Home Knowledges What Does Turquoise Mean to the Navajo: Things You Need To Know

What Does Turquoise Mean to the Navajo: Things You Need To Know

by Madonna

The Navajo Nation, the largest federally recognized Native American tribe in the United States, has a rich cultural heritage that is deeply intertwined with the natural world. Among the many elements that hold special significance in Navajo culture, turquoise stands out as a symbol of great importance. This vibrant blue-green gemstone has played a central role in Navajo tradition for centuries, representing not only aesthetic beauty but also profound spiritual and cultural values. In this article, we will explore the multifaceted meaning of turquoise to the Navajo people, delving into its history, cultural significance, and contemporary relevance.

Turquoise: A Gem of Natural Beauty

To the Navajo, turquoise is more than just a precious stone; it is a manifestation of the natural beauty that surrounds their homeland in the American Southwest. The vivid blue and green hues of turquoise mirror the vibrant landscapes of the Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The stone’s coloration is reminiscent of the clear desert skies and the lush vegetation that occasionally punctuates the arid terrain.


Turquoise is a hydrous phosphate mineral, primarily composed of copper and aluminum. Its unique coloration results from the presence of copper ions within its crystal structure. Navajo jewelry artisans have long appreciated the aesthetic allure of turquoise, using it to create intricate and exquisite pieces of jewelry that showcase the stone’s natural beauty.


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Turquoise in Navajo Jewelry: A Symbol of Identity

Navajo jewelry is renowned worldwide for its exquisite craftsmanship and use of turquoise. For the Navajo people, jewelry-making is both an art form and a means of cultural expression. Turquoise, with its deep cultural significance, is often the centerpiece of these jewelry pieces.

The Significance of Turquoise in Navajo Culture

Turquoise holds profound spiritual and cultural significance in Navajo culture, playing a central role in various aspects of Navajo life. Here are some of the key ways in which turquoise is revered by the Navajo people:

1. Protection and Healing Properties

To the Navajo, turquoise is believed to possess protective and healing properties. It is considered a sacred stone that can safeguard its wearer from negative energy and harm. Many Navajo individuals wear turquoise jewelry as a form of spiritual protection and to promote overall well-being.

2. Connection to the Spirit World

Navajo spirituality is deeply rooted in their connection to the natural world. Turquoise is seen as a bridge between the physical and spiritual realms. It is often used in Navajo ceremonies and rituals to connect with ancestral spirits and seek their guidance. Shamans and spiritual leaders may wear turquoise as a symbol of their connection to the spirit world.

3. Cultural Identity and Tradition

Turquoise is an integral part of Navajo cultural identity and tradition. It has been used for generations in the creation of jewelry, pottery, and other artistic expressions. The process of crafting turquoise jewelry is often passed down through families, preserving both the artistry and the cultural significance of the stone.

4. Sign of Prosperity and Wealth

In Navajo society, possessing turquoise has historically been a sign of prosperity and wealth. The stone has been traded and bartered for centuries, and its value goes beyond monetary worth. Owning turquoise jewelry is a source of pride and reflects an individual’s status within the community.

5. Ceremonial and Religious Uses

Turquoise is frequently used in Navajo religious ceremonies and rituals. It may be ground into a powder and used in sandpainting, a sacred art form that plays a central role in Navajo healing ceremonies. The vivid blue color of turquoise is associated with the sky, which holds deep spiritual significance in Navajo cosmology.

See Also: What is blue turquoise good for: The Spiritual & Healing Power

Turquoise Mining and Sourcing

The Navajo Nation is home to several turquoise mines, and the practice of turquoise mining has been a part of Navajo culture for centuries. The most famous of these mines is the Kingman Mine in Arizona, known for producing high-quality turquoise with its distinctive deep blue color. Other notable mines include the Sleeping Beauty Mine in Arizona and the Cerrillos Mine in New Mexico.

Traditionally, Navajo miners would extract turquoise using primitive tools, often following the veins of turquoise deep into the earth. Today, modern mining techniques are employed, but the reverence for the stone and its significance in Navajo culture remain unchanged.

The Evolution of Navajo Turquoise Jewelry

Navajo turquoise jewelry has evolved over time, adapting to changing tastes and markets while preserving its cultural significance. Traditional Navajo jewelry featured heavy silverwork and intricate stone settings. The use of turquoise in jewelry allowed Navajo artisans to express their cultural identity and create unique pieces that told stories of their people.

In the early 20th century, Navajo jewelry gained popularity among non-Native collectors and tourists, leading to the emergence of a market for Navajo jewelry outside the tribe. This commercial demand led to innovations in jewelry design, with the incorporation of new techniques and materials.

Contemporary Significance of Turquoise

In the modern era, turquoise continues to hold a special place in Navajo culture and has expanded its influence beyond tribal borders. Here are some ways in which turquoise remains relevant in contemporary Navajo society and the broader world:

1. Economic Sustainability

The production and sale of turquoise jewelry provide a source of income for many Navajo families. Artisans continue to create beautiful pieces that are sought after by collectors and enthusiasts worldwide. This economic sustainability helps support Navajo communities and preserves their cultural heritage.

2. Cultural Preservation

Turquoise jewelry-making remains a vibrant and evolving tradition within the Navajo Nation. Younger generations are learning the craft from their elders, ensuring that the artistry and cultural significance of turquoise endure for future generations.

3. Connection to Identity

Turquoise jewelry serves as a powerful symbol of Navajo identity and pride. Many Navajo individuals wear turquoise pieces as a daily affirmation of their heritage, even when living far from their ancestral lands.

4. Bridging Cultures

Turquoise jewelry has become a bridge between Navajo culture and the wider world. Non-Native individuals often purchase Navajo-made turquoise jewelry not only for its beauty but also to connect with the rich cultural heritage it represents. This exchange fosters cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.

5. Contemporary Design

Navajo artisans continue to innovate in their jewelry designs, blending traditional techniques with modern aesthetics. This fusion of old and new keeps turquoise jewelry relevant in today’s fashion and art scenes.


Turquoise holds a multifaceted and profound meaning to the Navajo people. As a symbol of natural beauty, cultural identity, spirituality, and economic sustainability, it serves as a cornerstone of Navajo culture. Turquoise jewelry remains a vital cultural and economic resource within the Navajo Nation, contributing to the preservation of traditions and the empowerment of Navajo artisans. Its enduring popularity worldwide serves as a testament to the lasting impact of Navajo culture and the enduring appeal of this remarkable gemstone. In a rapidly changing world, turquoise continues to shine brightly as a symbol of tradition, identity, and connection to the natural world.


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