Cultural Reference

Navajo wolf

In Navajo, another word for "wolf" is "mai-coh," meaning witch. The Navajo fear of wolves derives not from the nature of the animal but rather from the potential for monstrous behavior from humans. Both the Navajo and the Hopi believe that human witches use or possibly abuse the wolf's powers to influence other people. While Europeans warned of a wolf in sheep's clothing, some Native American tribal beliefs cautioned against a human in wolf's clothing. Literally, the Navajo wolf, or witch, can also be referred to as a skinwalker. Not all Navajo witches are skinwalkers, but all skinwalkers are witches.

In some Native American myths, a skinwalker is a person with the supernatural ability to turn into any animal he or she desires. To affect this transformation, legends suggest that skin-walkers need to wear a pelt of the animals they desire to metamorphose into, though this is not always considered necessary. In addition to transforming into animals, the skinwalker has other powers. He or she can read others' minds, control people’s thoughts and behavior, bring forth disease, destroy homes, and even cause death. Trained in both physical medicine for the body and spiritual medicine for the spirit, skinwalkers braid the two practices tightly together, as most skinwalkers at one time served in the position of healer and spiritual guide for their communities. Initiation into the deviant life of a skinwalker mandates breaking the killing taboo and taking the life of a member of the skinwalker's immediate family, usually a sibling.

Navajo Way

When Hillerman refers to “Navajo Way,” he is referencing the concept of hózhǫ́. Hózhǫ́ is the state in which all living things are ordered, in balance, and walking in beauty. This term encompasses the Navajo world view, one in which all things are peaceful and harmonious. The opposite of hózhǫ́ is hóchxǫ́ǫ́, which refers to disorder and chaos in one’s life. In Hillerman's work, chaos and imbalance manifest as an illness, sickness, or infection obtained from contact with the modern, predominantly White culture and values of the mainstream U.S..

Navajo time

Also referred to as "Indian time," This is a colloquial phrase that is used to indicate slowness. The phrase is based on the difference in approach to time between Western cultures and Native cultures in the U.S. Indigenous peoples did not use clocks and watches to tell time until the arrival of Europeans, and therefore organized daily activities and special events according to natural indicators such as sunrises, sunsets, moon phases, or changing seasons. This was a significantly different concept of time from the Western one, which is an arbitrary fragmentation of time into discrete and regular units. The term "Indian time" evolved as a euphemism that indicates when something or someone is "behind schedule" and not as prompt as it is expected by Western standards.

Mud Clan

The Mud Clan originated with Changing Woman, one of the most important and benevolent deities in the navajo cosmology. By rubbing the skin from various parts of her body, Changing Woman generated enough material to create matched pairs. The original members of the Mud Clan were rubbed from Changing Woman's left arm. After nurturing the six pairs, and nurturing within them ceremonial ways and observances, she sent the pairs off with baskets of gifts. In the basket of the Mud Clan she included images of talking prayer sticks and canes of jet. As these early Navajo journied to find where they would plant their cornfields, Changing woman gifted them with animal helpers, and the Mud Clan received the porcupine.

The Navajo (Diné) tribe is comprised of more than forty family lineages--or clans--that claim common ancestry. According to traditional lore, the Hasht ł 'ishnii (Mud Clan) is one of the original six lineages formed within the Navajo People, which included the Standing House Clan, Bitter Water Clan, Near the Water Clan, Mud Clan, Water Edge Clan, and Two Streams Meet Clan.

Navajo tacos

lso known as "Indian tacos," this is a dish popular among the Navajo people of the Southwestern U.S. It is made out of a base of fry-bread, with a combination of meat (usually mutton, beef, or pork), beans, and chile stew layered on top.

Navajo rugs

The Navajo people probably learned weaving skills from their Pueblo neighbors in what is now the Southwestern U.S. in the early 1600s. Traditionally it was women who mastered these skills, and used wooden looms, sheep's wool, and natural dyes to make hand-woven blankets that were used in everyday life as cloaks, covers, saddle blankets, etc. Throughout the 1700s, Navajo textiles became a major commodity in trading with the area's other Native tribes, as well as the Spaniards and other Europeans. Over time weaving techniques improved, patterns became more elaborate, and Navajo textiles came to be desired for their aesthetic value and became valued decorative pieces for non-Native collectors. Today hand-woven Navajo rugs are highly prized, and are often purchased by wealthy art collectors to be hung walls rather than used for the utilitarian purposes that were their origins.

