Navajo people

ethnic group in North America

The Navajo people (Navajo: Diné or Naabeehó) are a tribe of Native Americans from the southwestern part of the United States. The Navajo tribe has about 300,000 members. The capital is in Window Rock, Arizona.[1] It is the second largest tribe in the United States.[2] The Navajo Nation is an independent government that runs a large Native American reservation[3] in parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.[4] Many Navajo live there, but not all of them. Most Navajo speak English. Some speak the Navajo language. The Navajo have many things in common with the Apache tribe and the two groups may share a common ancestry.[a]


The Navajo Nation works to maintain an economy for a population of 250,000 plus members.[6] The discovery of oil on Navajo lands in the 1920s started the tribe towards building a systematic form of government.[6] A tribal government was established in 1923 to deal with oil exploration.[6] The Navajo Nation is currently the largest and most sophisticated form of Native American government.[6] The Navajo Nation has become a wealthy nation in its own right.[6]


The Navajo language is called Diné. It is a tonal language, meaning that a word may mean something different if said with a different pitch. About 150,000 people speak Diné. Diné is very difficult to learn because the speaker has to understand the relationships between different things.[7]


Much of the Navajo culture, religion and other beliefs say everything in the world is connected and everything has a spirit.[1]

The Navajo culture involves many different ceremonies. Some are short. The longest can take nine days. There are ceremonies to make sick people well and solve other problems. When a Navajo person becomes sick, he or she might go to a modern doctor or hospital, might pay a medicine man to sing a healing ceremony, or might do both.[1]

Miss Navajo Nation Chrystaline Curley in 2011.

Many Navajo people are more comfortable with not talking than most Americans and would rather just touch hands than do a full handshake. In a Navajo conversation, it is all right to take a long time to answer a question and it is important not to interrupt the other person. Some Navajo do not like to make eye contact.[8][9]

Navajo culture has clans. Sons and daughters are in the same clan their mother is in. When meeting a new person, a Navajo will usually say their own clan and their father's clan. Navajo culture does not allow people to marry other people from the same clan. Navajo people usually think of anyone from the same clan as a brother, sister or cousin. Originally, there were four Navajo clans, but there are more now.[1]

The number four is in many parts of Navajo culture: Four seasons, four clans at first, four directions, and four holy mountains.[1]

Most Navajo wear modern American clothing most of the time but put on traditional clothes for special occasions. For women, traditional clothes are a tl'aakal skirt with a long-sleeve deiji'éé' shirt and shawl with moccasins. For men, traditional clothes are a white pants and silver or turquoise dootl’izhii jewelry with a headband and shirt, and moccasins. Both men and women tie their hair into a bun on the back of the head.[1]

The Navajo Nation Fair is in Window Rock, Arizona every year in September. It is the largest Native American fair in the United States. It has a rodeo, a parade, Navajo music and dance contests and the Miss Navajo Nation beauty pageant.[1]


In 1959, the Navajo Tribal Council started a newsletter. It grew into the Navajo Times newspaper. In the 21st century alone, the Navajo Times has won awards from the Arizona Press Club,[10] Arizona Newspaper Association,[11] and Native American Journalists Association.[12] This included awards for writing, its website and photography.


The Navajo got sheep and goats after the Spanish brought them to North America. This might be why their culture changed from Apache culture. They became very good at raising sheep and goats and making cloth from sheep's wool. In Navajo culture, the official owner of the sheep was usually a woman and not a man.[13][14] The Navajo also had horses and cows.[15]

During the Great Depression, the United States government saw that Navajo and Hopi land was overgrazed and decided to "reduce" the number of sheep and goats. They did not ask the Navajo what they thought. They took sheep and goats away from the Navajo. Some of the animals were sold, but for less than half what they were worth.[9] Some of the animals were killed and their meat processed and returned to the owners. Some of the animals were set on fire in front of their owners.

In his book about his own life, Code Talker, Chester Nez wrote that the Great Livestock Massacre hurt the work ethic of the Navajo people because it meant no matter how hard you worked to build your family's herd, the government could take it away.[9]


According to Navajo traditional beliefs, the Navajo came into the world, which they call "the glittering world," after passing through three other worlds.[16] According to historians and anthropologists, the Navajo were not the first humans to live in the Four Corners area, but they were already there in 1492. The Spanish made contact with the Navajo in 1581.[16]

Like many other Native American tribes, the Navajo suffered after white colonists came to the area. After the Spanish-American War in the 1840s, the United States took over the land where the Navajo lived. Many Navajo died during the Long Walk, or Hwé​eldi Baa Hane', in 1864.[16] The Long Walk was when the United States government made many Navajo leave their homes and go to Bosque Redondo Reservation. It was not a real reservation; it was a camp with soldiers to keep people from leaving.[17] Although they were allowed to go back years later, many died during the journey and during their time away.

