- "Don't Even Talk to Me if You're Kinya'áanii [Towering House]":Adopted Clans, Kinship, and "Blood" in Navajo Country
For citizens of the Navajo diaspora
Diné comedy duo James and Ernie perform in the Navajo reservation border-town of Farmington, New Mexico.1 In the routine, we are in a smoky bar: a Diné country western band, Aces Wild, is playing a popular song ("The Aces Wild Song"), Navajo couples are two-stepping to the music, and various Diné men are trying unsuccessfully to pick up women in the bar. "Hey baby, what's your CLAN?" one man asks with exaggerated intonation of the woman sitting next to him. With an air of impatience, the woman rolls her eyes and tells off the inquiring man: "Don't even TALK to me if you're Kinya'áanii!"2
HOW DO CLANS FIGURE INTO contemporary Navajo life, and what personality traits might be attached to, say, Kinya'áaniis, or members of the Towering House clan, that would make individuals from this clan more or less attractive as potential mates? What can we learn about Navajo or Diné histories of cultural mixture, belonging, and inclusion through the many "adopted" Navajo clan names?3 Given that close to half of all Diné citizens now live off the Navajo Nation, what might a contemporary ethnography of Navajo kinship, a topic so tirelessly explored by early anthropologists to Navajo country (see Reichard 1928; Franciscan Fathers 1910, 424; Matthews 1894, 1897), look like?4
This article examines ideologies surrounding the Diné kinship system, or k'é, in which Diné people are connected to one another through an elaborate matrilineal descent network of systems of obligation and reciprocity, otherwise known as the clan system (dóne'é).5 As elsewhere, kinship in Diné contexts is culturally specific, cultivated through daily use, and not a given, natural fact. As Gary Witherspoon noted over forty years ago, "The point here is that there is no set of biological or sexual ties unless they are said by the culture to exist. The nature of these ties, if they exist, is culturally explained, and the meaning attributed to such ties is culturally derived and assigned. Each culture independently explains the nature and meaning of kinship" (1975, 12). Using oral histories, interviews, archival materials, [End Page 43] humorous memes, comedy routines, data from Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian census rolls, and contemporary scholarship from Diné scholars, we foreground the story of so-called adopted clans, or clans that reveal the Diné practice of adopting and incorporating non-Diné peoples into Navajo society as a way to solidify kin relationships. For example, out of some fifty-three clans identified by anthropologist Gladys Reichard in 1928, twenty-one, or over one-third, are listed as adopted clans or as clan names created for individuals or other Pueblo or Mexican groups that originally came from outside the Navajo Nation (1928, 16). Putting these various sources in conversation with one another, we attend to the "floating gap" (Vansina 1985, 23; cf. Gardner 2015) that exists between the "mythic time" of clan histories and the "calendrical time" of Diné settler-colonial histories from Spanish contact (ca. 1539) onward, dwelling in the space of possibility between the two histories. Using clans as a window into the ways Diné society historically included and incorporated non-Navajos into the fabric of the Navajo Nation, we probe what implications these stories might have for a Diné politics of citizenship and belonging today.
Our goal is not to focus on clan histories and clan-internal stories perse—this is neither the appropriate medium nor the forum to share such typically private and culturally intimate stories—but rather to foreground Diné adoptive practices in order to broaden what we currently perceive as a discourse of "purism" around blood quantum and "being Navajo" experienced by many, including coauthor Bowman, in Navajo communities both on the reservation and off today (Barker 2011; Cody 2016; Denetdale 2006; Kauanui 2008; L. Lee 2007; Jacobsen-Bia 2014; Spruhan 2007, 2018; Webster 2015). Moreover, by suggesting that Navajos were remarkably open to a variety of categories of citizenship, we do not...