The Navajo Nation is the largest Indian reservation in the United States, with some 300,000 people spread across 16 million acres in Arizona, New Mexico and Southern Utah. The number of tribal members ranks second only to the Cherokee.
The Navajo people believe they are safe within the four sacred mountains that bound their reservation - Mt. Taylor, San Francisco Peak, Blanca Peak, and the La Plata Range. In their creation beliefs, this is the place of their origins, of their emergence to the surface of the earth from other worlds below.
Although much of the land on the Navajo Reservation is high-altitude desert, the area includes 500,000 acres of forest. Oil, gas, coal and uranium are found underground.
During the last century, the Navajo used their land primarily for grazing sheep, goats, and horses. More recently, overgrazing and misuse of underground water by power and coal companies have diminished the land and water resources.
|Window Rock, Arizona, is a sacred landmark |
and capital of the Navajo Nation.
The Navajo call themselves "Diné" - The People. Historically, the Navajo were nomadic, roaming constantly in search of food for survival. They originally came from the North, and their language is related to others originating in Northern Canada and Alaska.
The Navajo were considered to have a keen intellect, and they survived by both dominating and accepting other cultures and people. By 1680, about 8,000 Navajo lived in the Southwest, where they overran the Pueblo People in New Mexico and learned farming, weaving, and various crafts from them. They stole not only ideas, but the craftsmen and artisans of other tribes to teach new technology to their people.
The Navajo took the best of everything and incorporated it into their society. This adaptability allowed the Navajo to become the largest and most pervasive tribe in the Southwest.
|Elders teach |
the Navajo language
and share ancient
The Navajo became accomplished horsemen after the Spanish came. They also took sheep and goats from the Spanish and became herders. Because of the space needed to graze livestock in the arid landscape, the Navajo generally continued to live in widely scattered homes called hogans, instead of adopting the lifestyle of the pueblo communities.
The Spanish used the Navajo for slave labor and tried to convert them to Catholicism, which led to continual skirmishes between the two groups. After the U.S. acquired Arizona and New Mexico in 1848, the federal government worked systematically to wipe out the Navajo.
Unlike many tribes, the Navajo have succeeded in keeping their cultural heritage alive. Over 97% of adults still speak the Navajo language, and many tribe members continue to practice the ancient religious and ceremonial ways.
The strength and adaptability of these brave peoples will no doubt continue to serve them well.
|Among U.S. tribes, |
the Navajo population
is second only
to the Cherokee.