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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 Code Talkers
The Navajo are probably most well-known
as American "code talkers" during
World War II.

The Navajo (whose name means "farmers") originally lived as nomads, meaning they would constantly migrate, and they raided other tribes for supplies. Eventually, they settled down in the southwestern region of the United States, near the Pueblo Indians. Learning farming from the Pueblo, Navajo territory soon included the present-day states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. The Navajo language is one of the most complex languages in the world. In fact, the United States used it as their code in World War II. It was never cracked by the Germans or the Japanese, though their codes were cracked twice by America.

Navajo Life

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Navajo Concha Belt
Concha (or concho) belts
were made of several silver
medallions strung together.

Each Navajo village had a chief (only men were allowed to be chief) and a council that made decisions for their people. The chief was the leader of the council, but did not have full power over them. In the Navajo tribe, only men were allowed to become chief or become part of the council. Hunting and fighting were also done only by men. Women, on the other hand, not only took care of the children, cooked, and cleaned the house, but also tended the crops and animals the Navajo grew. Men and women both created crafts, but men made jewelry while women shaped pottery and wove cloth designs. The Navajo are well-known for their silver concha belts, their sand painting, and their colorful weaving.

Navajo Hogan (House)
Navajo houses were called "hogans" and were made
of wood covered with mud and clay. The door always
faced East so they could welcome the rising sun.

Navajo houses, called "hogans", protected them from strong winds. They were made with a domed wooden frame which was covered with clay, with the door facing East so they could greet the rising sun every morning. Navajo culture focused around both their love of nature and their love of family. One example of the importance of family is a girl's maturity ceremony. At one point, the girl is to run toward the east for a quarter of a mile or so while some younger children of the tribe run behind her. This symbolizes the hope that the girl will be the kind of mother that her children will always want to follow.

Navajo Painting
The Navajo created sand paintings
as decoration.

The Navajo were mostly farmers, growing crops such as squash, corn, melons, and beans. The women did all the farming, as well as gathering nuts and fruit. Men hunted deer and antelope, and after the settlers introduced them to sheep and goats, they raised those animals too. The Navajo fought with plain bows and arrows or spears, but their farming tools were very advanced. They even had a drill pump for creating holes in beads! Unfortunately, their technology did not stretch to transportation. The Navajo mostly walked, using dogsleds until the settlers arrived with horses. They were not near an ocean, and they almost never traveled by river, so they did not have any well-known form of water transportation.

Navajo Sheep
Though the Navajo originally
wore animal hides to keep
warm, they switched to wool
once the settlers brought sheep.

At first, Navajo men wore breech-cloths, rabbit-skin cloaks or deer-skin ponchos, and moccasins; women wore the same things except the breech-cloths were replaced by woven skirts. Later, when the settlers brought sheep to the Americas, the Navajo began to wear woolen shirts and dresses and replace the fur cloaks with wool blankets. Unlike most other Native American tribes, the Navajo did not wear feathered headdresses, but wore colorful headbands instead. They also did not put paint on their faces or body unless it was for specific religious ceremonies.


Navajo Long Walk
Sent by the government, General
Kit Carson forced the Navajo Indians
onto reservations in the desert.
The journey there was later called
the "Long Walk".

When the settlers brought horses, the Navajo started to raid Spanish, Ute, and Pueblo villages again. This time, though, they would also abduct people to sell as slaves to the Spanish. Navajo territory became part of Mexico and the United States, but it was not until the Civil War that any steps were taken to stop the Navajo raids. The U.S. government sent General Kit Carson, who joined with several Spanish, Ute, and Pueblo troops with him. This led to many deaths, and finally to the "Long Walk", in which the Navajo were forced to walk to a reservation in the desert, much like the Cherokee's "Trail of Tears". However, the U.S. government decided to allow the Navajo to stay on their original territory if they agreed to live in peace with their neighbors. The Navajo agreed, and now, though they live on a reservation, they are one of the few Native American tribes who still live on their original territory.


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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