The Navajo were formerly a nomadic tribe. In winter they lived in earth-covered lodges and in summer in brush shelters called hogans. They farmed (corn and beans), hunted (deer, elk, and antelope), and gathered wild vegetable products. After sheep were introduced (early 17th cent.) by the Spanish, sheep raising superseded hunting and farming. Thus the Navajo became a pastoral people. They have adopted many arts from their neighbors—from the Mexicans metalworking, from the Pueblo weaving. They live in extended kinship groups, and traditional inheritance is through the mother's line; women have an important position in the society. The traditional Navajo religion is elaborate and complex, with many deities, songs, chants, and prayers and numerous ceremonies, such as the enemy way ceremony (commonly called the squaw dance) and the night chant. The vast belief system includes a creation story that states that Esdzanadkhi (a form of Mother Earth) created humanity. The Navajo have also subscribed to the peyote cult.
In the 1930s the overgrazed and eroded grasslands of the Navajo Reservation caused the federal government to reduce the tribe's sheep, cattle, and horses by as much as 50%. The government, having left the Navajo without a means of support, began a program of irrigation projects, thus enabling them to turn to agriculture for a livelihood. Farming, however, can support only a fraction of the people, and as a result many have had to obtain their income off the reservation. The discovery of coal, oil, gas, and other minerals has helped to increase the tribal income.
The Navajo are a composite group with over 50 separate clans. In the 17th cent. they occupied the region between the San Juan and Little Colorado rivers in NE Arizona, but they ranged far outside that territory. The Navajo were a predatory tribe who (often in alliance with their relatives, the Apache) constantly raided the Pueblo and later the Spanish and Mexican settlements of New Mexico.
When the Americans occupied (c.1846) New Mexico, the Navajo pillaged them. Punitive expeditions against the Navajo were only temporarily successful until Kit Carson, by destroying the Navajo's sheep, subdued them in 1863-64. A majority of them were imprisoned for four years at Fort Sumner in New Mexico. In 1868 they were released from prison and given a reservation of 3.5 million acres (1,41,000 hectares) in NE Arizona, NW New Mexico, and SE Utah and a new supply of sheep. The Navajo then numbered some 9,000.
Since that date they have been steadily increasing in number. By 1990 the country's 225,000 Navajo constituted the second largest Native American group in the United States. Their reservation has grown to 16 million acres (6,475,000 hectares), today sustaining such enterprises as lumbering, mining, and farming. Navajo-owned enterprises are growing, including the largest Native American newspaper in the United States and Navajo Community College, the first Native American-operated college. The Navajo reservation surrounds the Hopi reservation in Arizona. This has resulted in numerous land disputes, and in the 1960s and 70s, Navajo expansion on lands set aside for joint use provoked court action and a partition of the disputed land. A 1992 federal court decision assigned most of the remaining disputed land to the Navajo. Some Navajo were permitted to remain on Hopi land under 75-year leases.
See R. M. Underhill, The Navahos (1956); C. Kluckholn and D. Leighton, The Navaho (rev. ed. 1962); L. R. Bailey, The Long Walk: A History of the Navaho Wars, 1846-1868 (1964); L. Gilpin, The Enduring Navaho (1968); J. U. Terrell, The Navajos (1970); J. Downs, The Navajo (1972); F. McNitt, Navajo Wars (1972).
National monument, northern Arizona, U.S. Covering 360 acres (146 hectares), it comprises three historic cliff dwellings: Betatakin (Navajo: “Ledge House”), Keet Seel (“Broken Pottery”), and Inscription House, among the best-preserved and most elaborate cliff dwellings known. The largest, Keet Seel, was first discovered by whites in 1895; the three sites were made a national monument in 1909. The dwellings were the principal home of the Kayenta Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi) circa 1250–1300. The 135 rooms of Betatakin are tucked into a cliffside alcove 452 ft (138 m) high and 370 ft (113 m) wide. Also situated in a cliff alcove are the 160 rooms and 6 kivas (ceremonial houses) of Keet Seel. Inscription House (closed to the public) has 74 rooms.
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North American Indian people living mostly in northwestern New Mexico, Arizona, and southeastern Utah, U.S. The Navajo speak an Athabaskan language related to that of the Apache. The Navajo and Apache migrated from Canada to the Southwest circa AD 900–1200, after which the Navajo came under the influence of the Pueblo Indians. Painted pottery and the famous Navajo rugs, as well as sandpainting, are products of this influence. The craft of silversmithing probably came from Mexico in the mid-19th century. The traditional economy was based on farming and later herding of sheep, goats, and cattle. The basic social unit was the band. Religion focused on the emergence of the first people from worlds beneath the Earth's surface. In 1863 the U.S. government ordered Col. Kit Carson to put an end to Navajo and Apache raiding; his offensives resulted in the incarceration of about 8,000 Navajo and the destruction of crops and herds. Today many Navajo live on or near the Navajo Reservation (24,000 sq mi [64,000 sq km] in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah); thousands earn their living as transient workers. Their language has been tenaciously preserved; they used it to great effect during World War II by transmitting coded messages in Navajo. The Navajo are the most populous Native American group in the U.S., with some 300,000 individuals of Navajo descent in the early 21st century.
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Navajo (sometimes spelled Navaho), or Diné, (means The People in Navajo) refers or relates to the Navajo people, currently the second largest Federally recognized Native American tribe in the United States, with 298,197 people claiming to be full or partial Navajo, according to the 2000 U.S. census.
The name Navajo may have originated from the English, who possibly took the name from the Tewa language's original word, "navahu" meaning ‘fields adjoining an arroyo.’ The Navajo Nation's reservation encompasses the Four Corners region of northern Arizona, southern Utah, and northern New Mexico, over 16 million acres (65,000 km²). The word Navajo also refers to the Navajo language.