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Native Americans were the first people to live in America. Learn more about the Navajo tribe.

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Navajo Tribe

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Navajo or Dine they call themselves is the largest tribe of North American Indians. Long ago the ancestors lived in Northwestern Canada and Alaska. Over 1,000 years ago they began to travel south and reached the southwestern United States. They met farmers who are known as Pueblo Indians, and the Navajo began to settle near them and learn from them. The Navajo learned how to plant corn, beans, squash, and melons. The Navajo also began to learn a similar style of weaving making clothing and art from the Pueblo Indians. The Navajo Indians lived in homes called Hogan. They are made from wooden poles, tree bark, and mud. The doorway opened to the east so they could welcome the Sun.

Navajo Nation (Navajo: Naabeehó Dine'é) is the name of a sovereign Native American nation established by the Diné. The Navajo Nation Reservation covers about 27,000 square miles (70,000 square kilometers) of land, occupying all of northeastern Arizona, and extending into Utah and New Mexico, and is the largest land area assigned primarily to a Native American jurisdiction within the United States. The 2000 census reported 253,000 Navajo members, of whom 131,166 lived in Arizona. 17,512 of these lived in Maricopa County, which includes the city of Phoenix.

The Nation's boundaries about the Ute Nation at the Four Corners Monument landmark and stretch across the Colorado Plateau into Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Members of the nation are often known as Navajo, also spelled Navaho. Navajo call themselves Diné, a term from the Navajo language that means people. The Navajo are closely related to the Apache, and the Navajo language along with other Apache languages make up the Southern Athabaskan language family.

The Navajo (Diné) and Apache tribal groups of the American Southwest speak dialect of the language family referred to as Athabaskan. Athabaskan people in North America fan out from west-central Canada where some Athabaskan-speaking groups still reside. Although there was some evidence that Athabaskan people may have visited the Southwest as early as the 13th century, most scientists believed that they came only a few decades before the Spanish. The Athabaskan nomadic way of life complicates accurate dating, primarily because they constructed less substantial dwellings than other Southwestern groups.

Athabaskan speakers probably moved into the Southwest from the Great Plains where 16th century Spanish accounts identified them as "dog nomads". These mobile groups' hunted bison, lived in tents, and used dogs to pull travois loaded with their possessions. In April 1541, while traveling on the plains east of the Pueblo region, Francisco Coronado wrote. The Spaniards described Plains dogs as very white, with black spots, and "not much larger than water spaniels". Plains dogs were slightly smaller than those used for hauling The Spaniards described Plains dogs as very white, with black spots, and "not much larger than water spaniels". Plains dogs were slightly smaller than those used for hauling loads by modern northern Canadian people. Loads by modern northern Canadian people.

In 1540, Coronado reported the modern Western Apache area as uninhabited and other Spaniards first mention Apache living west of the Rio Grande in the 1580s. So, it is likely that the Apaches moved into their current southwestern homelands in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Athabaskans expanded their range through the 17th century, occupying areas the Pueblos peoples had abandoned during prior centuries.


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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 Native American nations within the United States. The Navajo government employs hundreds in civil service and administrative jobs. Other Navajo members work at retail stores and other businesses within the Nation's reservation or in nearby towns.

Until 2004, the Navajo Nation had declined to join other indigenous nations within the United States who have opened casinos. That year, the nation signed a contract with the state of New Mexico to operate a casino at To'hajiilee, near Albuquerque. Navajo leaders also negotiated with Arizona state officials in talks that could lead to casinos near Flagstaff, Lake Powell, Winslow, Sanders (Nahata Dziil Chapter), and Cameron (Grand Canyon entrance).


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The name "Navajo" is the name given to them by the Tewa Pueblo Indians, whose settlement preceded the Navajo, and may mean "Thieves" or "Takers from the fields." (The names by which many Native American tribes are commonly known are derived from the nicknames used by their enemies.)

The Navajo, who came to the Southwest millennia after the Tewa, call themselves Diné, which means "The people." Most Native American groups call themselves by names that mean "The people." However, many Navajo now agree to being called "Navajo."


