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The Navajo Tribe History Review Report

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Updated: Oct 14th, 2021

Introduction

The America Indians (Native Americans) had been living in America many years before the coming of white people. When white people arrived, they found millions of Indians occupying North America. Navajo one of the largest tribe of North American Indians is believed to have migrated from Asia about 1200 BC and settled west-central Canada through the land bridge1. Here they found and merged with other American Indians people to form the Athabaskas people. Navajos called themselves ‘Dine’ meaning the ‘people’ of Navajo while the name Navajo, were called by their enemies”. Today the Navajo speaking people are found in New York, New Mexico Alaska and Arizona. Because of the global cooling of 1300 BC, Navajo together with their relatives left other Athabaskas and moved southwards. They settled in south west part of North America were they practiced hunting and gathering using dogs. They moved their belongings using dog sleds from one camp to another because they had no horses to ride on. About 1400 AD, Navajos moved further and settled in North America were they met a group known Pueblo Indians People. The pueblo people were the Native American people in southwest and practiced farming and trade2. The Navajo people occupied lands which were abandoned by the pueblo people in previous centuries. They established a long relationship with the pueblo people and started to learn the culture of pueblo people. Here they lived as nomads and raided the Pueblo people. The Pueblo people, the new neighbors of Navajo taught them how to grow corns and beans. As result, farming became their new method of getting their food. The Navajo people stayed in hut called Hogan made from wooden poles and mud with their door facing east to allow the sun to get into the huts3.

When Spanish brought sheep to North America from Europe in 1600s, the Navajo gave up farming and instead started to rear sheep and goats. Later they learned how to shear the sheep and knit the wool into beddings such blanket as well as rugs and clothes and for food. The Navajo became experts in production of wool, clothes and blanket while the pueblo people continued growing beans and corns. Trade erupted between the three parties: the Pueblo people and Spanish settlers got mutton, clothes, rugs and blanket from the Navajos and on other hand Navajo got corns and beans that they did not grow, from the pueblo people. Through out 1700s the Navajo continued to raid their neighbor (the pueblo and Ute people) to get what they did not have. They stole beans, corns, jewelry, sheep, horses and steel tools. They also took people from their neighbors and sold them as slaves to the Spanish. The horses they stole helped them to carry out major and continuous raid on their neighbors and to travel far. As result of these raids they were now treated as enemies by other communities living near them.

The Spanish government in 1804 decided to stop the Navajos’ continued raids on other tribes. The Navajo were attacked and many of they killed by the Spanish army who used guns. This marked the beginning of conflict between the Navajos and the European settlers and spanned for a period of three hundred years4. In 1823, Mexico became independent of Spanish government and left Navajo alone. The American government after taking Arizona and New Mexico from Mexican government in 1848, they also left Navajo by their own.

The principle wars

Then English settlers came and occupied Arizona and New Mexico. The Navajo people continued with their raid even after the United States and Mexican government had split from them. When Navajos raiders took horses, and sheep from they English settlers, the settlers reported the matter to the United States government. As result the government of the United States and Navajos had conflicts. The first confrontation between the American army and the Navajo was in 1846 during the American- Mexican civil war when the US troops invaded Santa Fe which was occupied by Navajos5. The US troops led by sergeant Kearny, fought and changed the southwest government. More and more troops were sent to subdue Navajo by Kearny in 1847. The confrontation between Navajo and Kearny lead expeditions resulted to signing of the first treaty between Navajos and American government.

The American government established base within the Navajos territories to protect the citizens and Navajo from each other6. But this did not stop Navajos-Spanish raids from going on. In the middle of American civil war in 1863, the United States government made an attempt to stop Navajo men from raiding European settler in Arizona. Again, the United States government feared that the Navajo might support the confederate in the civil war. The America civil war was between the confederate and the union (the United States). The commander of New Mexico assigned General Carson the task to stop the Navajo raiders. The Spanish disliked Navajo because of their raids while the pueblo people had suffered much from the raids. General Carson knew that Spanish settlers and pueblo people hated the Navajo tribe therefore; he got many troops from the Spanish settlers and the pueblo people. The Carson army killed many Navajos and destroyed their properties including houses and their crops. More militia groups and volunteer citizens joined General Carson in fight against Navajos. They also stole Navajo’s sheep and carried Navajo’s women and children to sell them as slaves in Mexico.

