Native American tribe that lives in the southwestern United States. Before they settled in the southwest, they were a nomadic tribe, thought to have migrated to the southwest over time from what is now Alaska and Canada. They hunted, farmed, and gathered plant products. They were territorial and often raided the Pueblo, Mexican, and Spanish settlements in the southwest.

Early in the 17th century the Spanish introduced sheep to the areas of what are now the southwestern United States and Mexico. The Navajo adopted raising and farming sheep as a new way of life, instead of hunting and farming plants. As people from the eastern U.S. moved west, and occupied land throughout, some settled near the Navajo's territory. They were constantly attacked by the Navajo. Many campaigns were run by the new Americans to subdue the Navajo, but non were successful, until Kit Carson. He killed the Navajo's herds of sheep, from which they lived upon. This broke the back of the Navajo and they gave in. They were given* a reservation of over 3.5 million acres and new herds of sheep in northeastern Arizona, southwestern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. About 9,000 Navajo began living there.

Today, there are over 225,000 Navajo people, making it the second largest Native American tribe existing in the present day. Their reservation size has also increased in size to about 16 million acres. Many Navajo run enterprises exist on the reservation, including farming, mining, and logging.

*See Inyo's excellent writeup below.

The Navajo weren't just given that large reservation which they live on now. Actually, after a bloody little war with plenty of civilian slaughter, etc, they were marched about in the winter for quite a while (similar to the Trail of Tears) and left in a cold fort with poor supplies. Many died in this ordeal. They still have a strong grasp on their culture, despite rather severe poverty on the reservation lands. The Navajos (or Dine' as they call themselves) probably owe much of their survival to their extreme hardiness and their philosophy which encourages acceptance, adaptability, living in harmony with ones surroundings, and seeing beauty in everything.

I had an opportunity to visit the big reservation about 4 years ago. It is a huge place, indeed, and it seems to distort space and time. The land is incredibly harsh, frigid in the winter, scorching in the summer, punctuated by intense thunderstorms. One night i was awakened at 2 AM by constant thunder and looked outside to see the sky flickering like a strobe light. The next morning it became evident that flash floods had washed out quite a few roads.

The culture of the Navajos is surprisingly intact, albeit affected by western society. I had the opportunity to take a trip up Canyon de Chelle with an old Navajo man, who talked about the land and how he interracted with it in an amazing way. I didn't get to talk to anyone else really, but I wouldnt blame them for harboring resentment. I was content to be an observer. My mom told me about a time when a Navajo came in to her school to talk about his life. He talked about how his family had been torn apart, and how he lived in poverty - all the time seeming perfectly calm. The Navajo are an amazingly resilient and strong people. I wouldnt be surprised (or disappointed) at all if their culture outlived ours. A lot of people on the reservation still live in traditional 6-sided hogans and grow straggly-looking corn. But they have integrated trucks, rifles, and alcohol into their culture. It doesnt seem to matter much though, because the Navajos have always absorved elements of other cultures - sheep, which they rely on now for substinence, were brought in by the Spanish a few centuries ago. The Navajos even played an integral part in World War II - Navajo Code Talkers communicated across enemy lines using their native language, which is extremely difficult to learn or translate.

Tony Hillerman writes some excellent books set in the Navajo reservation and culture, which, from what i can tell as a white boy, seem quite accurate to the Navajo culture.

After World War II, the USAF began looking for an intercontinental nuclear delivery system. At the time, they considered ICBMs to be impractical for short term implementation, so the Navaho development program was born. The Navaho design called for a ramjet powered cruise missile with a booster rocket. The program was designed around 3 landmarks:
  • Development of the cruise missile concept. The X-10 was a small-scale, turbojet powered test platform.
  • Design and testing of the booster rocket and a mid scale cruise missile in the G-46 vehicle.
  • Creation of a full-scale, full-range prototype, the G-38.
The initial tests of the X-10 were disappointing. Usually, if the vehicle didn't catastrophically fail in flight, it was because it didn't launch. Cruise missiles were significantly more complicated than was previously anticipated. In 1957, the Navaho project was cancelled. The Atlas launch vehicle was already being test flown, and with the decrease in size of nuclear payloads, the ICBM became the more promising option.

The Navaho program was not without its benefits. Many of the components developed as part of the program were used in other platforms, and some are still used today. The boosters developed for the G-38 served as the basis for all of the first generation of American orbital rockets, including the Atlas II and Delta 3 rockets still in use today.

