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The Navajo Nation

Seal of the Navajo Nation.

The Navajo Nation, known by the people as Diné Bikéyah in the native tongue, is located in the four corners area of the United States. Traditionally four sacred mountains, which consist of Mount Blanca “Tsisnaasjini” in Colorado, Mount Taylor “Tsoodzil” in New Mexico, San Francisco Peaks “Doko’oosliid” in Arizona, and Mount Hesperus “Dibe-Nitsaa” in Colorado the Borders. This area covers about 26,000 square miles, making it the largest Indian reservations in America. The Navajo Nation is about the size of West Virginia, and homes about 200,000 Navajo people within its borders. The land is beautiful and includes the famous Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. About 150,000 members of the Navajo Nation live and work in the surrounding area. The Nation surrounds the Hopi Indian reservation.

The Navajo government is one of the largest and most sophisticated established Native American Governments. It  has the difficult task of sustaining a feasible economy for and ever growing population. This tribal structure of government is independent from external political authorities.

Who are the Navajo?

Navajo family at meal time. 1880. Photo by Frashers.

Only the Creator existed in the beginning. First light was created in the east, then to the south water was made, to the west air, and finally from the north pollen was created, the pollen fell to form the earth. The creator took all of these elements together and made the Holy people, the “Basketmakers”. With the help of The Creator, the Basketmakers created the first man and the first woman and brought them to the surface. Soon followed the animals and all other factors of the world as it is known today.

This is a very brief version of the Navajo Creation Story. There is something magical about The Navajo Creation Myths that cannot be described in words. The Navajo people of the Navajo Nation have a deepest respect for the dependent interconnections of the natural world. The “Dine” is what they call themselves which means “the people” believe that everything works in harmony and all that things are balanced by the four elements.

Navajo History

Ah-del-stohne (Straight Shooter), Navajo man. Photo by Adam Clark Vroman. 1903.

Originally the Navajo were nomadic people. They hunted and gathered for food, living in earth shelters during the cold months of the winter and shelters called hogans during the warmer months. Later as they became more settled in one area they began to farm corn and beans, as well as raise sheep for food. (For a more detailed description before the 1500s see this Navajo timeline )

In the 1864 the Navajo people were pushed out of their homelands by American settlers. Over 8,000 Navajo men, women and children were forced to walk hundreds of miles by the United States Army. Many children and elderly did not survive this “Long Walk” and many others died in prison camps. It was many years before they were allowed to return to their homelands with the administration of the reservation. Individuals were appointed to form a united government system. In 1923 the federal government recognized the current tribal government used today.

Navajo Chief Ganado Mucho. 1874. Photo by C.M. Bell.

In World War II the Navajo language was credited for saving many lives. Navajo Marine soldiers, called “code talkers,” used the native language in order to secretly communicate information. The Japanese military was never able to crack the Navajo code. This allowed the Americans to take Iwo Jima and hastened the end of the war.

Today they Navajo people are doing very well. The beauty of the Navajo art continuously attracts outsiders. They receive international recognition for their rug weaving and jewelry making. In addition to its material resources, the Navajo have also become well known for their remarkable music, and traditional dance.