Consequences of the principle wars

The Navajo people were left with nothing to feed from and soon hunger struck the Navajo people. As result many Navajo people surrender to General Carson who moved people who had surrendered to the deserts of Bosque Redondo. In 1864 more than 9000 Navajos were forced to walk a long distance into the desert in New Mexico. On their way to the desert many Navajo people died and many more died on arrival at the desert of small pox and hunger7. in 1868, a treaty was signed between the United States government and Navajo chief that allowed Navajo people to return to their land from the deserts on basis that they will never raid their neighbors any more. The Navajo people were finally allowed to re-occupy their own land.

Navajos Culture

Traditionally Navajos were semi nomadic since the 16th centaury. They occupied large areas which allowed them to keep many livestock, gathering and agriculture. Their traditional economic activities revolved around trading and raiding; they also traveled for long distances. Navajo families lived together and only women were allowed to posses land and livestock. After a man and woman had married, they moved to live in homes of the bride because, the culture only allowed daughters to inherit the generation wealth. Children born within marriage were said to belong to the clan of their mothers. The marriage and dating practice of Navajo were and are believed to be form of incest because one could marry or date anyone within their clan. Their government was organized around regional communities and family leaders who pledged to work in unison8. Their homes commonly known as Hogan were considered sacred. Accordingly, they believed that the first Hogan was built for the first woman, first man, and talking God. The Hogan was built by coyote with assistance of beaver people, with the beaver people proving logs and instructions on how the Hogan was to be constructed. The hogans were built in traditional style until 1990s when they started to make them in five and six sides. Today they are only used for ceremonial purposes rather than for residential purposes.

Arts and craftsmanship

Navajo started silversmith in 1864 while under captivity in eastern New Mexico. Atsidi was the first to learn the practice and started teaching other Navajos how to smelt silver. By 1880 they made jewelry such as bracelets, tobacco, flask, and necklaces from silver and later they made earrings, buckles and pins. Apart from smelting they practiced weaving which according to many; Navajo borrowed the idea from Ute tribe. They used an upright loom to make blankets from wool got from the sheep and imported yarn in 18th century. Although initially these blankets were mainly of one color and had few patterns, due to phases of innovation new blankets evolved which had more and more colors and patterns. European settlers bought blanket from the Navajos and sold them to the east. These traders encouraged the local Navajo to improve on the styles of the blankets and rugs. They made new blankets with new stylish learned from the European settlers.

Spiritual and Religious practice

Navajo practiced spiritual rites believed to heal sickness and restore person’s health as well as giving vitality to the sick9. They also practiced puberty female and birth ceremonies. When Navajo was sick, he or she was taken to medicine man for healing before going to hospitals. The medicine doctor could use various methods for medical check up of the patient: he used crystal rocks and some actions such as prayer. After checking the patient, the medicine man carried out some healing chants for each specific ailment and short prayers were said as means of protection. Then the patient was advised on what to do and what to avoid there after. Navajo believed that sickness was caused by failure to follow taboos by someone.

Protection ceremonies were also carried out on Navajos who were to cross boundaries of the sacred mountains. It was mainly practiced on Navajo soldiers going to battles. The ‘blessing way ceremony’ was done to soldiers returning from battles in order to restore their harmony and peace of mind.

