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What is the Navajo Tribe?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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The Navajo tribe is a large population of Native American people living primarily in the Four Corners region of the United States (Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico). The Navajo tribe is the second largest Native American tribe in the United States, and they have their own governmental body that runs the reservation in the four corners region. The word Navajo means "many farms" in the Zuni language. The Navajo people refer to themselves as DineĀ“, which means "the people."

The Navajo tribe has inhabited the area in the Southwest United States for centuries. Their ancestry reaches as far back as 1000 A.D., but much of the specifics of the Navajo tribe's ancestry and distant past has been lost because their history is traditionally told orally and rarely written down. The Navajo tribe has their own language, known simply as Navajo, and it is still commonly spoken on the reservations today, though most Navajo people now also speak English fluently. Their society is based off what is called a matrilocal system, in which the family formed by a married couple lives near the female's family, and the female is the only one allowed to own or cultivate livestock.

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The traditional dwelling for people of the Navajo tribe is the hogan, which is made with forked poles and earthen materials, such as dirt, rock, and brush. Some Navajo people still live in hogans today, though it is more common now for Navajo people to live in houses or apartments in more urban areas on the reservation. Many ceremonies and rituals still take place in hogans, which are designed to face east to welcome the rising sun and invite good fortune. Hogans are traditionally round or cone-shaped structures, but they can also be made square.

Throughout the history of the United States, there has been much conflict between the Navajo tribe and the US government. The Navajo people were forced off their land numerous times to accommodate European settlers, and throughout much of the 19th century, conflict led to oppression and violence. Eventually, reservations were set aside specifically for Native Americans, and while this action eased tensions somewhat, they did not resolve the tensions altogether. Today, the reservations face ongoing challenges, such as poverty, crime, and alcoholism. The lack of industry on the reservations has been an ongoing difficulty that has promoted and sustained abject poverty and crime.

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