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The Navajo Have Adapted to the 21st Century Essay Sample

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The Navajo Have Adapted to the 21st Century Essay Sample

There are many cultures still thriving in the world in the twenty first century. There are quite a few cultures here in the United States. One of the oldest and one of the most heard of is the Navajo, also known as the Diné. The Navajo culture dates back to the mid sixteenth century and some archeological evidence might even show from earlier. The Navajo has been able to survive throughout the years by living off the land and staying true to their heritage.

The Navajo’s beliefs and values have not changed much since the mid sixteenth century. There are quite a few Indians that still practice what their ancestors did a long time ago. The economic organization has changed throughout the years but still has the basic core values. The Navajo’s men and women both have had important roles throughout the years. They are not as they once were but the fundamentals are still in place. Even though times have changed the Navajo has remained strict with their basic ways of living.

The Navajo Indians farmed as their primary mode of subsistence, they had to adapt to the new ways of living as time went on. They were originally hunters and foragers, but adopted agriculture, weaving, and other arts from other tribes in the Southwest. They had a close relationship in which the Navajo traded hides, piñon nuts, and other goods to the other people in substitute for agricultural products, woven goods, and pottery. The Navajo has been continually changing in response to new ways of doing things and challenges since they first came to the Southwest. From 1868 to about 1960, the people depended on a combination of farming, animal’s, and the sale of various products to traders. The farming of corn was one of the best ways for the Navajo to be able to trade for other necessities they needed. Corn was just a small part of their diet, but did contribute some.

The raising of animals such as sheep and some goats provided large quantities of meat and milk. They never wasted an animal they used the hides and wool and traded some of the excess they didn’t need. The Navajo did a lot of crafts also. They made rugs, pottery and sand paintings and would trade these for additional income. In the early 1900s, a few Navajo were employed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Hourly work for the Navajo did not start until after World War II. According to Colwell-Chanthaphonh (2006), “By the 1980s, wage work was contributing about 75 percent of all Navajo income, although the more traditional farming and livestock economies were still being maintained throughout the reservation as well.” The Navajo have a few ways of making additional income now a day’s, tourism, mineral production, and lumbering are some of the ways they make money today.

The Navajo people have several beliefs on how their people came to this world. The Navajo say they passed through three different worlds before ending up in this world. They believe there are two types of beings, the Earth People and the Holy People. The Holy People are believed to heal and also hurt the people of earth. The Navajo are part of the Earth people and they have to do everything to maintain peace and balance on this world. The Navajo believe that a long time ago the Holy People taught them how to live their everyday life. They were taught to live in synchronization with the Earth, the Sky and many other essentials such as man, animals, plants, and insects. They believe the Holy People put four mountains in four different directions. The Navajo assigned a different color for each direction associated with the mountains. Mt. Blanca is to the east of Alamosa, Colorado which is white shell. Mt. Taylor is to the south, which is west of Albuquerque, New Mexico and is turquoise. San Francisco Peak is to the west, which is located just east of Oceanside, California and is yellow abalone. The last mountain lies North by Durango, Colorado, which is Mt. Hesperus is represented by jet black.

These four mountain peaks make up the land of the Navajo. According to Robin Fast (2007), “In the Navajo culture there are four directions, four seasons, the first four clans and four colors that are associated with the four sacred mountains. In most Navajo rituals there are four songs and multiples thereof, as well as many other symbolic uses of four.” If a person of the tribe gets sick or hurt a medicine men will use herbs, prayers, songs and ceremonies to help cure patients. There are some modern hospitals on the reservation but some will still use the traditional medicine man. A skilled medicine man is bestowed with supernatural powers, and can diagnose a person’s problem and heal or cure an illness. They also say after a medicine man treats the patient the patient is in better harmony with the land. There are more than fifty different types of ceremonies and rituals that are used in the Navajo culture. Each ceremony or ritual is for something different. The ceremonies can last anywhere from a couple hours to around ten days.

Navajos possess a very complex system of ceremonials. There are two different types of ceremonies, rites and chants. When the Navajo perform a rite, they will most often use a rattle. A chant they sing and then also will use a rattle too. They are very similar other than one the Navajo will sing and the other they will not. There are sometimes they might mix the two of them together though, it depends on the situation. There are two major rites, which have a different focus than the chants. They are the Blessing way and the Enemy way. The Blessing way is used frequently for usually no reason at all. It is a blessing ceremony and is used to guarantee luck and success. The Enemy way is used to exorcise the demons, violence and evil and is from old ceremonies used to guard warriors from the evil of those they had killed. The chant ways focus on healing and make the warrior feel better and can be performed in any of three rituals: Holy way, Evil way or Life way. The Holy way ritual claims to help and cure the warrior by putting the good back into the warrior. The Evil way ritual makes the evil go away and the Life way chants are used to treat injuries caused by accidents.

Sand painting ceremonies are a part of all Holy way ceremonies and most Evil way ceremonies. The sand paintings are not used in the Life way ceremonies. The Blessing way is the biggest part of the songs in the Navajo ceremonies. Every chant way ends with one song from the Blessing way to justify the chant. The reason they do this is to make sure that everything was correct. If there was anything incorrect this is a way for them to make it better. Chants can use songs from the blessing way or they can use the twelve word blessing way song. “It was estimated that there were once twenty four chant way complexes, of which only eleven are performed now and only seven are frequently performed, Shooting way, Flint way, Mountain way, Night way, Navajo Wind way, Chiricahua Wind way, and Hand Trembling way.” Fast, R. (2007). These chants are grouped based upon links in the origin legends, symbolism, ritual tools and practical similarities. Each chant has its own tale that describes how the Holy People taught the ceremonies to the Earth People. Each of these ceremonies has different parts, which can be kept or deleted depending on each individual person.