Navajo origin myth

While there are many different versions of the Navajo origin myth, general aspects of the myth are present in all versions. In the beginning First Man, First Woman, and Coyote journey through multiple worlds, each distinguished by a color. The journey begins in the lowest level where the inhabitants have all the means to be happy, but arguments and violence develop. The anguish becomes so great it begins to destroy the world by water and the characters escape into the next world by climbing up into a hole in the sky. However, in this new world chaos eventually reigns once more, and the destruction and escape process is repeated.

In each world the characters meet new helpers who travel with them. Eventually the group emerges on earth’s surface, which is a markedly different world than the others. The earth is covered in water and controlled by water birds. These birds are defeated in contests and the four winds drain the world. First Man and First Woman spend time planning how to build this new world. Their first actions are to create holy people that are humanlike and to build the first Hogan with the power of their medicine pouch. First Man then completes a night-long ceremony where he creates a world where there is beauty, balance, and order. It is into this world their child, Changing Woman, is born. Later on, it is Changing Woman’s twin boys, Monster Slayer and Born for Water, who defeat the monsters in this world and make it safe for people to live in.

Navajo Tribal Police

Also known as the Navajo Nation Police, this entity is a law enforcement agency on the Navajo Nation Reservation. The Navajo Tribal Police were originally established in 1872, four years after the Navajo were released from incarceration in Fort Sumner in southeast New Mexico after their forced "Long Walk" from Canyon de Chelly in northeast Arizona in 1864. Manuelito, the great Navajo warchief, known for his resistance to Mexican and U.S. invasions of Navajo territory, was appointed the first "chief" of the Navajo police. Before this time, civil law enforcement had been handled by the Federal Government’s Branch of Law and Order. Despite its initial success, the Navajo Tribal Police was dissolved in 1975. The Navajo Nation Police was reinstated in 1989 upon request from the Navajo Tribal Council.

The first Indian police forces were established in the mid-1800s, with the creation of the Federal reservation system. Initially, these forces were given some measure of autonomy, but self-policing was almost entirely eliminated in the late 1800s and early 1900s, during the Assimilation and Allotment Era. The New Deal's Reorganization Era of the 1930s and 1940s gave back some agency and self-defining rights to Indian Nations, but the Tribal Elimination policies of the Second World War and post-war era brought about devastating effects to systems of tribal government and policing. Following the 1960s civil rights movement, issues of minority recognition and rights gathered momentum and public support, and with the Self-Determination Era of the 1970s Native peoples in the U.S. were able to regain substantial autonomy from federal governance.

Today Native American tribes across the U.S. have their own police forces that function, on reservation lands, much like local or state police units outside the reservation. Tribal police officers have law enforcement authority only inside the reservation, but work closely with state and federal police agencies.

Navajo language

Also known as Diné Bizaad, part of the the Apachean subgroup of the Athabaskan branch of the Na-Dené language family. Diné means “the people” or “children of the holy people,” and so the language is that of the people. The language is unique in its nasalization of some vowels, its use of glottal stops and releases, and its reliance on tone to signify meaning.

Navajo people and culture

The Navajo, also known by their preferred name, the Diné, are the largest federally recognized Native American tribe in the United States. Their reservation is spread out throughout the Four Corners region of the American Southwest, and includes portions of the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

The Navajo base their way of life on a belief that the physical and spiritual world blend together and everything on earth is alive, related, and in equilibrium, also known as ho′zho′. In this light, the Navajo observe two primary ceremonials, among many others. The first is the Blessing Way, which keeps them on the path of wisdom and happiness. The second is the Enemy Way, which is meant to discourage evil spirits, eliminate ghosts, and cleanse an individual of elements or affects that have placed her or him out of balance.


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