DINÉ (Navajo)
WEBSITE: http://www.navajo-nsn.gov

1. Historical information about the culture

Diné Early History, Language
“... [T]he mainstream view of archaeologist and linguists is that Navajos (Diné)... originated as Canadian Athabaskan hunter/gathers, who migrated ... to ... the U. S. Southwest between about 1000 and 1500 C. E. “ i Little is known of their history before the migration(s).  The Navajos speak Diné bizaad, a form of Southern Athabaskan Languages.ii

They live in the four sacred mountains area of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. iii  It is semi-arid, challenging, and isolating.  This land had little interest to 1800's white migrant farmers.  It is suitable for hunting, livestock raising, and moderate farming.

Traditional Livelihoods
They were nomadic hunter-gatherers and traders. iv  Their life themes are: defense and survival, adaptation and incorporation, expansion and property, plus identity and continuation. v Now, they have become crop farmers and livestock tenders. vi

Traditional Culture
The Navajo were matrilineal. vii  The women own land and livestock. The Navajo man moves into his bride's dwelling.  He lives with her mother's people.  People must marry persons outside their clan.  Diné welcomeoutsiders of various backgrounds. viii
Housing -  living out of doors
The hogan is the traditional home.  There are the summer hogan and the winter hogan.  Both are made of logs/branches covered with mud.  The door faces east to welcome the morning sun.
Hogans have various shapes from conical to rectangular.  The Navajo religion regards the hogan as sacred.  Building starts with branches that have the y at the top (like Sámi). The layout resembles the Sámi tent footprint. ix
Diné “are the children of the changing woman.” x  Theyemerged intothis world after a long journey through different colored worlds.  They met challenges, environments, and creatures.  They arrived at the people's land with the hogan, sweat bath, four seasons, day, night, stars, sun and moon.  Life goals include: good health, harmony, peace, beauty, good fortune, balance, and positive events. xi
 Practices have ceremonies, chants, a singer, prayers, sand-painting, herbal medicine, dance, crystal rocks, and hand movement.  Ceremonies can last nine days.  Ceremonies include: female puberty, healing, blessing, witch protection, night chant, soldiers and others. xii
I Ronana Arthur and Jared Diamond. Understanding Tribal Fates.  Science Vol 334. www.sciencemag.org 18 November 2011.
ii            Watkins, Thayer. "Discovery of the Athabascan Origin of the Apache and Navajo Language." San Jose State University. 28 Nov 2010.
iii  Iverson, Peter. A History of the Navajos.
iv           Iverson, Peter, Jennifer Nez Denetdale, and Ada E. Deer. The Navajo.New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2006.
v   Iverson, Peter. A History of the Navajos. p. 3.
vi Ronana Arthur and Jared Diamond. Understanding Tribal Fates.  Science Vol 334. www.sciencemag.org 18 November 2011.
vii Navajo Culture Role of Women PBS. http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/missnavajo/women.html  Oct 29, 2007
viii       Iverson, Peter. Diné: A History of the Navajos.  pp. 1 – 11.
ix Cosmos Mindeleff, Navho Houses. J. E. Powell. Bureau of American Ethnology, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. 1898.
x              Iverson, Peter.  Diné: A History of the Navajos. Albuquerque, N. M. University of Mexico Press 2002, p. 1.
xi Iverson, Peter. A History of the Navajos. pp. 8 - 12.
xii           Anselm Weber.  Navajo IndiansCatholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 10.



2. Colonial experience of the culture

First Contact with Europeans
In the late 17th century, the Diné experienced Spanish influence only indirectly, when their Pueblo neighbors were overwhelmed and pushed into Diné territory in present-day NW New Mexico by Spanish forces. 

