The Navajo are a large tribe. In fact, they are the second largest Native American tribe in the United States at the present time. As one of the most influential and recognizable American Indian cultures in history, they have entered public consciousness through popular culture and frequent interactions with European settlers, both friendly and unfriendly.
Religion and the Navajo Indians
The majority of living Navajo tribespeople are in the southwestern United States, but are spread evenly across the Navajo Nation (Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico). Like many other tribes in the USA, the Navajo commonly follow syncretic forms of Christianity which integrate aspects of Catholicism, Mormonism, traditional Navajo religion, or elements of the new Native American Church that arose after the advent of Pan-Indian philosophical thought.
Emerging first in history as a hunter-gatherer civilization, initial contact with the Spanish invaders and Pueblo cultures introduced the idea of structured agriculture and domestication to the Navajo tribes. Sharing linguistic roots with an assortment of other Native American tribes from Canada and the United States, the Navajo find common cultural and historical origins with other Athabascan peoples.
The Long Walk to Bosque Redondo
Infamously, the Navajo people were forced on the Long Walk, or a 300-mile walk to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. The Navajo were interned within Bosque Redondo, and suffered greatly at the hands of a neglectful federal administration and soldiers who subjected them regularly to physical and psychological abuse. A lack of proper planning ensured great suffering for the Navajo prisoners when resources were mismanaged, leading to widespread starvation within the camps.
Frequent armed encounters with the Navajo and allied Apache tribes cemented the Navajo tribe in the minds of the white settlers as inherently savage. Thankfully, relations are recovering and steps are being taken to help the Navajo recover from historic losses incurred during the brutal industrial expansion characteristic of the age of Manifest Destiny in the United States.
Navajo Code Talkers Help Win Pacific Victory in World War II
As a people with a deep connection to family life and social events, the Navajo civilization was a robust one, and celebrated friendship and interaction between individuals. The Navajo as a culture have always focused strongly on communication, and played a key role in World War II with the recruitment of the widely revered Code Talkers into the United States armed forces. The bilingual Navajo forces were recruited to take advantage of the lack of mutual intelligibility characteristic of the Navajo language. Since the language was not widely known, it proved effect in helping the U.S. forces conceal strategic information from the Japanese in the Pacific Theater.
Navajo Jewelry and Language
Renowned for their jewelry, the ornamentations that adorned the bodies of Navajo chiefs and tribesmen alike played a key role in their personal expression and in the communication ideas. Lacking a written language, the Navajo people relied on other means of communication to pass ideas onto the next generation, which is a characteristic shared by many tribes possessed of a similar culture to their own.
It is fortunate that the Navajo culture has survived and prospered in the modern age. Recuperating from unjustified cruelty at the hands of white settlers, the Navajo people are a bright and vibrant culture that has clearly outlasted the horrors of the past.