25 Facts: The Navajo

The Navajo

  1. The word Navajo comes from the Spanish term meaning fields adjoining a ravine.
  2. This vast, well-organized, tribal nation lives in the southwestern states of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.
  3. As their language is closely associated with the Apache, both tribes are thought to have migrated from the same regions of Canada and Eastern Alaska.
  4. They have also had a long association with the Pueblo people.
  5. The Navajo were originally hunter-gatherers, but after encountering the Spanish they began herding sheep and goats as their trade.
  6. They became semi-nomadic, often covering long distances to sell their meat for other goods they needed.
  7. Before long, they had also developed a spinning and weaving culture that provided most of their clothing and bedding.
  8. They are a matrilineal clan society, similar to the Cherokee.
  9. The number four is sacred to them.
  10. Their traditional home is called a Hogan.  It is a round igloo-like structure made from sticks and mud.
  11. Male Hogans are square.  Female houses have eight sides.  The door of each type faces east to greet the rising sun.
  12. The Nineteenth Century was a period of unrest as they came into conflict with the U.S. Army and the New Mexican homesteaders.
  13. Colonel Kit Carson was sent into Navajo land to obtain their surrender.  This was eventually achieved in 1863 through a brutal scorched-earth policy that destroyed native villages and agriculture.
  14. The following year, 9,000 people were forced to march 300 miles to be interred in Fort Sumner.
  15. After much hardship and distress, they were allowed to return to a reservation set up on their former land.
  16. The government provided little food or protection.  Those who did not succumb to hunger, cold, or disease were sometimes captured by Apache raiders and sold into slavery.
  17. Throughout the Nineteenth Century there were many fierce, on-going skirmishes between white settlers and the Navajo community.
  18. As part of the government’s assimilation program, a vast number of children were sent to off-reservation boarding schools.
  19. Eventually, President Roosevelt allowed the Evangelical Missionary School to open on the reservation.  This was a more humane, beneficial, and successful program.
  20. In 1933 the government removed half the Navajo livestock, claiming there were too many animals for reservation lands to sustain.
  21. Throughout the early Twentieth Century, large deposits of oil and uranium were discovered on their land.
  22. During World War II, 400 Navajo Code Talkers played a vital role against the Japanese, relaying radio messages in their own language that the enemy could not understand.
  23. Today, Navajo jewelers are skilled silversmiths, often inlaying turquoise stones as part of their distinctive craft.  They are also known for their weaving, pottery, and sand-art.
  24. According to Navajo theology, the tribe has lived in four different worlds – the Dark World, the Blue World, the Yellow World, and the Glittering World.
  25. They also believe in witches who harm the minds, bodies, and families of innocent victims.  There are magic ceremonies to lift and cure these curses.


Navajo Nation, “History,” at http://www.navajo-nsn.gov/history.htm

Wikipedia, “Navajo” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navajo

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