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The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American tribe in the United States, and its home reservation, Navajoland, spans more land than any other. Covering 24,000 square miles of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, the sparse, dry lands bear little resemblance to the lands of the tribe's origin. The tribe's immigration from northern Canada in 1400 A.D. is one of the earliest known events in Navajo history. Other key events of Navajo history include moving to the southwestern part of what is now the United States, battling with settlers and militia, adopting the traditions of their neighbors and a 400-mile journey known as the Long Walk.
When the Navajo made their trek to the desert lands of North America in 1400 A.D., they lived a nomadic lifestyle. The tribe hunted, gathered and migrated. Their lives had little in common with the tribal traditions of today. Of course, this history sometimes meets resistance from those who believe the legends linking early Navajo history to sacred landmarks in the area in which they dwell in modern times.
Over time, the Navajo began to adapt to the ways of their neighboring tribes. By the 1500s, they were raising corn and beans, just like the Pueblo Indians. The Navajo changed again with the coming of foreign settlers, and they began raising sheep and crafting silver jewelry, just like the Spaniards. The Navajo also continued their tradition of raiding neighboring tribes. The Spanish introduction of the horse in the 1700s brought this practice to a head.
In 1804, with help from the Pueblo, Ute and Blackfoot tribes, the Spanish government attacked the Navajo in retaliation. Men died on both sides, and problems between the tribes died down. It wasn't until the U.S. expanded into New Mexico and new settlers moved into Navajo territory that raiding began once again.
In 1849, the U.S. government attempted to forge a treaty with tribal leaders, but the meeting ended in conflict and tragedy. In the end, seven Navajo were killed, including an influential warrior named Narbona. Talks strained between the Indians and the U.S., which had vastly different ways of working out deals, and misunderstandings became a breeding ground for problems.
A series of failed treaties and attacks motivated the U.S. government to form a relocation program for the Navajo and Apache Indian tribes. In 1863, General Kit Carson arrived with plans to move them all to Fort Sumner in southeast New Mexico. The rounding up of Indian tribes was a messy and violent affair.
In 1864, the Navajo were made to walk 400 miles to an encampment called Bosque Redondo. This trek is known as the Long Walk, and many people died during the 18-day journey. There was suffering at Bosque Redondo, as well, and in 1868, a treaty was drafted that allowed for the Indian tribe's return to its homeland. The Treaty of Bosque Redondo called for numerous provisions, including an end to the raids that had plagued the Southwest for centuries.
The Long Walk was the darkest point in Navajo history, but it also united the people in a way they never had been. By 1923, they established a formal governmental body and were working out land lease agreements with companies thirsty for New Mexico oil. By 1924, they were being counted among the numbers of U.S. citizens and securing the right to vote. Soon the tribe would tackle the international stage.
In 1942, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a group of Navajo volunteers was recruited to create a secret code using their native language. The code proved unbreakable and was used throughout the efforts of World War II to relay messages without any fear of the enemy intercepting them. Nearly 60 years after their efforts, in 2001, the "Navajo code talkers" were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
In 1968, the Navajo formally adopted a tribal flag. In 1991, they restructured the Navajo National Council. This created a three-prong form of government with executive, judicial and legislative branches.
Don't forget about Navajo art, or Navajo pottery either. The so called "Southwest" or desert style of art is becoming ubiquitous, but people rarely know about the deep cultural roots that create it.
Its easy to think that Navajo culture and history are strictly rooted in ancient events.
But did you know that for the last 61 years, an annual pageant called the "Miss Navajo Nation" has crowned a young woman as a leader and representative of her community?
Contestants compete in their knowledge of the Navajo language, as well as traditional and modern tribal customs. Contestants also give a performance representing a contemporary Navajo talent.