad (or ‘horny toad’*) is also referred to as “shicheii”, and as young Navajo we are told not to kill or harm our grandfathers. In the same vein, we are told not to be afraid of them, either.

There are a few characteristics drawn from the horned toad that can dictate the interaction between a Navajo elder and his grandson. The tough and fierce exterior of the horned toad is intimidating and sometimes scary. But underneath he has a soft belly.

*As children this English pronunciation is easier and is semantically identical to ‘horned toad’ in this case.


born for fathers clan

As part of the Navajo introduction and clanship system, this word references your father’s first clan. Since every Navajo is their mother’s clan (meaning her’s is the “first clan” or the one her children pass on to their children), their father’s clan is the one they would be “born for”.

For example: Hashk’aan hadzohí báshíshchíín (I am born for Yucca-fruit-strung-out-on-a-line)*.

This essentially means the second clan is the father’s mother’s (mother’s mother’s …) clan.

The Navajo figure Tó bájíshchíní, who was one of the mythical warrior twins that vanquished giant monsters, is named “Born for water”, or “child born of water”.

In the third person, this word becomes yáshchíín (he/she is born for). This way of recognizing oneself or another helps to structure relations among Navajo people, and can sometimes lead to scrutiny if partners are related by clanship. Strictly speaking, it is not totally disallowed for two clan relatives to be engaged if the elders are confident that there is no immediate or blood relation. This takes a convening of families and extensive comparison of their family trees.

Another word referencing the father is shitaa’ – but that is more referring to a spiritual father (father sky).

*Cultural note: hashk’aan is also a word for banana, so I could be given the nickname Banana Boy and teased (not harshly).

Tsékooh Hatsoh

Grand Canyon

One of the Navajo names for the Grand Canyon in Arizona is Tsékooh Hatsoh.

Here, we have the word tsékooh, which refers to a canyon.

The second word describes a big space, making use of the ha- and -tsoh particles.

The Grand Canyon, today, is a park under the protection of the US Federal Government. In the past, the US permitted mining and natural resource development in many of its tributaries. Historically, tribes in the area obtained salt from the canyon before modern heavy mining technology developed.

Several tribes in the Southwest US have traditions and practices associated with different parts of the Grand Canyon. The Hopi Tribe, for example, have many stories of ancestors and earlier groups that are said to have emerged near the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers.

Development in the area has been a sensitive topic since it has been affected by the Bennett Freeze – an order by the US government against any development or repairs of any type across nearly 1.5 million acres. This action had its roots in the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute, which itself involves the designation of traditional borders and use as determined by the Federal government.

In an effort to take advantage of tourism in the area, the Navajo Government has promoted job creation and the economic benefit of a project known as the “Escalade”, which is mainly a planned gondola that takes visitors on a ride into Tsékooh Hatsoh.

The Skywalk is another tribal project by the Hualapai Tribe that faced similar opposition, but now allows visitors a view of the canyon via an extended ‘u-shaped’ platform that juts out from the canyon ledge.

Some older Navajo also made visits to friends and relatives in and around the canyon, often making the trip on horseback to places like the Havasupai Village on older trails. The Grand Canyon was always a hub of activity that goes back to the many tribes inhabiting the area.

ílį́įgo naalyéhé


The Navajo words ílį́įgo naalyéhé together refer to jewelry.

The first word comes from the particle ílį́, which denotes value, worth, or genuineness (in a word like ílį́k’ehgo it means ‘with respect’ or ‘respectfully’).

Naalyéhé means property, or goods, in Navajo and is literally ‘that which is carried [about]’.

So, ílį́įgo naalyéhé is like saying a good with particular worth.

Navajo jewelry is regarded for featuring turquoise stones worked into silver, which reflects the style of the region. Squash blossoms adorn necklaces that range in style from pendants to heavy chains that are fully embellished to the back of the neck. For earrings, men tend to have simple turquoise stones while women have more intricate and striking designs. Concho belts featured designs carved or stamped into flat pieces that lay against the leather strap. Bow guards can also feature heavy silver and turquoise accents.

The old Navajo silversmiths learned to work metal and stone using techniques spread by early Spanish settlers via other tribes in the Southwest. It was common for tools to be fashioned out of scrap metal, such as railroad spikes or pieces of old engines. Raw materials were bartered for but only when absolutely necessary. Additionally, coins from back in the day were common ornaments in bracelets and belts.

See also:

  • Díkwíí baah ílį́? (How much is it (worth; cost)?)
  • Dootłizh (Turquiose, green, blue)

azee’ neikahi


Azee’ is a Navajo word that refers to medicine.

In most cases azee’, used in combination with any number of descriptors, creates a reference to a clinical environment. This means that medical terminology and diagnostic terms will sometimes repeat azee’ across many words in the same sentence.

Neikahi (or sometimes neikáhí, or néikáhí) describes the act of carrying in a nominalized form, or “that which …”, and used together with azee’ means nurse.

Azee’ neikahi is the general Navajo term for a nurse, which may sometimes be expanded to include emergency staff or paramedics, or similar specialties (but may also have their own descriptors).

Note: The 1972 edition of Basic Medical Navajo by Alan Wilson adopted this terminology for nurses, whereas the 2001 printing of The Navajo Dictionary on [of] Diagnostic Terminology by The Diné Center for Human Development didn’t include an explicit term.

See also: Azee’ ííł’íní (doctor, or the one that makes medicine)