The Importance of Navajo Women as Contemporary Liaisons of Traditional Culture

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In the southwestern United States, on 16 million acres (6,475,000 hectares) of land stretching from northeastern Arizona throughout adjacent northwestern New Mexico and southeastern Utah, the land of the Navajo Nation stands proud. The tenacity of the Navajo people has proven to take them from the brink of annihilation, through its establishment as a sovereign nation in 1868, to its current place as the largest reservation in the United States. This quiet, pastoral society rests on the matrilineal kinship system, although egalitarian relationships exist between Navajo men and women. The extended family included husband and wife, unmarried children, married daughters, sons-in-law, and unmarried grandchildren, who traditionally all lived together in camps. Among the Navajo, women are as likely to own sheep as men and their participation in herding, shearing, and butchering is no different. Their status is further elevated by their wool-weaving abilities and the artistry of their blankets (Nowak & Laird, 5.2). Since the central symbol of Navajo social organization is motherhood, a relationship between motherhood and sheep is formed and even though sheep are owned by individuals, the herds are kept communally within a matrilocal residential group (Nowak & Laird, 2010). The change from a subsistence economy to a wage economy among the Navajo is a direct result of white contact that disrupted their traditional way of life (Native, 1998), however, in the face of contemporary challenges, Navajo women remain respected for their wisdom and knowledge and still retain their roles as the carriers of their native culture. Their ability to adapt and adjust to societal opportunites, while concurrently reclaiming cultural traditions, is the glue of the Navajo Nation.

Prior to European contact and the introduction of livestock by Spanish settlers in the early 17th century, the Navajo farmed (corn and beans), hunted (deer, elk, and antelope), and gathered wild...
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