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.
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.