Each part of the different parts of the ceremony is spaced out by a pause.. There are some parts that are required and will appear in every performance of any given chant. There are many more chants and rites that the Navajo perform to help with their economic struggles. The Navajo economy was based on sheep and cattle herding. They would raise sheep for their wool and make yarn from it. After they made the yarn they would make blankets and rugs. They would also mine for turquoise and silver to make jewelry. The Navajo also do a lot of sand painting, feather work, and pottery. Coal mining has added a decent amount of income to their economy over the last hundred years. The Navajo also mined uranium for a short while. According to Laurie Triefeldt (2007), “The Navajo Nation’s extensive mineral resources are among the most valuable held by Native American nations within the United States.” The Navajo make and sell the jewelry and crafts they create. This is a very successful business within the reservation. The Navajo will also work at the stores and other businesses on the reservation or in nearby towns.

The Navajo government employs thousands in civil service and administrative jobs, which is a big benefit for their economy. There have been a lot of casinos that have been opened in and around Indian reservations. At first the Navajo decided against it but around 2005 the Navajo signed a contract with New Mexico to be able to operate a casino at To’hajiilee, near Albuquerque, New Mexioc. Navajo leaders also talked to officials in Arizona to open casinos near Flagstaff, Lake Powell, Winslow, Sanders, and Cameron. “The Dine Development Corporation was formed in 2004 to promote Navajo business and seek viable business development to make use of casino revenues.” (Navajo Business Development. 2008.) There are a couple railroads that transport coal from the mines in the Navajo area to the Navajo Generating Station at Page, Arizona. The Black Mesa coal mine near Kayenta, was a controversial strip mine it was shut down on December 31, 2005 for its lack of emission control. This mine fed the Mohave Power Station by a pipeline that used water from the Black Mesa aquifer. The economy has changed over the time for the Navajo.

They’ve had to adapt to the changes over time just how they have with the gender relations. In the Navajo community there was a strict but not a division between the males and females. The farming and the care of horses were male responsibilities. The women would do the weaving and most of the household tasks. Now a day’s both male and females has contributed in the lambing, shearing, and herding activities. The men and women are now involved in the wage work. Males have always played the dominant role in the Navajo ceremonies. The women have too played important roles in them as well. Navajo believe that women are expected to get married and have many children. Infant mortality and death from miscarriage or childbirth was very common in the past. The women who survived their childbearing years would often have to raise their relative’s children because of the deaths they had at birth. Navajo mothers were expected to imitate the Changing Woman and be the primary care taker of the children.

Tasks such as nursing, bathing, feeding, weaning, clothing, comforting and teaching were traditionally done by women. Whenever they had to leave the hogan, their mud homes, to perform outside labors such as attending to the crops and animals, and other necessary tasks, the Navajo mothers would carry their infant child with them in a cradleboard. Navajo fathers were described by Witherspoon as such, “At best, a father is a helpful friend, a good teacher, and a strong disciplinarian; at worst, he is a potential enemy, an undependable friend, or an unreliable ally” (1975) The role of the Navajo fathers in the household was to provide those things the mother and children cannot provide for themselves, which included hunting, fishing, chopping firewood and more. While the Navajo woman is the head of the household, localized headmen of Navajo clans are usually male. A father symbolizes strength and leadership but from a distance. According to Witherspoon (1975), “The primary level of kinship is wife-husband and mother-child and secondary level of kinship is father-child and sibling-sibling.” The level of kinship in the Navajo tribe is the connection between the father and children is through their mother.

When a Navajo man and woman would get married the bride and groom would eat out of the same basket. As they were eating, their family members would lecture them about what they should do and what they shouldn’t do in the future. A Blessing way would be performed to bless the new marriage. After the marriage was complete the man became a family member of his wife’s family. If he was to travel on a hunting trip or any other type of expedition, he had to look for a place to stay, but it had to be with his wife’s family. The family life a Navajo hasn’t changed much over the years. The women still control the land and the men usually do a lot of the grunt work. There is some split in some of the daily tasks, it depends on what is needed of course.

Over the last century the Navajo tribe has adapted to be able to survive over the years. They still hunt and farm but do a lot more trading than they used too. Their beliefs and values have stayed very true to their natural origins. They still do a lot of the same ceremonies that they once did. The economic organizations have changed a lot over the years to accommodate the Western technology and way of living. They have gone from farming and trading to opening casinos and mining. Gender relations haven’t changed much over the years. The women still take care of the children while the men go to work. The women do contribute to the income of the family though by weaving, pottery, and sand painting. The Navajo tribe has gone through a lot of changes over the years but have adapted very well.


Colwell-Chanthaphonh, C. (2006). Self-governance, Self-representation, Self-determination and the Questions of Research Ethics Commentary on “Protecting the Navajo People through tribal regulation of research.”. Science & Engineering Ethics, 12(3), 508-510. Dine Development Corporation. (2008). http://www.navajobusinessdevelopment.com/information/din-development-corporation.html Fast, Robin. (2007). The Land is Full of Stories: Navajo Histories in the Work of Luci Tapahonso. Women’s Studies, 36(3), 185-211. doi:10.1080/00497870701255388 The Sense of Collectivism and Individualism among Husbands and Wives in Traditional and Bi-cultural Navajo Families on the Navajo Reservation. (2011). Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 42(4), 543-562. Triefeldt, Laurie (2007) “The Navajo,” People & Places Quill Driver Books/Word Dancer Press, Sanger, California, page 62, ISBN

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