The Navajos are a Native American tribe living in the southwestern part of the United States. The Navajos came to the southwestern United States from the northwest Pacific coast and Canada, between the 1300's and the 1600's. They are related to the Athabaskan tribes. They hunted deer, mountain sheep, antelope, and rabbit, and made their clothing from these animal skins. They started raiding Spanish settlers to get horses for hunting and fighting, and became known as great warriors by the Spanish and other surrounding Indian tribes. They grew corn, beans, and squash in fields that the Spanish called Nabaju, which means "great planted fields." The word Nabaju became "Navajo," pronounced "Navaho" in the Spanish way.
By 1750, the Navajos were living in the valleys and mountains around Canyon de Chelly in northeastern Arizona. Livestock had become a major part of their life. They quit their lifestyle of hunting and became sheepherders. As the sheep consumed the grass, the Navajos were forced to move on to new land. They did not live as an organized tribe in villages, but instead, in scattered locations in Arizona and New Mexico, where they still live today. Navajo families lived in hogans, which were quick and easy to build as they moved. These were homes that were made with tree supporting poles that were covered with mush and brush. Later, the Navajos built more permanent hogans made of logs, and chinked them with mud in a circular shape.
Up until 1848, the land on which the Navajos lived had belonged to Mexico. The Navajos had to continually fight not only the Spanish, but also other Indian tribes in order to live on this land. In 1848, American white men decided to take over the Navajo land. The Navajos, who became known as fierce warriors, continued to fight for their land until the 1850's and 1860's, when the Americans built Fort Defiance in the heart of Navajo country, near what is now Window Rock, Arizona. The Americans then killed or captured thousands of Navajos, burning their hogans and crops, and killing their sheep. The Navajos were forced to surrender, and then made to walk almost 300 miles to Fort Sumner (known as Bosque Redondo to the Navajo) in eastern New Mexico. This trek became known as "The Long Walk." During this walk and their years of confinement in Fort Sumner, the Navajos were treated cruelly and many died. In 1868, this brutal episode in Navajo history ended and the Navajos were allowed to return to their homeland. They began to unite as a people and to form their own nation. The Navajos soon returned to their self-sufficient lives of farming, herding sheep and weaving. By the 1900’s their population had more than doubled. They became beautiful silversmiths. Trading their woven rugs and silver jewelry became a way of life.
The Navajo nation is the largest reservation in North America, covering an area of about 27,000 square miles. This area includes a large part of northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and a small part of southeastern Utah. Today, the capital of the Navajo nation is located at Window Rock, Arizona. The Navajos have a population of over 200,000 people, making their tribe the largest Native American tribe in the United States. The Navajo people maintain many of their ancestors' beliefs and traditions. They strive to continue speaking their challenging Navajo language, although many Navajos also speak English. This loyalty and their warrior background made them the only people in the United States more than willing to go fight for our country in World War II using a code that no one could decipher.
Most of the homes of the Navajo people are scattered over rural range, but in many places the land forms natural community areas. Underdeveloped and thinly settled Navajo communities find a source of unity in the similarity of living conditions and in the common problems and interests of the people.
The people often travel long distances over poor roads to participate in community affairs. Establishment like trading posts and schools as well as traditional neighborly activities, sings and ceremonies bring the people together. Now people are constructing their homes near paved roads, stores, power lines, water wells, and other modern facilities.
Navajo chapters were established about 1923 as units of agricultural extension services, for the improvement f farm and home life. Since then, they have developed into a form of local government and also have come to signify community areas. The Navajo Tribal Council recognizes 100 chapter organzitions. The people of each chapter elect their own president, vice president, and secretary. These important people attend regular meetings to deal with community affairs.
A chapter house is the Navajo equivalent of a town hall. The Tribal Council, with the participation of local people, is constructing new chapter houses in many communities. This construction program utilizes tribal funds and each chapter supplies the labor for its building program on a partial payment payment system. Most chapters contribute funds for operation and maintenance of their building.
In addition to being a center for local government, chapter houses provide facilities and services for the special needs of the people. Some have facilities for bathing, laundering, sewing, and cooking. Water is very scarce in Navajo country and most chapter houses are built near newly developed wells possible through a tribal water development program.
Local recreation activities are enjoyed by young and old at the new chapter houses. Chapter committees in many places organize and sponsor rodeos, sports, and social events. Many chapters raise funds for community purposes through such activities.
Agriculture extension agents continue to work with chapters on range conservation and livestock management programs. The chapters themselves have planned and built or repaired roads, bridges, corrals, sheep dips, and other community facilities. In cooperation with the U.S. Public Health Service, many communities are improving or developing domestic water sources.
About the Navajo Code Talkers
With the advent of World War II, many young Navajo men appeared at the first selective service registration armed with rifles, bedrolls, and food; they were ready to fight. By 1943, 1,400 Navajos joined the Army, Navy, and Marines; one-fourth of all these new recruits had joined as volunteers. Thousands of other hopefuls were rejected for their inability to speak or read English, and others for physical defects or being under-age.
