Navajo Nation

“… Further, Vice President Shelly and I, our wives, Speaker Morgan and several delegates among you had the distinct honor of representing the Navajo Nation at the inauguration of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday.

As you no doubt saw on television, the record-breaking inauguration shows how President Obama’s election has restored a sense of pride in our country for millions of Americans. For Navajos, this was perhaps the most important election since President Kennedy occupied the Oval Office. Many of us have not felt such a sense of renewed hope and joyful anticipation at the promise of a new President, and we trust that our voices will at last be heard at the top level of government”-–Navajo President Joe Shirley, Jr.,in response to President’s Obama’s visit-

Navajo Man

Navajo Nation Flag


The Navajo are a fascinating people with a long and interesting history. Historically they were warriors, known for their intelligence. During the 17th century the Spaniards controlled New Mexico. This occupancy resulted in the great Pueblo Revolt of 1680, when the Spaniards were forced out of New Mexico.

There is no solid documentation of the role the Navajos played in this revolt. However, once the Spaniards retreated, the Navajos gained control of the territory. In 1694 the Spanish took control of New Mexico again, forcing the Indians in several areas to flee and seek refuge with the Navajos. During the 1700s, disagreements between the Navajo, the Ute and Comanche forced a conciliatory relationship between the Navajo and Spanish, which ended in the 19th century. In 1818, the Navajo people were split into two groups, the eastern Navajos who wanted peace with the Spaniards, and the western group who did not want peace. At this time New Mexico was under the control of a new Mexican government.

In 1846, the United States gained control of New Mexico. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was created because Mexico lost the war to the U.S., and so it had to relinquish Texas, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and California.

A major part of this land included the Navajo territory. Fort Defiance was built in the heart of Navajo country in 1851, and it was here that military operations occurred against the Navajo people. The open land attracted many white American settlers, and the Navajos were forced to negotiate with the U.S. army for their land and water supply. These intrusions led to small battles between the Navajo and U.S. troops. In 1863 an attack was made on the fort by the Navajo leader Manuelito and Barboncito a medicine man and war leader. The Navajo almost took control of Fort Defiance but the army had superior gun power. Later, the fort was abandoned due to the Civil War, but commander James Carleton continued the war against the Navajos, who like the Apache, were considered to be a threat to the Army of the West.

During the period of 1863 to 1864 the U.S. war against the Navajo continued. The Navajo were driven from their land by Kit Carson, by destroying their livestock, burning the land, and poisoning the water. One of the reasons was that coal and oil had been discovered on the land. Thousands of Navajo went into hiding in Canyon de Chelly. Carson surrounded the Navajo and moved them to Fort Sumner at Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. This move is known as The Navajo Long Walk.

Many recount the atrocities that the Navajo suffered at the hands of the soldiers during this infamous journey. During World War II, all men including American Indians were required to registered for the draft. Although the Navajos were not allowed to vote, they were expected to serve in the U.S, military.

Tribalpedia’s Questions for Comprehension and Discussion

1. Why would the Navajo, Ute, and Comanche Indians have disagreements?

2. The Navajo were split into two groups when the question of making peace with the Spaniards arose. Discuss what might have been some pros and cons of both groups.

3. Discuss the reasons Navajos were made to leave their land.

4. According to President Shirley, are the Navajos better off today?

Click HERE for Complete Lesson Plan with Answer Key

Navajo Code Talkers

The recruitment of the first Navajo Code Talkers occurred during 1942. The code used Navajo words for the English alphabet and military references. For example the Navajo word for whale was the code for “battleship”. The Navajo code was invented by the Navajo soldiers. They memorized the code and became radio operators. Since the Navajo language was unwritten, the Japanese were never able to break the code, as they had broken other American codes. In 1953, the Navajos are granted the right to vote by the state of New Mexico, and other states soon followed.

Navajo President Joe Shirley

The Navajo People believe in President Obama’s call for change in our country. His inspiring statement of belief conveys the same thought taught to generations of Navajos that there are no impossibilities in life. Our grandparents have always told us “T’áá hó ájít’éegó’,” and President Obama’s election shows how true that teaching is and remains.

It speaks to Native nations in our determination to do for ourselves, to regain the independence that was lost so long ago, and to hold on to our beloved homelands, languages, sacred songs, ceremonies, and ways of life. While I believe the heart of the Obama Administration is with us, as always, we must begin by telling others who the Navajo People are, and how we live, that Navajoland is the largest among Native nations, equal in size to the New England states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Vermont.