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The Diné have refused three times to establish a new government under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Members twice rejected constitutional initiatives offered by the federal government in Washington, first in 1935 and again in 1953. A reservation-based initiative in 1963 failed after members found the process to be too cumbersome and a potential threat to their self-determination. A constitution was drafted and adopted by the governing council but never ratified by the members. The earlier efforts were rejected primarily because members did not find enough freedom in the proposed forms of government to develop their livestock industries, in 1935, and their mineral resources, in 1953.

Local and Federal law enforcement agencies that routinely work within the Navajo Nation include the Navajo Division of Public Safety, often called the Navajo Police, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, often called the BIA, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The United States still asserts plenary power to require the Navajo Nation to submit all proposed laws to the United States Secretary of the Interior for Secretarial Review, through the BIA. Most conflicts and controversies between the federal government and the Nation are settled by negotiation and by political agreements. Laws of the Navajo Nation are currently codified in the Navajo Tribal Code.

The Navajo governing council continues a historical practice of prohibiting alcohol sales within reservation boundaries. Navajo residents who drink alcohol often obtain supplies in nearby cities, such as Gallup and Grants, New Mexico. Some visitors of the area are often attracted by the Indian jewelry trade, by tourist attractions or by the Interstate Highway that passes through the area heavy traffic to off-reservation liquor stores, and the public drunkenness that often follows have created impressions that drunkenness seems to describe Indian culture. Leaders and some member groups actively oppose the sale of alcohol, and have taken several measures to find and offer treatment for those members who are suffering from alcoholism.

Navajo Tribal Police

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Navajo Tribal Police is the law enforcement agency on the Navajo Nation. It is under the Navajo Department of Public Safety. It is headed by six Police Captains and one Police Lieutenant. It includes: Internal Affairs, Criminal Investigation, Patrol, Fiscal management, Recruitment, and Training Divisions. The Navajo tribal police are responsible for seven districts, Chinle, Crown point, Dilkon, Kayenta, Ship rock, Tuba City, and Window Rock.


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The Treaty of 1868 that released the Navajos from their captivity at Fort Sumner established law enforcement as the responsibility of the Federal Government and was administered by the Branch of Law and Order. The first Navajo Police were created in 1872. They were dissolved three years later despite their successes. Although there were police on the reservation, they were funded and supported by the United States Government. The Navajo Tribal Police Department wasn't reestablished until 1959 as per request of the Navajo Tribal Council. Not only were they responsible for Law Enforcement but they were also responsible for the care and custody of prisoners.

Navajo Wars

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The Navajo Wars were fought during the nineteenth century between the U.S. military and many western tribes. These wars depleted the Native American number, divided their leadership, and drove them onto reservations, often located far from their homelands and in inhospitable climates. Until 1862, an almost continuous guerrilla war existed between the Navajo and the Pueblo Indians and Mexicans.

As was often the case, the U.S. military fought the Navajos and Apaches largely for their lands. The Civil War brought many soldiers to the Southwest, including General James H. Carleton, who decided to remove the Navajos and Apaches to reservations so that the lands of the Rio Grande Valley could be used for settlement and mining. Carleton enlisted the one-time friend of the Navajos, Kit Carson, to force them from their homelands through starvation.

Navajo Language

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Navajo (also Navaho) (in Navajo: Diné bizaad) is an Athabaskan language spoken in the Southwest United States by the Navajo people (Diné). It is geographically and linguistically one of the Southern Athabaskan languages (the majority of Athabaskan languages are spoken in northwest Canada and Alaska). Navajo claims more speakers than any other Native American language north of the US-Mexico border, with more than 100,000 native speakers, and this number is actually increasing with time. During World War II, a code based on Navajo was used by code talkers to send secure military messages over radio.


Books on the Navajo

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Links to other sites on the Navajo

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Navajo Nation http://www.americanwest.com/pages/navajo2.htm
Navajo Indian Lesson Plan http://www.lessonplanspage.com/
Navajo Indian Language http://www.native-languages.org/navajo.htm
Map of Navajo Country http://www.lapahie.com/Navajo_Map_Sh.cfm
Navajo Tribe http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Navajo_tribe
Navajo Tribe http://cybersleuth-kids.com/sleuth/History/Native_Americans/
Genealogy Resources http://www.kindredtrails.com/NATIVE_Navajo.html

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