Philip Johnston, a minister's son was often given credit for conceiving the concept of a Navajo Code. Although he was a catalyst in the concept of a Navajo Code, he was also considered a braggart and was suspect by the Marine Corps for disclosing the Navajo Code secret to the ARIZONA HIGHWAYS magazine in June 1943 through a report by the head of the Navajo Bureau of Indian Affairs, James Stewart:
"The U.S. Marine Corps has organized a special Navajo signal unit for combat communication service. A platoon of thirty Navajos was recruited in the spring of 1942. Its members were trained in signal work using the Navajo language as a code, adapting a scheme tried with considerable success during World War I, when the enemy was completely baffled by the employment of an Indian language in front line communications. The thirty Navajo Marines performed their duties so successfully that the plan was expanded, a recruiting detail was sent back to the Navajo Reservation in the early autumn and by early December, 67 new boys were enlisted."
The actual creators of the Navajo Code Project were Major General Clayton B. Vogel, Amphibious Force, Pacific Fleet, and Commandant Thomas Holcomb, USMC. Beginning with the battle for Guadalcanal, the Navajos proved to be excellent soldiers "island hopping" many Pacific Islands on their way to Japan. The Navajo Code Talkers fought in some of the fiercest battles of the Pacific war at: Bougainville, New Britain, Kwajaiein, Saipan, Guam, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and many smaller islands and atolls in between.
Transmission of the standard USMC code might read:
"Jump off at 0600; move 50 yards left flank of C Company; proceed 200 yards; and report your position." The problems of the USMC code was that it could take up to 4 hours to decode. Pieces of the message were sometimes missing; and only after decoding, it was relayed to the commanders. When you need an artillery strike, you want it to start now! The efficiency of the Navajo Code was that all of it was memorized and verbal. The Navajo Code Talker wrote down the messages as he received them. Many lives were saved because the code was quick, perfectly decoded, transmitted over telephone lines, and secure. Even after the war, all secrets about the Atom bomb were sent to San Francisco by Navajo Code. The secret of the Navajo Code Talkers was finally revealed on June 25, 1969 at a Chicago 22nd reunion of the 4th Marine Division Association.
The Navajo people, the Diné, passed through three different worlds before emerging into this world - The Fourth World, or Glittering World.
The Diné believe there are two classes of beings: the earth people and the holy people. The holy people are believed to have the power to aid or harm the earth people. Since earth People of the Diné are an integral part of the universe, they must do everything they can to maintain harmony or balance on earth.
It is believed that centuries ago the holy people taught the Diné how to live the right way and to conduct their many acts of everyday life. They were taught to live in harmony with the earth, sky, and the many other elements such as man, animals, plants, and insects.
The number four permeates traditional Navajo philosophy. In the Navajo culture, there are four directions, four seasons, the first four clans, and four colors that are associated with the four sacred mountains. In most Navajo rituals, there are four songs and multiples thereof, as well as many other symbolic uses of four.
The Navajos have many fascinating beliefs and colorful ceremonies. Their way of life is based on a belief that the physical and spiritual world blend together, and everything on earth is alive and sacred. The Yei, or Holy Ones, live in the four sacred mountains in each of the four directions, which form the boundaries of the Navajo land. The Holy Ones are attracted by their ritual songs, prayers, stories and paintings, and visit the Navajo people during their ceremonies and in their daily lives The Navajo people have two major kinds of ceremonies: the Blessing way, which is to keep them on the path of happiness and wisdom, and the Enemy way, which is to eliminate ghosts and discourage evil spirits. One of the most well known ceremonies is a healing ceremony called a "sing" in which a Navajo medicine man sings and creates a drawing called a sandpainting. Sandpaintings depict The Holy Ones, with detailed figures, and are made by trickling from the hand, fine grains from crushed pollen, cornmeal, charcoal from a burned tree, and other powdered minerals.
When there is disorder in a Navajo's life, such as an illness, medicine men use herbs, prayers, songs, and ceremonies to help cure patients. Some tribal members choose to be cured at the many hospitals on the Navajo Nation. Some will seek the assistance of a traditional Navajo medicine man. A qualified medicine man is a unique individual bestowed with supernatural powers to diagnose a person's problem and to heal or cure an illness and restore harmony to the patient.
There are more than 50 different kinds of ceremonies that may be used in the Navajo culture--all performed at various times for a specific reason. Some ceremonies last several hours, while others may last as long as nine days.
The Then Navajo, Now Diné
The Navajo Nation, the largest Indian tribe in the United States, has gone back to its original name, Diné, which means "the people."
Many Diné believe that Navajo was a name outsiders gave the tribe.
"There is pride in Navajo Nation, but this is a subject that is in our hearts, our spirit," said Duane Beyal, assistant to Peterson Zah, the Navajo Tribal President. "Whether we use the name outsiders gave us or the name the Great Spirit gave us."
Diné (pronounced din-EH) is an Athapascan word for man, but has been translated as "the people" by the Navajos, who routinely use it to refer to themselves and their language.
Athapascan is the language of a widely scattered family of North American Indians ranging from Alaska and Canada to the Southwest United States.