Navajo Indian Nation- Past, Present and Future

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Residing in the Southwest United States, the Navajo Indian tribe is one of the largest tribes in America today. In their own language, they refer to themselves as Diné which means “the people”. They are an old tribe with descendants tracing their roots back to the thirteenth century. The first contact that the Navajos had with white settlers was during the Mexican American War in 1846. The United States conducted peaceful relations with the Navajo for over fifteen years. Forts were built to help protect the Navajo from Spanish/Mexican raids on the Navajo’s cattle. Eventually, a new military commander, James H. Carleton, was named in New Mexico and he began to raid Navajo lands with a vengeance. He ordered the Navajo to surrender. When the majority of the Navajo refused, their crops were destroyed and they were forced to leave their lands in what is called ‘The Long Walk’. They were forced to a reservation in Fort Sumter, New Mexico some 300 miles away. The reservation failed because it was designed to support four to five thousand but there were nine thousand Navajos that were displaced onto the reservation. Finally a treaty was developed that included parts of their homeland as the reservation and the Navajo were then allowed to return to the new reservation. For the most part, the Native Americans prospered with a few skirmishes from white settlers. The prosperity didn’t last as the U.S. government decided that the Navajo cattle were overgrazing the land. Immediately, over eighty percent of all the livestock was exterminated in what was called ‘The Navajo Livestock Reduction’. This was a low blow to the Navajos, culturally and economically. The government then started to try to mainstream the Navajo tribe by placing children in English speaking schools and teaching Christianity. In World War II, the government stopped aiding the Navajos because they lived in a ‘communal’ society. The people of the Navajo nation suffered in hunger for many years until the war was over and they once again received help form the government. Ironically, it was Navajo code talkers that were enlisted in the Marine Corps during World War II. These men developed a code that was undecipherable in their native tongue that allowed troops to communicate during the war.

The modern Navajo Nation Territory is stretched across three states- southeast Utah, northwest New Mexico and northeast Arizona. To be considered a Navajo Native American, an individual must have a ‘blood certificate’ that certifies that they are one-fourth Diné by blood. As of 2000, there were 173,987 blood certified, Navajo Indians in the United States, with 58.34%of them living on the territory lands (Wikipedia, 2010). They have a government that is modeled after the United States government with executive, judicial, and legislative branches. They also have a Constitution and their own laws. There are Navajo police that work with federal government officials when the need arises.

As with any nation, big or small, there are always issues that must be faced. The Navajo nation is no different. There are constant struggles to educate, empower, provide and protect the people and natural resources. According to the 2000 National Assessment of Educational progress report-only seventeen percent of Native American fourth graders scored at or above proficient on the standardized tests (Reyner, 2010).While these numbers are for all Native Americans including the Navajo, they statistics show that the education level is very low. Educating the future adults that will lead the Navajo nation is a challenge. Truancy, gangs, alcohol use and drugs play a part in luring the young teenagers from high school. Teenagers often dropped out of school because they were bored as the curriculum was not structured for Navajo, often with ‘Americanized’ curriculum.

The economy within the Navajo nation is struggling. There are no jobs on the Reservation and many attempts to open businesses have...
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