Cooperation and Cultural Exchange
In the decades following the Spanish attacks, the Diné and the Pueblos remained close and harmonious neighbors and shared much of their cultures, such as sheep and goat herding (Spanish influence), agricultural practices, ritual and ceremonial practices and beliefs, arts, and healing.1   Over time, herding became the economic lifeblood of the Diné, mainly because it aligned with their cultural values.  Livestock had not only intrinsic value, but also were a marker of cultural identity.  "The Navajo emphasis on movement and change . . . is the foundation of their world view.  Navajo mythic heroes travel restlessly in their search for sacred knowledge; Navajos consider life itself to be a journey...".2

Contact with Mexico and the U.S.
1821:  Mexico took over territory of the Diné from Spain; there began a period of intense conflict, including raiding of herds, kidnapping and taking of slaves between Mexicans and Diné.  Losses to Mexicans through raiding of livestock forced the Diné to intensify their own raiding of herds of European American settlers, which brought retaliation.3
1848:  The U.S. won a wide swath of territory from Mexico, including Diné territory.  The Diné and Apaches promised European American settlers protection from attacks.  Attempts by the U.S. government to negotiate treaties with the Navajo "were useless because the Navajo had no centralized authority, and the Anglos never understood the autonomous nature of Navajo bands."4
1862:  Catastrophe.  In response to the chaotic situation in the SW, U.S. General Carleton, military commander for New Mexico, forced the relocation of Mescalero Apaches and Navajos (mutual enemies) to Fort Sumner (aka Bosque Redondo), against the recommendation of a military board because of inadequate water and food there.  He appointed Kit Carson to move against the Navajos, and after he destroyed all their crops, hogans, animals, water holes--everything--, and after the long-time enemies of the Navajo took advantage of the situation with further raids and by capturing women and children as slaves, in 1864  8,000 Navajo surrendered and were forced on The Long Walk--a death march of 250 miles from Fort Defiance to Fort Sumner. Once there, people suffered and starved; there were provisions for only half their numbers.5
Exile and Return
Captivity had the effect of developing in the Diné "a sense of political unity, thinking of themselves as one people for the first time in their history."6
The Diné have had over their history a particularly resilient culture, which was a benefit to them during these hard years.  That, and the fact that their reservation lands incorporated most of their traditional territory.  After their return to their homeland, they were able to recover fairly well economically, which meant that the U.S. government had less of a motivation for forcing assimilation on them.  However, certainly they were subject to much humiliation and heartbreak.  Diné children were sent to distant boarding schools along with so many others.  But they were apparently able to identify and incorporate various ideas and methods of others that met their needs. As a people, they were flexible and pragmatic, willingly accepting innovation without loss of cultural integrity.  They were able, for example, to keep their complex ceremonial culture alive and able to survive loss and change.7

After their return to their traditional lands it took some time to recover economically, rebuilding herds, dealing with corrupt Indian agents and bureaucracy, drought, and raids.  But finally things improved, and by 1875 the Diné had begun to trade surplus wool.  Trading posts began to appear, and in 1881 the railroad came.  Original trade goods of wool, pine nuts, goat and sheep skins were later supplemented with beautiful, high-demand weaving and silver jewelry.  Trade and tourism, along with herds, increased in the 20th century, to the point where the Diné became part of the national economy.8

1Trudy Griffin-Pierce, Native Peoples of the Southwest, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000) 318.
2 Ibid, p. 321
3 Ibid, p. 321
4 Ibid, p. 322
5 Ibid, p. 322
6 Ibid, p. 322
7 Ibid, p. 324
8 Ibid, p. 325

David Roberts, "Grand Canyon on the Edge," Smithsonian, Vol. 45, N0. 11 (March 2015)

3. Contemporary developments or issues

In many ways the Diné (Navajo) are very different from other Indian nations. 
  • SIZE:  They are the largest nation—currently a population of more than 300,000.  60 % of population less than 25 years of age. (1)
  • LAND:  They have the largest reservation—25, 351 square miles (40% of the size of Wisconsin). (1)
  • LOCATION:  Half of the Diné (173,667 in 2010 census) live on the Navajo reservation in the Four Corners. (1)
  • URANIUM MINES:  521 abandoned uranium mines on the reservation. One has been cleaned up for $8 million.  Settlement last year with Anadarko Petroleum Co. for $1 billion to clean up 49 sites.  U. S. government identifies who is responsible for only 78 of the mines.(2) 
  • AGREEMENT WITH U. S. GOVERNMENT:  Reached agreement in September 2014 to receive $554 million in compensation over allegations of mismanagement of tribal resources.  Much of the reservation land has been leased for farming, grazing, oil and gas development, mining and housing.  The leases were “largely overseen by the U.S. government, which mismanaged the revenue and failed to properly invest and account for it.” (3)
  • EDUCATION:  Declared by Navajo Nation’s Tribal Council to be under their auspice.  Kindergarten through grade 12 largely provided by tribally controlled or Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools. Most students fail to meet proficiency requirements in math and reading for the No Child Left Behind Act, 2001. (4)

In other ways the Diné face the same problems as other Indian nations.