The Navajo Nation government, called the Navajo Tribal Council, was established in 1923. One of the reasons for this was that oil had been discovered on Navajo land.[18] The first election was in 1938. In 1989, the government was changed to have three branches, judicial, legislative, and executive.[16] It is now the largest Native American government in the world.[18]

During the 20th century, many Navajo families lost much of their wealth in the Great Livestock Massacre.[9][14][15]

Code talkersEdit

First 29 Navajo U.S. Marine Corps code-talker recruits being sworn in at Fort Wingate, NM

Navajo code talkers were bilingual Navajo speakers who were recruited during World War II by the U.S. Marines. They served in their standard communications units in the Pacific Theater. The Navajo code was created by the first 29 Navajo recruits in May of 1942. About 400 Navajos were trained as code talkers.[19] Their training was intense and all 17 pages of the code had to be memorized.[19] From 1942 to 1945 Navajo Code Talkers took part in every Marine assault in the Pacific Theatre.[20] Navajos served in all six Marine divisions plus parachute units and the Marine Raider battalions.[20] The Navajo Code worked much faster than Morse Code, minutes instead of hours.[16] They transmitted messages on the battlefield including orders, troop movements and logistics.[20] While the Japanese were able to break codes used by the United States Army and the United States Army Air Corps, they were never able to break the Marine codes.[20] Even a Navajo soldier captured during the Battle of Bataan could not figure out the code for the Japanese.[20] Major Howard Connor, a 5th Marine Division signal officer at Iwo Jima stated: "Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima."[20]

The United States Military used the Navajo code in the Korean War and in the beginning of the Vietnam War, so they kept the code a secret. During the late 1960s, the United States stopped using the code, and declassified it in 1968,[16] meaning it was no longer a secret. The code talkers were then allowed to talk about what they had done.[9]

On September 17, 1992, the Navajo code talkers of World War II were honored for their contributions at the Pentagon in Washington, DC.[20] The long delay was due to the Navajo code being Classified information.[20]


  1. DNA evidence shows a possible common ancestor of both the Navajo and Apache (and other tribes) "if one reaches far enough back in time". It could also be explained by a long period of contact (mixing) between the two tribes.[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Ray Baldwin Lewis. "Navajo Culture". Navajo Tourism Department. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  2. Stella U. Ogunwole, 'The American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2000, Census 2000 Brief (Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, February 2002), p. 10
  3. David E. Wilkins, The Navajo Political Experience (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2013), pp. xviii–xix
  4. Lawrence W. Cheek; Edie Jarolim, Arizona (New York: Fodor's, 2004), p. 112
  5. Jessica Dawn Palmer, The Apache Peoples: A History of All Bands and Tribes Through the 1880s (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2013), p. 28
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 "History". Department of Information Technology, Navajo Nation. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
  7. Billy Luther. "Navajo Culture > Language". PBS. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  8. Sean N. Bennett; Cody Fitzwater. "Chapter 14 - Navajo Culture". Transcultural Nursing. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Chester Nez; Judith Schiess Avila (2011). Code Talker. Penguin Random House. ISBN 9780425247853.
  10. Diane J. Schmidt (May 24, 2012). "Navajo Times staffers clean up at Arizona Press Club awards". Navajo Times. Retrieved July 14, 2020.
  11. "Herald/Review, Navajo Times get top Arizona newspaper honors". Associated Press. September 28, 2019. Retrieved July 14, 2020.
  12. Cindy Yurth (July 16, 2015). "NT bags 24 awards at NAJA". Navajo Times. Retrieved July 14, 2020.
  13. "The Navajo, Sheep, and the Federal Government". Native American Roots. November 10, 2011. Retrieved July 14, 2020.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Marsha Weisiger (November 1, 2007). "Gendered Injustice: Navajo Livestock Reduction in the New Deal Era". Western Historical Quarterly. 38 (4): 437–455. doi:10.2307/25443605. Retrieved July 14, 2020.
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Navajo Livestock Reduction". Northern Arizona University. Retrieved July 14, 2020.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 "Navajo History". Discover Navajo. Retrieved July 23, 2020.
  17. "The Long Walk: The Navajo Treaties". Smithsonian. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  18. 18.0 18.1 "Welcome to the Navajo Nation Government: History". Navajo Government. Retrieved July 23, 2020.
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Code Talking". National Museum of the American Indians. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 20.5 20.6 20.7 "Navajo Code Talkers: World War II Fact Sheet". History and Heritage Command, United States Navy. Retrieved 7 February 2016.

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