The Navajo Nation
The Navajo call
themselves Dineh, which means "The People” in the Navajo
language. Closely related to the
Apache, the Navajo are an
Athapascan-speaking people who migrated southwest from the west central
Canada around the 15th century.
the time Spanish explorers came across the Navajo in the
16th century, trade had long been established between the Pueblo peoples
and the Navajo,
exchanging maize and woven cotton goods for
meat, hides and material for stone tools.
Because they hunted
lived in tents, and used dogs to pull travois loaded with their
possessions, the Spanish referred to them as "dog nomads.”
When Coronado first
observed the Athapascan-speaking people, they were wintering near the
pueblos in established camps. Coronado reported the modern
Apache area as uninhabited and other Spaniards first mention
living west of the Rio Grande in the 1580’s.
In April, 1541, Francisco Coronado wrote
"After seventeen days of travel, I came
upon a rancheria of the
Indians who follow these cattle [buffalo].
These natives are called Querechos. They do not cultivate the land,
but eat raw meat and drink the blood of the cattle they kill. They
dress in the skins of the cattle, with which all the people in this
land clothe themselves, and they have very well-constructed tents,
made with tanned and greased cowhides, in which they live and which
they take along as they follow the cattle. They have dogs which they
load to carry their tents, poles, and belongings."
It is most likely that the
group of the Athapaskans moved to their current southwestern homelands
in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the Navajo did not expand
their range until the 17th century, occupying areas the Pueblo peoples
had abandoned during prior centuries.
The Spanish first specifically mention the "Apachu de Nabajo” (Navajo)
in the 1620’s, referring to people in the Chama region east of the San
Juan River. By the 1640’s, the term was applied to Athapaskan peoples
from the Chama on the east to the San Juan on the west.
As the Navajo
peoples moved into the Southwest, they learned farming techniques from the
Puebloan peoples. Soon, they settled down from a hunting-gathering society
to an agricultural, ranching, and ceremonial people.
From the Puebloans, they also learned rituals,
songs, prayers and stories. Later, when the Navajo
acquired sheep and horses from the Spaniards through trading or raiding,
they created entire ceremonies of their own that included songs and
prayers about sheep and horses. Sheep also provided wool, which allowed
the People to become great weavers of blankets and rugs.
In the late 18th
century, the Navajo moved west to the present-day Four Corners area, where they
made Canyon de Chelly their stronghold. The move was caused by
hostile pressures from the Spaniards from the south, the
Comanches from the east,
and the Utes from the north.
Whenever possible the People retreated rather
than fought, and they made no exception in this case. During this time the Navajo became
prosperous materially, artistically, and ceremonially—a development that
led Nathaniel Patton to write in the
Intelligencer in 1824 that the Navajo were
superior to the Plains
because they fashioned clothes, designed jewelry, raised livestock, and
In 1846, American troops
moved into the Southwest during the Mexican War. From this time through
1863, several treaties were signed and broken with the Navajo.
As more and more
Americans settled in the territory of
New Mexico ,
they met increasingly fierce resistance from the Mescalero
Apache and Navajo people
who fought to maintain control of their traditional lands and their way of
In an effort to subjugate them, the U.S.
Army made war on the Mescalero
Apache and Navajo
tribes, destroying their fields, orchards, houses, and livestock. Before the
were even defeated, Congress authorized the establishment of
at Bosque Redondo on October 31, 1862, a space forty miles square. It was to be the first
reservation west of
The plan was to turn the
Apache and Navajo into farmers on the
Bosque Redondo with irrigation from the Pecos River. They were also to be
"civilized” by going to school and practicing Christianity.
Apache and Navajo, who had survived the army attacks, were then starved into
submission and forced to march to the Bosque Redondo
Indian Reservation, near
New Mexico. In the case of the Navajo, 8,500 men, women and children were marched almost
Arizona and northwestern
New Mexico to Bosque Redondo, a desolate tract on the Pecos River in eastern
Traveling in harsh winter conditions for almost two months, about 200
Navajo died of cold and starvation. More died after they arrived
at the barren reservation. The forced march, led by
Kit Carson became known by the Navajo as the "Long
More than 8,000 Navajo surrendered to
during his 1864 campaign through their homeland.
They were then
forced to take the "Long
to a barren reservation set aside for them
along the Pecos River at Bosque Redondo.
Most of the Mescalero
eluded their military guards and abandoned the reservation on November 3,
1865; but, for the Navajo,
another three years passed before the United States Government recognized
that their plan for Americanizing the People had failed. The
finally acknowledged sovereignty in the historic Treaty of 1868.
returned to their land along the
border hungry and in rags. Though their territory had been reduced to an
area much smaller than what they had occupied before the exodus to Bosque
Redondo, they were one of the few tribes that were allowed to return to
their native lands. The U.S. government issued them rations and
sheep and within a few years the Navajo had
multiplied the numbers of their livestock.
When the railroad arrived
in 1880, along with it came traders and the Navajo
exchanged maize, wool, mutton, hides, livestock, and crafts for food and
manufactured goods. In 1922, a business council was created to
negotiate leases for natural resources found on the reservation—among them
oil, natural gas, timber, uranium, and coal. This council eventually
became the Navajo
Nation Council, which now runs the Navajo
Nation Reservation, which includes 27,000 square miles of land, is the
largest in the United States. With more than 250,000 members, the
majority still live on Navajo land
which stretches across the
New Mexico. The seat of government is located at the town of Window Rock,
The Navajo Nation
has built a modern economy on traditional endeavors such as sheep herding,
fiber production, weaving, jewelry making and art trading. Newer
industries that employ members include coal and uranium mining, though the
uranium market slowed near the end of the 20th century. The Navajo
Nation's extensive mineral resources are among the most valuable held by
American nations within the United States. The Navajo
government employs hundreds in civil service and administrative jobs.
members work at retail stores and other businesses within the Nation's
reservation or in nearby towns.
of America, updated January, 2015.
Navajo - The Vanishing Race by Edward S.
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
All images available for
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For more information, visit
Navajo Long Walk to the Bosque Redondo
Navajo Photo Gallery
Apache - Fiercest
Warriors in the Southwest
American (main page)
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