Promoting Navajo culture with coffee mugs and license plates

Several attendees at October’s Tuba City Fair hold up coffee mugs with Navajo clan names. Submitted photo

Several attendees at October’s Tuba City Fair hold up coffee mugs with Navajo clan names. Submitted photo

GALLUP, N.M. - A local home-based Navajo business has a unique and educational product this Christmas season: clan coffee mugs and clan license plates.

The cups have Navajo clan names in Navajo and English on the front, while the back has a brief story about the clan's origin. The metallic license plates have the clan name in Navajo and English, and "Navajo Nation" lettering blazoned across the top.

"I bought two clan cups recently and gave one to my son who said 'Koooool! What a great idea!" wrote Ursula Wilson, a nurse midwife at Chinle Hospital on the company's web site "I used my cup at work and it definitely attracts attention, curiosity and dialog about Navajo culture. What a great way to preserve an spread Navajo cultural knowledge. Thank you."

After 14 clan coffee mugs were introduced at the 2014 Navajo Nation Fair, the small company expanded its product line this year to 24 clan license plates.

The website also is a place where the public can learn about their clans.

The owner, George Joe, said he first got the idea about 10 years ago but never did anything with it until September 2014.

"I always thought it would be a good way to promote Navajo culture and language," said Joe, who has over 20 years of experience in marketing and public relations. "The difficult part is the writing the stories because you have to try to bring together the varying accounts of a clan's origin into less then 20 words."

But with his master's degree in English and second master's in education, plus years of writing experience, he has been able to produce the text.

Joe and his helper Roz Begay, said they enjoy the stories, interesting occurrences and the people they come across while selling their work.

Which products are popular?

"Bilaganna clan license plates are very popular," Begay said.. "People are buying them for their in-laws, friend, boss or a co-worker, or for their self."

There are certain clans that are very popular, such as; Ashįįhí (Salt People clan), Kinyaa' áanii (Towering House clan), Tábą́ą́há (Edge Water clan), and Táchii'nii (Red Running Into The Water clan)

The clans that do not sell as well are the Hashtł'ishnii (Mud clan), Tódík'ozhí (Salt Water clan), and Honágháahnii (One Who Walks Around clan).

There are certain clans that dominate in pockets of the reservation. For example, Shiprock is Kinclichinee (Red House clan) and Red Streak/Red Bottom Clan, while the Window Rock has a mix.

"Right now we only offer 14 clans in the coffee mugs but we will be increasing this to 25 after Christmas, then eventually 100 clans," Joe said. For the license plates, they have 24 of the most popular clans.

"One of the things I would like to see is that every tribal members has a plate on their vehicle," added Joe. "It's a real sense of pride when you are out there in the city and you see someone proudly displaying their Navajoness."

Joe has heard some criticism though.

"Some people, in a polite manner, want to dispute the spelling of the clan, or even the story," Begay said. "But that's expected because there are several sources on spelling out there, and there are varying accounts of the origin of clans. We use Rough Rock's Navajo-English Dictionary. Many others who sell Diné clan t-shirts use the same source."

And every now and then someone approaches them with a clan neither Joe or Begay has ever heard about.

"Those are always interesting conversations," Joe said.

But what makes their day and their effort all worth it is when a child approaches them and knows a lot about their clan.

"It's fascinating when a kid visits our booth and then read the clans aloud and pronounce them correctly," Begay said. "Some have influenced their parents or grandparents to buy them a mug. When you see this happening, it really is a sign of hope. Sometimes we just give them the coffee mug or reduce the price. This shows that parents or grandparents speak to them in Navajo, and school teachers and possibly bus drivers are also making a positive impact about preserving the Diné language-this is rewarding and what we -- Diné Gifts is about-promoting the Diné culture and language."

More information is available at

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