external image old-navajo-rug-navaho-native-american-indian-blanket_110579703145.jpgArt


Navajo, or Dine -they call themselves, is the largest tribe of North American Indians. Long ago, the ancestors lived in Northwestern Canada and Alaska. Over 1,000 years ago they began to travel south and reached the southwestern United States. They met farmers who are known as Pueblo Indians, and the Navajo began to settle near them and learn from them. The Navajo learned how to plant corn, beans, squash, and melons. The Navajo also began to learn a similar style of weaving, making clothing and art from the Pueblo Indians.
The Navajo Indians lived in homes called hogans. They are made from wooden poles, tree bark, and mud. The doorway opened to the east so they could welcome the sun. external image brnscrol.gif
After the Spanish settled in the 1600’s, the Navajo began to steal sheep and horses from them. The Navajo started to use the animals in their daily life. They used the sheep for its wool to make clothes, blankets, and rugs. They also used the sheep for food. They used the horses to travel longer distances and also used them to begin trading. The Navajo began making items to trade in towns. There were also trading posts built on reservations to sell their handmade crafts, such as pottery and blankets.
The Navajo reservation is currently the largest in the United States. It has over 140,000 people with 16 million acres most of which are in Arizona. They still weave from wool and use natural vegetable dyes for color. Today, people live like the old days the best they can with the modern lifestyle, but others use modern technology to live. external image brnscrol.gif
Fun Facts about the...
external image woodbead.gifexternal image woodbead.gifexternal image woodbead.gifNavajo Tribeexternal image woodbead.gifexternal image woodbead.gifexternal image woodbead.gif

external image woodbead.gifHow do you pronounce the word "Navajo"? What does it mean?
It's pronounced "NAH-vuh-ho." This spelling came from Spanish-- you can sometimes see the same name spelled "Navaho" instead. It comes from a Pueblo Indian word for "planted fields" or "farmlands." The Pueblo Indians probably gave them this name because unlike their relatives the Apaches, the Navajos were farmers who lived in settled villages. Traditionally the Navajos called themselves Dine'é or just Diné (which means "the people"), but today most Navajo people also use the word "Navajo" themselves, especially when they are speaking English.

external image woodbead.gifWhere do the Navajos live?
The Navajo are natives of the Four Corners region (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado). The Navajo people are still living in their traditional territory today.

external image woodbead.gifHow is the Navajo Indian nation organized?
The Navajos live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. The Navajo Nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Navajos are also US citizens and must obey American law.

In the past, each Navajo band was led by its own chief, who was chosen by a tribal council. Most important decisions were made by the council, and all the Navajo councilmembers had to agree before an action could be taken. A Navajo chief was more like a tribal chairman than a king. Most of his job was mediating between the other Navajos. Today, the Navajo Nation is led by a president and tribal council that are elected by all the people.

external image woodbead.gifWhat language do the Navajo Indians speak?
Almost all Navajo people speak English today, but nearly 150,000 Navajos also speak their native Navajo language. Navajo is a complex language with tones and many different vowel sounds. Most English speakers find it very difficult to pronounce. If you'd like to know an easy Navajo word, "yá'át'ééh" (sounds a little like yah-ah-t-ay) means "hello" in Navajo. You can also read a Navajo picture glossary here.

external image woodbead.gifWhat was Navajo culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is the homepage of the Navajo Nation. On their site you can find information about the Navajo people in the past and today.

external image woodbead.gifHow do Navajo Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Navajo children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play in their daily lives, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and games to play. Navajo children liked to run footraces, play archery games, and ride horses. A Navajo mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard on her back--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

external image woodbead.gifWhat were men and women's roles in the Navajo tribe?
Men and women did different jobs in Navajo society. Navajo men were hunters, warriors and political leaders. Only men were chiefs in the Navajo tribe. Navajo women were farmers, tended livestock, and also did most of the child care and cooking. Even artwork was separated by gender. Men made jewelry, and women wove rugs and sculpted clay pots. Both genders did take part in storytelling, music, and traditional medicine.

Today, many of these gender roles have changed. Navajo men are often farmers and ranchers now... and Navajo women join the Army.

external image woodbead.gifWhat were Navajo homes like in the past?
Navajo people lived in hogans, which are traditional earth houses. A hogan is made of a special wood framework packed with clay into a domed shape, with the door facing east. The thick earthen walls insulate the hogan and protect the people inside from wind and strong weather. Here are some pictures of Navajo hogans and other Indian houses.

