The Navajo Nation is spread across the states of Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. The Navajo Nation is the largest American Indian tribe, with almost three hundred thousand members. Many of them live on reservations in New Mexico.
The Navajo call themselves “Dine,” which means “the People.” Their land is referred to as “Dine Bikeyah,” or “the land of the People.” After the Navajo settled in the Southwest and gave up their nomadic way of life, they became sheepherders. Sheepherding is still an important part of Navajo life. They are regarded as some of the best herdsmen in the Southwest.
The Navajo generally did not life in villages. Instead, member of an extended family lived near each other so that they could help each other grow food and care for their herds.
The Navajo had conflicts with Mexico for many years. When the United States annexed much of the Southwest following the Mexican War, many Navajo hoped that their problems were over. Many Navajo had relatives who had been kidnapped and held as slaves by the Mexicans. Unfortunately, the US did nothing to free the Navajo slaves, and Mexico continued making slave-raids into Navajo territory.
1862 was a tragic year for the Navajo. Under orders of the US military, Kit Carson and his soldiers burned Navajo homes and crops. In 1864, there was another wave of attacks led by Kit Carson. He and his troops rushed through Canyon de Chelly, causing horrible destruction. Eventually, the Navajo were forced away from their land on a 300-mile forced march known as The Long Walk. They were taken to a prison camp in New Mexico, where many of them were held for up to four years. Many of them died along the way. In 1868, the US government signed a treaty that allowed the Navajo to return and live on a reservation on their own land.
In spite of their poor treatment by the government, many Navajo enlisted in the US Army during World War II. Because the Navajo language was unknown to most people, many of those soldiers became “Code Talkers.” They used the Navajo language to develop a system of sending coding messages as a way of helping to defeat the Japanese. Navajo Code Talkers were involved in every major battle in the Pacific during World War II. The Japanese were never able to break their code!
Interesting Facts About the Navajo:
• The Navajo were honored for their work as “Code Talkers” by the Pentagon in 1992.
• The Navajo built a monument on the Navajo Nation to honor their people who served in World War II.
• The Navajo are respected for their crafts, especially their rugs and sand paintings.