I'm going to relate an experience of interacting with the Navajo people1 of the American South West. Please excuse any inaccuracies as the events in this story happened over 10 years ago.

The year was 1996, and I was traveling with a friend of mine, Leslie2. Leslie ran a shop in London, selling native American Indian crafts from various tribes. She did a couple of trips per year, stateside, visiting trading posts and reservations, making contact and forming business relationships. Leslie doesn't drive, which is a serious drawback for this kind of work, so on this occasion, I flew over with her, hired a nice 4WD, and we drove around New Mexico and Arizona. It was a buying trip for her, and a holiday for me.

We arrived on the Navajo reservation, about a week into the holiday. I'd become acclimatized, and gotten used to dealing with the natives in trading posts and market stalls. Leslie was in charge of the negotiation, and I would always refer decisions to her, which was hard for some traders to cope with, seeing me as a man. I was starting to go native, and to tune in to the vibrations.

Our plan was to make ultimately for the Hopi reservation, as Leslie had some orders for inlay jewelry but we wanted to explore the Navajo reservation first. In fact, the Hopi reservation is completely surrounded by the Navajo.

By the side of the road, thumbing a ride were 4 Navajo guys. Smitten with curiosity, and feeling in tune with everything, Leslie pointed them out to me, and I pulled in to the roadside. It turns out that only one of the guys needed a lift - his mates were looking after him, making sure that he was OK.

The hitchhiker, Lawrence2 had been drinking cans of beer, and was in a state that he wanted to get home. He didn't want to be taken directly home, as he wanted a chance to sober up in case he ran into his mother. His cunning plan was to dilly dally, arriving back after his mother had gone to bed.

We were quite happy to fall in with his plan, as we didn't have any urgent business. We had some long conversation, which improved as the evening drew on. We took him to his trailer - a multi room affair, not a very mobile home. He invited us into his bedroom, encouraging us to stay. He had an electric guitar that he loved playing, but no amplifier. I had a go strumming some Pink Floyd chords, and the three of us spent a pleasant evening.

Lawrence suggested that we could go for a midnight drive if we were interested (and we certainly were). I drove along some dirt tracks, to this hilltop, which I believe was a sacred spot. There were stars an astronomer could die for, and a warm, loving feeling of peace. Lawrence said that we could stay the night in his trailer if we didn't mind sleeping on the floor. I agreed, drove back to the trailer, and slept on the floor alongside Lawrence, who had given up his bed to Leslie.

We woke about 8:00 in the morning, and we were introduced to lawrence's mother and younger brother. The mother insisted on cooking breakfast for us - something that it was impolite to refuse, but at the same time, we didn't want to eat her out of home. Lawrence suggested that if we were at a loose end, perhaps we could give the younger brother a lift to school. We agreed to this as we didn't have any plans. Also, Lawrence wanted to buy some groceries. The school was at Window Rock, and the grocery store at Gallup, which made a 120 mile round trip. I had enough gas, and agreed to do it.

The four of us set off, Leslie and myself in the front, and the two boys in the back. Curiously, Lawrence had taken his guitar with him, which seemed strange. I drove to Window Rock, dropped off the younger brother at school, then went to Gallup, where Leslie and I hung around a diner by a parking lot for a mall, leaving Lawrence some privacy that he wanted.

His need for privacy was understandable once I knew the reason. He was taking the guitar to the pawn shop to get money for the groceries! Lawrence didn't want to beg any money from us, but Leslie helped him out before he returned, by hiding a 10 dollar bill in his pair of gloves.

The journey back was somewhat subdued as I was speechless thinking about the transaction. We returned to the trailer and to a happy mother, who let us wash our clothes. These dried in under an hour on the line (it is desert after all).

We had contact with other Navajos - craftsmen, but our experience, the feeling of being accepted as part of the family was unique.

Notes:

1 The word Navajo literally translates to "Enemies" (of the Apache). The word they use internally for themselves is the disyllabic dené, also written diné, which translates to "The People".

2 Names in this story have been changed to protect privacy.

Na"va*joes (?), n. pl.; sing. Navajo (). Ethnol.

A tribe of Indians inhabiting New Mexico and Arizona, allied to the Apaches. They are now largely engaged in agriculture.

 

© Webster 1913.

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