There were other ceremonies to cure people from curses. Curses were considered as form of ailment which was not physical. Many people complaint of witchcrafts that caused harm to their families. The medicine people were also responsible for removing curses put on people by the witchcrafts10. The medicine men found objects put inside people’s bodies to cause harm to them. Some of objects found were teeth, bone, pebbles and jewelry. Navajos were said to practice more than sixty ceremonies which many of them lasted for more than four days. During the ceremonies members of the sick person were required to be present in order to assist in identifying the problem: outsiders were discouraged from attending such ceremonies. Medicine men were trained for long period so that they could effectively execute their duties. Medicine man was supposed to carry out the ceremony from the start to the end because, incase he did not finish, the ceremony failed to work. Navajo practiced their religion in a specific area. They did their spiritual practices in an area surrounded by four holy mountains in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.

The Navajo Nation

The 1868 treaty allowed the surviving Navajo to return to the land reserved for them by the United States government. On return some Navajos were absorbed by the United States military as Indian scouts in 1895. The serving Navajo people formed a police unit called Navajo Tribal police which was used to stop raids within their tribes between 1872 and 1875. The treaty allowed Navajo people to participate in trade beyond their territory. The trade helped them to increase the number of livestock and crops. As result, Navajo stopped raiding other tribes because they had accumulated a lot of properties and also feared losing them in the raids. Economic tensions with non-Navajo continued as civilians and companies competed to take resources that had been allocated to Navajos. The conflict between the Navajos and non Navajos continued for many years. These tensions resulted to killing of Navajos, stealing of horses from each forcing the United States army to intervene at some points. Some white people had established ranches in Navajo reservation and also fenced off rivers from Navajo. This resulted to more tension between the white and the Navajo that called for military intervention.

Conclusion

Today, according to the US 2000 census, more than 200,000 Navajo people occupy more than 16 million acres of land in Arizona forming the largest American Indian tribe11. The Navajo Nation occupies the northeast Arizona, Utah north and southwest of New Mexico. The nation has its own land, language and religion and they govern themselves. Out of the 200,000 Navajos, 173,000 live within the Navajo nation while the rest live beyond the reservation boundary in Arizona. In modern day as result of employment, education, medical services, many Navajo people have moved to urban centers. The Navajo children can attend any school or college within the nation. Despite many changes the Navajos tribal identity has helped to keep Navajo culture intact. They practices business like other Americas and the Nation has allowed outsiders to practice business within the nation12. The economy of the nation is still supported by; rearing of sheep and cattle, fiber production, weaving and sell of artifacts. The nation government is unique and is divided into four agencies which support the nation. The federal government still exerts powers on the nation government with any conflict between the two sides being settled through dialogue. The people live like the past days although some use the present technology. Still, the Navajo language is spoken by many in the region although many have learned and can speak fluent English.

Bibliography

  1. Calloway, Colin G., “First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History”, Boston MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008.
  2. Clayton, Sally Pomme, 2000. “Navajo History”.
  3. Haile, Berard, Navajo Coyote Tales: The Curly To Aheedliini Version. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984
  4. Ogunwole, Stella, U. 2000. “”. Web.
  5. Peter, Gold. “Navajo & Tibetan Sacred Wisdom: The Circle of the Spirit”. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, (1994).
  6. Peter, Iverson. Dine: A History of the Navahos. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, (2002).
  7. Steel, Ian K. Warpaths: Invasions of North America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Footnotes

  1. Sally Pomme Clayton, 2000. “Navajo History”.
  2. Colin, Calloway G., “First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History”, Boston MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008
  3. Berard, Haile, Navajo Coyote Tales: The Curly To Aheedliini Version. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984
  4. Ian, K. Steel, Warpaths: Invasions of North America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994
  5. Ian, K. Steel, Warpaths: Invasions of North America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994
  6. Colin, Calloway G., “First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History”, Boston MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008.
  7. Sally Pomme Clayton, 2000. “Navajo History”.
  8. Iverson, Peter. Dine: A History of the Navahos. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, (2002).
  9. Gold, Peter. “Navajo & Tibetan Sacred Wisdom: The Circle of the Spirit”. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, (1994
  10. Gold, Peter. (1994)
  11. Stella, U. Ogunwole, 2000. “”. Web.
  12. Stella, U. Ogunwole, 2000
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