  • TRIBAL GOVERNMENT:  Disagreements with accountability of tribal leaders. (7)
  • RESERVATION ECONOMICS: Per capita income on the reservation was $17, 695 in 2010 compared with $25,680 for the state of Arizona.  Poverty rate 38 % on the reservation compared with 15% for Arizona. (1) Half of households are without running water or electricity. (5)
  • ARCHAEOLOGY:  Frequently at odds with archaeologists seen as outsiders who “’dig’ in sites where ancient and recent ancestors have lived and died.” This is at odds with the Navajo belief that they are protectors of the earth. (5)
  • LANGUAGE:  In 1969 teachers evaluated 96% of Navajo six-year-olds to be Navajo speakers.  In 1993 only 52% could speak some Navajo. (6)
  •  SELF-DETERMINATION:  Diné currently live under the rules of the United States government (U.S. Congress, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Land Management all in the Department of the Interior), three state governments (New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah), and others who have leased land or minerals from them.  Self-determination needs to be re-defined from the Dine (Navajo) world view. (7)

Ways in which the Diné have an advantage:

  • RECENT VICTORIES with the U. S. Department of the Interior and Anadarko Petroleum Co. regarding compensation from past injustices. (2, 3)
  • CULTURAL IDENTITY:  Navajo have the “ability to travel far from home and to incorporate new things into their lives without any loss of cultural identity: ‘We wouldn’t be called “Children of Changing Woman” if we were not’.” (8)

BIBLIOGRAPHY (as endnotes)
1. Arizona Rural Policy Institute, et al., Demographic Analysis of the Navajo Nation Using 2010 Census and 2010 American Community Survey Estimates, (Flagstaff, AZ: Arizona Rural Policy Institute, n.d.) <http://azcia.gov/Documents/Links/DemoProfiles/Navajo%20Nation.pdf >.

2. Brandon Loomis, “Uranium-mine Cleanup on Navajo Reservation Could Take 100 Years,” Arizona Republic August 2014  <http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/investigations/2014/08/06/uranium-mining-navajo-reservation-cleanup-radioactive-waste/13680399/ >.

3. Felicia Fonseca and Terry Tang, “Navajo Nation Reaches $554 Million Settlement with Federal Government,” UWIRE 26 Sept. 2014: p. 1 < http://uwire.com/?s=UWIRE+Text&x=26&y=14&=Go >.

4. Navajo Nation: Alternative Accountability Workbook (January, 2011) <http://navajonationdode.org/uploads/FileLinks/0807178cae3f43f8a67d9fda31955307/NN_Accountability_Workbook_1.pdf >.

5. Davina R. Two Bears, “Navajo Archaeologist Is Not an Oxymoron: A Tribal Archaeologist’s Experience,” American Indian Quarterly 30.3/4 (Summer-Autumn, 2006): 381-286 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4139019

6. Tiffany S. Lee, “If They Want Navajo To Be Learned, Then They Should Require It in All Schools: Navajo Teenagers’ Experiences, Choices, and Demands Regarding Navajo Language,” Wicazo Sa Review 22.1 (Spring 2007) : 7-33 http://www.jstor.org/stable/30131300 >.

7. Kathryn D Manuelito, “A Dine (Navajo) Perspective on Self-Determination: An Exposition of a Egalitarian Place,” Taboo 10.1 (Spring-Summer 2006): 7-27 <http://login.ezproxy.lib.umn.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezp1.lib.umn.edu/ps/i.do?
d=9b4d4ce18bec2db5795a8ceb918e50b8 >.

8. Trudy Griffin-Pierce, Native Peoples of the Southwest, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000) 339-351.