Today, most Navajo people live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you. However, hogans are still built and used for religious and cultural purposes, and some older Navajos still prefer to live in traditional hogans.

external image woodbead.gifWhat were Navajo clothes like? Did the Navajos wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Originally, Navajo men wore breechcloths and the women wore skirts made of woven yucca fiber. Shirts were not necessary in Navajo culture, but both men and women wore deerskin ponchos or cloaks of rabbit fur in cool weather, and moccasins on their feet. After sheep were introduced and Navajo women could weave larger woolen items, men began to wear poncho-style wool shirts, women began to wear wool dresses with shoulder straps, and heavy wool blankets began to replace fur cloaks. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, long velveteen shirts and blouses came into fashion and Mexican-style full cotton skirts became popular with Navajo women. These styles are still popular today. Here is a site with sketches of 19th-century Apache and Navajo clothing styles, and some photos and links about Indian clothes in general.

The Navajos did not traditionally wear feather warbonnets. Navajo men usually wore cloth headbands tied around their foreheads instead. Both men and women wore their hair gathered into a figure-eight shaped bun called a tsiyeel, though some Navajo men did begin cutting their hair to shoulder-length in the Pueblo style during the early 1900's. Except for certain religious ceremonies, the Navajos didn't paint their faces or bodies. But they are famous for their beautiful silver and turquoise ornaments, particularly concha belts (made of interconnected silver medallions), brooches, and jewelry.

Today, many Navajo people still have moccasins or a velveteen blouse, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear traditional regalia on special occasions like a wedding or a dance.

external image woodbead.gifWhat was Navajo transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Navajo Indians weren't coastal people, and rarely traveled by river. Originally they just walked. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe, so the Navajos used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. Once Europeans brought horses to America, the Navajos could travel more quickly than before.

external image woodbead.gifWhat was Navajo food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Navajos were farming people. They raised crops of corn, beans, and squash. Navajo men also hunted deer, antelope, and small game, while women gathered nuts, fruits, and herbs. After the Spanish introduced domestic sheep and goats, the Navajos began raising herds of these animals for their meat and wool as well.

external image woodbead.gifWhat were Navajo weapons and tools like in the past?
Navajo hunters used bows and arrows. In war, Navajo men fired their bows or fought with spears and rawhide shields. Navajo tools included wooden hoes and rakes for farming, spindles and looms for weaving, and pump drills for boring holes in turquoise and other beads.

external image woodbead.gifWhat other Native Americans did the Navajo tribe interact with?
The Navajos traded regularly with other tribes of the Southwest. Their favorite trading partners were the Pueblo tribes. The Pueblo and Navajo Indians exchanged not only trade goods but customs, fashions and technology as well. Other times, the Navajos fought against the Pueblos and other neighboring tribes such as the Apaches and Utes. Usually these were raiding battles, not all-out wars. The Navajos had different ideas about war than Europeans did. The Europeans considered a direct attack honorable but thought sneaking in and stealing things was cowardly. But to the Navajos, stealthily raiding another tribe's camp was a brave deed because it meant risking their own lives, but attacking the camp openly would be shameful, because children and old people were likely to be hurt.

external image woodbead.gifWhat are Navajo arts and crafts like?
Navajo artists are famous for their colorful woven rugs and silver jewelry. They also made pottery, baskets, and sandpaintings. Here is a good site on the history of Navajo rug weaving.

external image woodbead.gifWhat kinds of stories do the Navajos tell?
There are lots of traditional Navajo legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Navajo Indian culture. Here is a Navajo story about the trickster Coyote killing a giant.

external image woodbead.gifWhat about Navajo religion?
Sorry, but we cannot help you with religious information. Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about the Navajo religion or this site about Native American religions in general.

external image woodbead.gifCan you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Alice Yazzie's Year, a historical story about a Navajo girl and her family. Younger children may like How the Stars Fell into the Sky, a picture book of a traditional Navajo legend. Songs from the Loom is an illustrated biography of a modern Navajo girl which makes a great introduction to Navajo life today. If you want to know more about Navajo culture and history, two good books are The Navajos and First Americans: The Navajo. Finally, kids with an interest in military history may like to read Navajo Code Talkers: Native American Heroes, the true story of how Navajo Marines used their language as a secret code to help the United States win World War II. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American Indian books in general.

external image woodbead.gifHow do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. Our names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. The site was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2009.

Thanks for your interest in the Navajo Indian people and their language!
external image feather.gif