i'm reposting something i featured in my journal. it's information about the Navajo.
i wrote it awhile back for an Art & Culture magazine at UIC (the school i am employed at), but it was not selected. so, in an act of revenge, i'm posting it here to share with people.
The Diné, or Navajo, is recognized as the largest Native American Indian Tribe in the United States. They live on the Navajo Nation, some 25,000 square miles of government reserve. It occupies all of northeastern Arizona, the southeastern portion of Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. It is positioned between four sacred mountains: Sierra Blanca Peak in the east, Mount Taylor in the south, San Francisco Peak in the west, and Mount Hesperus in the north. The land is spotted with large mountains covered in pine trees, red sandstones, and deep carving canyons.
Many areas of the Navajo Nation look familiar because film directors have often used the dramatic landscapes in their productions. Monument Valley for example, with its startling red sandstone monoliths and high cliffs, has been in numerous Hollywood movies and television commercials. John Wayne’s name and identity is synonymous with Monument Valley.
Members of the Navajo Nation are often known as Navajo, but traditionally, they call themselves Diné, which means “The People.” The Navajo believe that they traveled through several other worlds before reaching present day locations.
According to popular theory, the ancient ancestors of today’s Navajo may have lived in Asia, particularly in the region of present-day Mongolia. During the last Ice Age thousands of years ago, some of these ancient people may have migrated and crossed into North America by way of the Bering Straight. If one asks a traditional Navajo of his origin, he is likely to tell you that his ancestors were created in the very spot of the Navajo Nation – not thousands of miles away in a foreign country.
In the 1500’s, Spanish explorers and settlers arrived in Navajo territory. The Spanish visitors arrived with horses and long-haired sheep and goats which they brought with them from Europe. The Navajo soon captured some of these animals and established their own lively herds. This act would reinvent the face and culture of the Navajo people. The wool from the sheep was excellent for weaving and Navajo blankets and rugs soon became prized goods. The patterns used by Navajo weavers varied, but shades of red, white, and gray were popular. By the late 1600’s, the Navajo’s most important and valuable occupation was rug weaving. Today, Navajo Rugs are considered prized possessions and can demand prices of up to several thousand US dollars.
Aside from using the wool of the sheep for artistic purposes, it is not surprising that the meat from the sheep is a popular food to the Navajos. Mutton stews and roasts are common items found on a Navajo menu. The Navajo people also raise crops of corn as well as beans, squash, and fruits such as peaches and melons. The harvests from these crops help round out the large diet of meat.
One who travels through the Navajo Nation will see modern homes today. If one looks closer, they may also be able to see a much more ancient type of dwelling – the hogan. The hogan is a traditional Navajo home – an eight-sided, round structure – made of logs and soil. In the winter time, the hogan is kept warm by a roaring fire. In the summer time, it is kept cool by the hard-packed dirt floor. The entrance to the hogan always faces east to meet the rising sun. The inside of a hogan is simply one large room – about 20 feet across. Furniture and storage spaces line the wall while an iron stove or open fireplace sits directly in the center of the open room. In traditional times, the family would sleep on bedrolls made of sheep skin. In present days, metal beds might replace these bedrolls. It is common that many families have more than one hogan – one for living and the other for religious ceremonial activities. Summer hogans and winter hogans exist as well, keeping true to seasonal sheep grazing areas.
The Navajo is a matrilineal society – which means that the children are born into their mothers’ clan and their descent is traced through the females. Navajo people grow up with strong ties to their mothers, their lands, and their culture. By telling stories and sharing traditions, the maternal grandfather teaches the Navajo way of life. The paternal grandfather guides one in prayer and honor.
Diné Bizaad, the language the Navajo speak, is an Athabascan language spoken solely in the southwest United States. Interestingly, there are other Native American Indian tribes in Canada that speak Athapascan languages.
During World War II, a code based on Diné Bizaad was used by code talkers to send secure military messages over the radio. These brave, heroic men became known as the Navajo Code Talkers. Between the years of 1939-1945, the United States was at war with the Japanese in World War II. The Navajo Nation sent some 4,000 men and 12 women to serve in the military. Of the thousand who served, 400 of those Navajo men created a secret code which was known to only a few non-Navajo. The Navajo Code Talkers, as they were later named, chose one word in Navajo for each letter of the English alphabet. They used Navajo words for military terms. An “owl” for example, was an observation plane; a “turtle” became a tank; and an “egg” (bomb) was dropped by a “buzzard” (bomber). Traditional Navajo clan names were used for military units.
Soon after, an entire network of Navajo Code Talkers was created. Though the Japanese broke the military codes used by the United States Army, Navy, and Air Force, they never broke the code of the Navajo Marines. The Navajo Code Talkers were hushed to secrecy until 1968. In 2001, the service of the Navajo Code Talkers was recognized when they were awarded Gold and Silver Congressional Medals of Honor.
Currently, Diné Bizaad claims more speakers than any other Native American Indian language north of the US-Mexico border (with more than 140,000 native speakers). Diné Bizaad is taught in high schools on the Navajo Nation and a number of universities across the country.
Today, there are 290,000 members of the Navajo Nation living in the United States. Many of course, live on the reservation. One will see a mixture of the modern and the traditional on the Navajo Nation today. Many Navajos live in modern houses while others continue to live in traditional hogans. A large percent of Navajos continue to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors by raising sheep, farming lands, and practicing crafts such as rug weaving. Others work as mining engineers, health care professionals, lawyers, and educators.
The reservation of the Navajo people was created by the Treaty of 1868. Today, rightfully called the Navajo Nation, there is a president, a congress, and a court system in full operation. About a hundred chapters, divisions of local governments on the Navajo Nation, send representatives to the capital located at Window Rock, Arizona.
Instead of using outsiders, the Navajo run many of their own schools. As a respect and honor for Navajo tradition, classes are taught in the Navajo language as well as English. Many children leave their families and travel long distances to day-schools to live in boarding schools. Many schools lack the basic necessities – books, computers, and other necessary equipment – but their desire to be educated is unparalleled. Scholars teach Navajo history, culture, and language to both Navajo and non-Navajo people. Navajo radio stations, television stations, and newspapers keep people informed in the Navajo language.
The Diné are an ancient people with a fascinating history and tradition. They believe they were created from Mother Earth and Father Sky. They are a part of the land, a part of their weaving, and a part of their Mother’s beauty.
i'm Navajo from Arizona living in China as an English professor.
currently, i'm visiting family in Arizona for 3 glorious weeks (17 January-06 February 2010). i'd love stay longer, as i've been away for more than 3 years, but work pulls me back to the PRC.
i hope people enjoy their ethnicities despite racism and all it's ugly friends. be proud of who you are!! stand strong and be educated!