History of the Navajos

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  • Topic: Navajo people, Navajo Nation, Navajo-Churro sheep
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The Navajo Nation

Linda Yearley

August 06, 2012


Professor Henninger

Urbanization, to most societies and peoples, is seen as a blessing to this world; creating an ever efficient, rapid paced lifestyle, full of the hustle-and-bustle of city life. To others, it is the polar opposite of a blessing. The Navajo Nation, as a whole, is a culture conceptualized heavily upon agrarian roots utilizing “mother nature” to sustain herself for over 400 years.

The Navajo Indians revolved around a culture that was developed on the Dine be’ iina (DBI) also known as the Navajo life way. The DBI was predominantly supported by the Navajo-churro sheep and livestock that created a pastoralist culture that was dependent on the coarse wool for both social and economic development through the 1600’s-1900’s (Linford, 2000). The introduction of churro-sheep to a patristic Navajo helped create their cultural identity, political organization, ideological theology, strengthened a material culture, and developed a holistic approach to the development of their social and economic structure.

Navajo pastoralism arose in the eighteenth century from the semi-arid canyons of the DBI homeland, where women and men incorporated Spanish livestock into their world and gave them indigenous meanings. The DBI was, in fact, matrilineal, traditionally their migration and residence patterns followed kinship patterns through the female bloodline. The Navajo Nation spread out across the region and promoted the adoption of an ancient pastoral pattern known as transhumance, the seasonal migrations from one ecological zone to another that made herding in this arid land possible. They called their expansive landscape the Dine Bikeyah (Weisiger, 2009). At one point during the Mexican-American War the government threatened Navajo pastoralism by moving them out of their homelands when Anglo-Americans started moving into the Southwest. They forced the Navajo people to get rid of their herds of livestock and sheep as they were moved into Fort Sumner for confinement. Once the federal treaty of 1868 was reestablished they were able to give the Navajo tribe a portion of their home country back. The Navajo Nation was spread across the four corners area and ultimately the canyons assisted with their pastoralist living.


Prior to the Navajo Nation living on a reservation, they all lived in either bands of people, either in clans or groups of clans which are one way pastoralist lived, semi-nomadic. Most of them were united only by their language and customs; there was no set of actual political entity until later on into the nineteenth century. Until an actual government came to be there was nothing more than Chiefs or headmen, which was their way of practicing self-governance (Austin, 2009). Their pastoralist living was the reason why there was no set government because they did not live a sedentary lifestyle until the reservations were established and they used their own tribal values and customs to solve their issues.

The political organization now begins in the courts of the Navajo Nation on the reservations, where they practice self-governance is based on outside influence. By 1901, the Bureau of Indian Affairs divided the Navajo Country into six districts, with an agency in each (Gilpin, 1968). They did not have a means of travel like we have today, which in return made it harder to communicate to each other. The major reasoning behind the Navajo’s to focus on tribal government was the discovery of oil; which is one form of pastoralist living because they use the land to enhance their economy which will have the need for a government. The Navajo Nation has been able to benefit from having their own political organization and as a pastoralist have been able to stay true to their rural ways of benefitting from the land and governing it.

The Navajo Nation has...
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