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The Navajo Indians

The Navajo Indians or the Dines as they commonly like to call themselves are the largest Indian tribe of North America. This Athabaskan speaking group is located in the northern part of New Mexico which is a part of southern Utah and the northern part of Arizona (McPherson, 1988, p. 10). The Navajo Indians were once a single ethnic group that is believed to have come from the nearing regions of Great Slave Lake of Canada. Evidence both historical and archaeological do suggest that their ancestors after 1000AD made their way into the Southwest and the rest followed increasing the population substantially in the 13th century.

Traveling south, they reached the southwestern United States (Garrick, 1986, p. 8). History indicate that they met with the Pueblo people and trade was one outstanding activity that was evident between the Athabaskans and Pueblo people. The batter trade was for cotton that was woven and maize by the pueblos in exchange for bison meat from the Athabaskans who were at that moment living around them or they had to travel to them. By the 18th century, the Navajos had acquired a very large breed of livestock and they also had very large areas where they had grown crops.

They had learnt from the Pueblos how to cultivate maize, beans and melons, art, cloth making and weaving styles (Ortiz, 1983, p. 14). The homes in which the Navajo Indians lived in were called Hogans. To make these houses, they used mud, tree bark and wooden poles. The unique thing about them is that the doorway had to be opened towards the east, this was because they wanted to be welcoming the sun in their home every morning. Their encounter with the Spanish in the 1600’s is of the kind that the Navajo stole horses and sheep from them for their use, just after they settled.

The economy, especially of the native Navajo, entirely depended on their livestock and agricultural produce. They had produce such as maize, squash, beans and livestock that included sheep, horses and goats. They engaged in hunting and gathering so as to acquire more food (McPherson,1988, p. 33). Major change and difficult one at that was recorded at their encounter with the western world. They had pressure from the whites to stop rearing sheep because they caused soil erosion and to enforce that the whites actually killed many of these Navajo livestock (Ortiz, 1983, p. 41).

This controversial issue affected the Navajos up to date. It turned out to be a major blow to the Navajo Indians because most of their source of livelihood were killed and they did not have a way of sustaining themselves. Many of the Navajos had to leave the reservation in search of wage labor. Among the jobs that they got were serving as migrant workers in some seasonal sort of harvesting, working as factory workers and others included constructions of railroads and its operations (McPherson, 1988, p. 43).

Currently, the Navajo reservation in the United States is the largest with over 140,000 inhabitants and 16 million acres mostly in Arizona. Though they try their best to live like they used to in the old days, many have been incorporated in the modern culture and technology. Due to the pressure to them by the whites to stop rearing sheep, the Navajos of today have accepted changes that were made in the past and try their very best to at least make a future and a promising one at that for themselves.

It is evident that they acknowledge the benefits of education and economic well being though they see the importance of their culture and do their best not to lose sight of their most treasured principle of family and community support (Garrick, 1986, p. 56). References McPherson, S. Robert. (1988). The Northern Navajo Frontier 1860-1900. p. 10-43 Garrick & Roberta B. (1986). A History of the Navajo: The Reservation Years. p. 8-56 Ortiz, A. (1983). Handbook of North American Indians. vol. 10: p. 14-41

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