The Dineh, or “The People,” as the Navajo call themselves, migrated to the Southwest from the North around the 15th century. They were first noticed by other peoples between the 14th and 15th century, between the Champa and upper San Juan rivers. The Spaniards brought sheep and horses which the Navajo adapted to their nomadic lifestyle. It is thought that the Navajo originally consisted of four clans and today has expanded to include over 60.
The introduction of Anglo Americans soon led to a treaty between Navajos and the United States Government. The army held all Navajos responsible for all treaty promises, instead of recognizing them as distinct tribal units who made differing decisions. Finally the army decided to gather all the Navajo people and send them to Fort Sumner. Kit Carson rounded up the Navajos, though many hid near such locations as Canyon de Chelly and Navajo Mountain. The Dineh refused to surrender, despite Carson destroying their crops and sheep, burning their villages, and killing their families.
Those who survived were sent to Fort Sumner on the “Long Walk,” during which approximately 200 Navajos died due to starvation and cruel treatment. Fort Sumner was bitterly disliked by the Navajos who were unable to grow food in the barren land. They felt betrayed by the white man who forced them to leave the area between their four sacred mountains, area which today comprises the Navajo reservation. The Peace Commission and the Treaty of 1868 allowed the Navajo to return to their land after four terrible years. The Navajo were still tormented, but slowly began to make progress as an individual people, and today carry on their traditions and unique way of life.
Navajo culture today
The Navajo Native Americans,who call themselves Dineh, live on a 25,000 square mile reservation in the southwest U.S.A., where the four corners meet. Dineh’s houses, called hogans, are made out of tree bark, wooden poles, and mud. Navajo hogans are round and cone shaped. The door of the hogan faces the east to welcome the morning sun and to receive good blessings.
When the Navajo settled near the Pueblo tribe, the Pueblo taught many things to the Navajo, such as how to plant corn, squash, beans, and melon. Soon Navajo clothing, weaving, and pottery were similar to Pueblo styles.
Navajo depended on thier sheep and horses. They depend on thier sheep because Navajo need sheep’s wool for weaving clothing, blankets, and rugs. Sheep also provide meat. Navajo need horses to herd the sheep, carry heavy loads, and to trade.
The Navajo culture today encompasses over 200,000 people, spanning more than 14 million acres of reservation land and nearby cities. Many Navajo children are fluent in both Navajo and English. The navajo language has not only helped to preserve the Navajo culture but was also utilized as a U.S. Army code to disguise transmissions from the Japenese during World War II. Navajo arts continue to be passed on, as daughters and granddaughters learn weaving, basketmaking, pottery making, and jewelry making.
Many Navajo children raised on the reservation continue to herd sheep and livestock. Schools are accessible to most families, but sometimes it is necessary that a family living many difficult miles away send the children to boarding school.
Different types of religion are practiced among the Navajo, a truly spiritual people. There are the traditional Navajos who rely on medicine men, herbalists, ceremonies and other traditions to facilitate their practice. Also, the Native American Church is chosen by some Navajos and is especially known for the ceremonial use of peyote for visions and cleansing. Sweathouses are utilized by Navajos and other American Indian tribes, and Christianity is practiced by some Navajos who incorporate the Western religion with their native teachings.
The Navajo today are not a pueblo people; rather they dwell a good distance apart from each other in separate houses, though often in close proximity to family. The Navajo appreciate and respect their culture as an equal way of life to suburban America, and are proud of the simplistic ways they cling to.