Navajo Nation Flag
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The word “Navajo” actually originated from the Spanish, who called the Dineh people Apache de Navajo to distinguish them from the Apaches. The Navajos called themselves “Dineh,” or, “The People.”
The Navajo farmed squash, beans, and corn. Corn was the most important Navajo crop and could be eaten fresh or dried. They also grew melons and pumpkins. The Navajo hunted for deer, antelope, rabbits, prairie dogs and other animals. In later times, they raised sheep for wool and meat.
In early times, the Navajo lived in small family groups rather than in villages. They lived in hogans – dark, gloomy structures made of tree bark and mud. The door of the hogan always faced east toward the rising sun, and had a small hole at the top of the dome to allow smoke to escape. Most Navajo families maintained a hogan in the desert and a hogan in the mountains so they could move quickly if the weather turned, the water supply dried up, or new grazing land was needed.
Navajo culture is reflected in artwork and religious ceremonies. The Navajo people are famous for their beautiful silver jewelry. Navajo silversmiths fashioned belts, necklaces, earrings, and rings from silver. They also used silver to create “ketohs” – specialized braces placed upon the wrist to protect it from the backsnap of a bow. Ketohs allowed the archer to shoot arrows with precision. Navajo artists also made colorful blankets from wool.
The Navajo people held many interesting religious ceremonies and celebrations. Most of their ceremonies were held to restore harmony. The Navajo believed in good and evil, but that evil could take over if the universe was not in harmony. Ceremonies were held to honor the “holy people” of Navajo culture such as Coyote, Changing Woman, and the Corn People.
A “sing” was one of the most important Navajo ceremonies. In a sing, a medicine man might perform an old, complicated song and dance designed to restore harmony, heal the sick, protect a family, promote the growth of crops, or protect a village’s herds. The sing was always dedicated to one of the “holy people.”
A “blessingway” was a ceremony in which something was requested of the “Holy People.” The request could be as simple as a blessing over a newborn baby or newly conceived marriage, or, for protection against enemies in a pending raid. The Navajos believed that the “Holy People” would grant their requests if they approved of the blessingway, or, if they were displeased, evil spirits could interfere.
The Navajos made “sand paintings” as part of a Sing or Blessingway. A sand painting was a large picture made on the floor of a hut made of different colored sands that were carefully crafted between the second and third fingers. The pictures could be ten or twelve feet long and told of magical stories or characters with super powers. Sand paintings were made in the hopes of healing people. Such paintings were destroyed before nightfall so that evil spirits could not infiltrate them. Traditionally, sand paintings were made by medicine men who wished to restore harmony toward a sick person. After
the sand painting was finished, the “patient” sat on it and hoped that the powers of the “holy people” could be absorbed. After the ceremony, the sand painting was considered poisonous because it absorbed an illness or disease.
The Navajo and Apache were both aggressive tribes that frequently raided nearby Pueblo settlements for food, property, women, and slaves. In the 1700’s and early 1800’s, Navajo warriors frequently raided Mexican settlements for food, livestock, and slaves in response to Spanish and Mexican warlords who conducted raids and on Navajo villages and kidnapped their children. Navajo warriors also attacked westward-bound settlers on the Santa Fe Trail in the 1840’s.
In the 1850’s and 1860’s, after much of the desert southwest was ceded to America as a result of the Mexican War, tensions between the Navajo and the United States military increased. Frequent skirmishes over grazing land, horses, and stolen livestock culminated when the famous Navajo chief Maneulito led his warriors on an attack on Fort Defiance, a military post at Canyon Bonito, New Mexico in 1860. Led by Colonel Edward Canby, the U.S. military succeeded in driving the Navajo warriors back into the rugged terrain of their sacred homeland – Canyon de Chelly. In 1861, ten Navajo rioters were killed at Fort
Lyon by U.S. military forces over a horse race in which the Navajo claimed a U.S. soldier cheated in.
By 1863, the relationship between the Navajo and U.S. military was beyond repair. The government has decided to rid the territory of the Navajo by appointing General James Carelton to drive them from New Mexico. Carleton put Christopher “Kit” Carson in charge of the plan, and Carson subsequently destroyed Navajo land, crops, orchards, and hogans; stole their livestock, and trapped them within Canyon de Chelley in 1863 and 1864. After about nine months, 12,000 half-starving Navajo were forced to surrender to the U.S. Government. It was the largest surrender in all of the Indian Wars. The Navajo were forced to relocate to
a reservation in eastern New Mexico, where thousands died of disease, starvation, and fights with Apaches. In 1868, however, a delegation of Navajo chiefs successfully argued their case to the U.S. Government, and was awarded 3.5 million acres of land in their ancestral homeland.
Today, the Navajo are the largest tribe in America and have the most reservation lands.
The Navajo inhabited lands near the four corners region of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. Most of the Navajo, however, lived in Arizona.
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