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What are Navajo Native Americans?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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The Navajo Native Americans, or Diné, are an ancient North American tribe with ancestral homelands in the American Southwest. This farming culture once widely inhabited the wild landscape of New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. The Navajo Native Americans maintain the largest reservation in North America today.

Originally a hunter-gatherer society, the Navajo Native Americans adopted farming sometime after the 16th century, possibly due to influence by Spanish settlers nearby. They became great herders, raising sheep and goats amid the rocky and forbidding terrain of the area. The Navajo had an ongoing battle of livestock raids with the Spanish and other nearby Native American tribes, but also conducted ongoing commerce with the Spanish as well as the Pueblo, Ute, and Comanche tribes.

As the arm of the United States government reached into their territory, the Navajo faced constant challenges to their lifestyle and sovereignty. After refusing to accept the US government, many Navajo settlements were subject to raids and attacks throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. After an army destroyed the bulk of their crops and livestock, the Navajo were forced into surrender in 1863. Deprived of their homelands, Navajo Native Americans were forced to march to a reservation 18 days away. This “Long Walk of the Navajo” claimed hundreds of lives as men, women, and children were herded away from their home territories toward an ill-equipped reservation in New Mexico.

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After a series of treaties, Navajo Native Americans were given some of their land back in 1868, largely due to the failure of the government reservation. In their new living area the population swelled, creating a vast stable farming community. Troubles between the Navajo Native Americans and the US government were far from over, however. In the 1930s, US officials destroyed the majority of Navajo livestock due to concerns of overgrazing. Nevertheless, the Navajo Native Americans played a major part in American efforts during World War II, both as soldiers and functioning as the famous Navajo code talkers.

Today, Navajo Native Americans maintain a rich culture based on a shared history and dreams for a strong future. Noted for their craftsmanship, Navajos are well-known for their beautiful turquoise and silver jewelry and accessories, as well as for sturdy and detailed pottery. Navajo rugs, woven from the wool of their sheep, are highly prized artifacts that make up a staple of southwestern design. The tribe, one of the largest in existence today, maintains a semi-autonomous government throughout much of its original land.

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lovealot
Post 7

So unfair! The Navajo Native Americans had a productive life with their herding and farming, when the U.S. government forced them to leave their land and way of life and sent them on a long march to a reservation offering very little. Destroying their crops and livestock was unforgivable. How humiliating that must have been for the whole tribe.

Fortunately, they have triumphed against the misfortune and have built a strong Indian nation. When I lived in New Mexico, I used to love to watch them making their beautiful rugs and jewelry.

sunnySkys
Post 6

@KaBoom - That's awful. I'm not actually sure who would jurisdiction on a Navajo reservation either, since they are kind of autonomous from the United States government. It sounds like the Navajo would be kind of responsible, but the US government might be too. I can see how cases would slip through the cracks.

Anyway, my mom is from the Midwest. She was a huge fan of turquoise jewelry growing up. Her and her family used to travel a lot in the Midwest and Southwest, so she was able to pick a lot of authentic Navajo turquoise jewelry on her travels. A lot of it was so well made that she can still use it today!

KaBoom
Post 5

It sounds nice that the Navajo are sort autonomous on their own land. However, I don't think conditions on most reservations are that great. In fact, I read an article awhile ago about how sexual assaults on Native American women are a huge problem.

Apparently most reservations don't have much in the way of a police force, so it's very difficult to actually get a case prosecuted. And to top it off, a lot of the crimes are perpetuated by non-Native men who live in the surrounding areas know they can get away with it.

I think this is just awful. I feel like something needs to be done about this.

jonrss
Post 4

When I was straight out of college I got involved with a Native American education program. The program tried to place teachers on reservations to help support what were often very understaffed schools.

I got assigned to a small school on a Navajo reservation. I taught kids from first grade through fifth. The curriculum was exactly as you would expect in an elementary school but there was also an emphasis on Navajo culture and history.

It was an incredibly rewarding experience. The kids were great, I met a lot of amazing people on the reservation and I grew a lot as a teacher. I can't say that every single day was perfect but I would not trade that experience for the world.

gravois
Post 3

My grand mother was a full blooded Navajo Indian. She had been born on a reservation and lived there until she was 23.

But honestly she didn't have a lot of connections to her culture. Once she left the reservation she actually tried pretty hard to distance herself from her roots.

As a result I really don't know much about where she came from or about Navajo culture. Its a shame but that was her choice. You get to be whoever you want to be and not just the way you're born.

myharley
Post 2

I have a good friend who has a lot of Native American history in her family. When I visit her home, I feel like I am walking into an Indian store.

For every item she has like this, there is a specific reason for it and story behind it. I have learned a lot from her about their customs and history.

It has been very enlightening for me and certainly gives me a chance to see things from a much different perspective than I would other wise.

She has also done a good job of sharing this information with her kids so they have a better understanding of their history and culture.

SarahSon
Post 1

My sister lives in Arizona and every year we make a trip through the Southwest to visit her. Some of the states we go through are not very populated and we can drive for miles in some isolated parts of the country without seeing much.

When we go through New Mexico I like to stop at some of the Native American places. I have bought several pieces of Navajo pottery that I really enjoy having in my home.

I also have a large Navajo rug that I purchased from the Southwest Native Americans. I have a lot of Southwestern decor in my home, and a lot of it has been purchased when we made our trips through this part of the country.

I enjoy decorating my home with unique, authentic items that I have purchased from places I have visited, and always look forward to visiting these states.

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