We need them to know that within the vast space of our homeland are too few employers for our people, thousands of miles of rough dirt roads that are traveled daily, and inadequate means of communication. As other Americans deal with the national financial crisis in their ways, more than half of our families still heat their homes with wood they cut themselves, drink water hauled in barrels in pickup trucks, while many of our students do their homework each night by the light of kerosene and gas lanterns… Ironically, the Navajo Nation is at the geographic center of the fastest-growing region of the United States.

We are at the very crossroads of Albuquerque to the east and Las Vegas to the west, Denver to the north and Phoenix to the south. We are a corridor for energy, for food products, for manufactured goods, and for national defense. Railroad cars and interstate highways carry untold cargo and passengers along our boundaries. Truck stops, depots and train stations just beyond our reach to realize any benefit are laden with prosperity meant for others. We are encircled by more national parks and tourist destinations than anyplace else in the country… The solution for our immediate and long-term needs is economic development.

Our people want work, and they need work. More often than not they must leave their homeland to find it. That is not as it should be. If Navajos are to remain on Navajo land so that our children continue to speak our language, live our culture and practice our way of life, we must work on our economic development. For this reason, we are exploring ways to capture tourist dollars.

The Navajo Parks and Recreation Department has worked to develop plans for major improvements to our Nation’s existing parks and monuments, The goal is to create well-designed, serviceable park facilities that meet world-wide travelers’ expectations. That, in turn, will provide substantial benefits to the local economy and the Navajo Nation government… Further, on November 19, 2008, the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise opened the Fire Rock Navajo Casino to overwhelming numbers and unexpected success. Beyond the goal of generating revenue for the Nation is putting Navajos to work. “…while revenue projections from various economic and resource development projects are promising, as everyone here is aware the Navajo Nation has been negatively impacted by the national and international financial crisis. The country recently learned that our current recession is more than a year old… –Navajo President Joe Shirley, Jr.,

The Navajo Today

2013-Navajo President Ben Shelly

The tribe began publishing the newspaper Navajo Times in Window Rock, Arizona; it is currently a weekly newspaper. In 2008 New Mexico became the first state to officially adopt a Navajo textbook, Dine Bizaad Binahoo’aah: Rediscovering the Navajo Language, which is used in language classrooms throughout the New Mexico school districts. The Navajo are the largest tribe in the United States.Their territory occupies  all of northeastern Arizona, the southeastern portion of Utah, and northwestern New Mexico.

Navajo Myth: How the World Was Saved

When the world began, the people lived underground. Far below the surface of the earth, the people dreamed of a light above the ground, and slowly, over many years, they made their way to the sunlight.

But once they arrived in the brightness, the people found that life was dangerous. Gigantic birds swept down and seized them. Large animals devoured them. Before long there were only a few people left alive. They crowded together for safety and called to the Holy People for help.Instead of sending help directly, the Holy People sent a baby goddess called Red Shell, who, in four days, grew up to be a beautiful girl. She fell in love with a handsome stranger in the forest, and four days later she gave birth to twin sons, Monster-Slayer and Child-of-the-Water.

Red Shell could not tell them who their father was, so they set out to find him themselves. On their search they met Spider Woman, who told them that they were children of the Sun and gave them some feathers to help them on their journey. With these feathers they were able to leap over huge walls, free themselves from grasping reeds, and dodge crushing rocks. Finally they reached the house of the Sun, which was set in the middle of a vast lake. This time the feathers couldn’t help them cross because the distance was too great.

“Why do you want to go to the house of the Sun?” asked an old man standing at the edge of the lake. “He is our father,” replied the twins. So the old man created a rainbow bridge over the lake for the brothers to cross. The house of the Sun was magnificent. Its walls glowed blue and green and the roof shone a brilliant white.

Bravely Monster-Slayer and Child-of-the Water walked in. At first the Sun did not believe that the boys were his children. He tested them by throwing them down a mountainside, but they survived. Then he tried tempting them with rich gifts of gold, turquoise, and shell, but they refused. Then finally he greeted them as his brave sons. When they told him of the hardships being suffered by their people on Earth, he gave them weapons to fight the monsters and helped them find their way home. Monster-Slayer and Child-of-the-Water fought and killed many monsters. Some, like Hunger and Death survived, but from that time on the world was a better place!


Navajo People
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