Shash means bear in Navajo.
Animals are considered beings, like people. Bears, though, should be considered like humans. In the cultural way, looking directly at someone is impolite because it often seems as if you’re staring, and therefore criticizing. Stories teach that bears should be respected in that way.
Bears are known to inhabit the mountains. When you consider the word for mountain, dził, notice that it is related to bidziil, which is a word for strength. The “One who walks on the mountain” is, in many ways, a symbol of strength and protection. In this way, bears are traditionally viewed as sacred.
In the Navajo clanship system, the bear is the clan protector given to the Towering House clan, Kin Yaa’áanii. People of this clan are said to inherit qualities of leadership, such as a considerate mentality. Other qualities, such as ferocity or moood, are somewhat associated with bears, also.
Note: An earlier version of this post spelled the word as shásh. It’s been corrected.