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Navajo Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Navajo Indian tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Navajo language and culture pages for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Navajo pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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   Navajo Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Navajo"? What does it mean?
Navajo is pronounced "NAH-vuh-ho." This spelling came from Spanish-- you can sometimes see the same name spelled "Navaho" instead. It comes from a Pueblo Indian word for "planted fields" or "farmlands." The Pueblo Indians probably gave them this name because unlike their relatives the Apaches, the Navajos were farmers who lived in settled villages. Traditionally the Navajos called themselves Dine'é or just Diné (which means "the people"), but today most Navajo people also use the word "Navajo" themselves, especially when they are speaking English.

Where do the Navajos live?
The Navajo are natives of the Four Corners region (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado). The Navajo people are still living in their traditional territory today.

How is the Navajo Indian nation organized?
The Navajos live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. The Navajo Nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Navajos are also US citizens and must obey American law.

In the past, each Navajo band was led by its own chief, who was chosen by a tribal council. Most important decisions were made by the council, and all the Navajo councilmembers had to agree before an action could be taken. A Navajo chief was more like a tribal chairman than a king. Most of his job was mediating between the other Navajos. Today, the Navajo Nation is led by a president and tribal council that are elected by all the people.

What language do the Navajo Indians speak?
Almost all Navajo people speak English today, but nearly 150,000 Navajos also speak their native Navajo language. Navajo is a complex language with tones and many different vowel sounds. Most English speakers find it very difficult to pronounce. If you'd like to know an easy Navajo word, "yá'át'ééh" (sounds a little like yah-ah-t-ay) means "hello" in Navajo. You can also read a Navajo picture glossary here.

What was Navajo culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is the homepage of the Navajo Nation. On their site you can find information about the Navajo people in the past and today.

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How do Navajo Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Navajo children like to go hunting with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play in their daily lives, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and games to play. Navajo children liked to run footraces, play archery games, and ride horses. A Navajo mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard on her backs. Here is a website with Navajo cradleboard pictures.

What were men and women's roles in the Navajo tribe?
Men and women did different jobs in Navajo society. Navajo men were hunters, warriors and political leaders. Only men were chiefs in the Navajo tribe. Navajo women were farmers, tended livestock, and also did most of the child care and cooking. Even artwork was separated by gender. Men made jewelry, and women wove rugs and sculpted clay pots. Both genders did take part in storytelling, music, and traditional medicine.

Today, many of these gender roles have changed. Navajo men are often farmers and ranchers now... and Navajo women join the Army.

What were Navajo homes like in the past?
Navajo people lived in hogans, which are traditional earth houses. A hogan is made of a special wood framework packed with clay into a domed shape, with the door facing east. The thick earthen walls insulate the hogan and protect the people inside from wind and strong weather. Here are some pictures of Navajo hogans and other Indian houses.

Today, most Navajo people live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you. However, hogans are still built and used for religious and cultural purposes, and some older Navajos still prefer to live in traditional hogans.

What were Navajo clothes like? Did the Navajos wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Originally, Navajo men wore breechcloths and the women wore skirts made of woven yucca fiber. Shirts were not necessary in Navajo culture, but both men and women wore deerskin ponchos or cloaks of rabbit fur in cool weather. Like most Native Americans, Navajos wore Indian shoes called moccasins on their feet. After sheep were introduced and Navajo women could weave larger woolen items, men began to wear poncho-style wool shirts, women began to wear wool dresses with shoulder straps, and heavy wool blankets began to replace fur cloaks. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, long velveteen shirts and blouses came into fashion and Mexican-style full cotton skirts became popular with Navajo women. These styles are still popular today. Here is a site with sketches of 19th-century Apache and Navajo clothing styles, and some photos and links about Indian clothes in general.

The Navajos did not traditionally wear an Indian headdress. Navajo men usually wore cloth headbands tied around their foreheads instead. Both men and women wore their hair gathered into a figure-eight shaped bun called a tsiyeel, though some Navajo men did begin cutting their hair to shoulder-length in the Pueblo style during the early 1900's. Except for certain religious ceremonies, the Navajos didn't paint their faces or bodies. But they are famous for their beautiful silver and turquoise ornaments, particularly concha belts (made of interconnected silver medallions), brooches, and jewelry.

Today, many Navajo people still have moccasins or a velveteen blouse, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear traditional regalia on special occasions like a wedding or a dance.

What was Navajo transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Navajo Indians weren't coastal people, and rarely traveled by river. Originally they just walked. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe, so the Navajos used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. Once Europeans brought horses to America, the Navajos could travel more quickly than before.

What was Navajo food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Navajos were farming people. They raised crops of corn, beans, and squash. Navajo men also hunted deer, antelope, and small game, while women gathered nuts, fruits, and herbs. Traditional Navajo people do not go fishing, since it is not acceptable to eat fish in Navajo religion. After the Spanish introduced domestic sheep and goats, the Navajos began raising herds of these animals for their meat and wool as well. Here is a website with more information about Native American agriculture.

What were Navajo weapons and tools like in the past?
Navajo hunters used bows and arrows. In war, Navajo men fired their bows or fought with spears and rawhide shields. Here is a website with pictures and information about the Indian bow and other traditional weapons.. Navajo tools included wooden hoes and rakes for farming, spindles and looms for weaving, and pump drills for boring holes in turquoise and other beads.

What other Native Americans did the Navajo tribe interact with?
The Navajos traded regularly with other tribes of the Southwest. Their favorite trading partners were the Pueblo tribes. The Pueblo and Navajo Indians exchanged not only trade goods but customs, fashions and technology as well. Other times, the Navajos fought against the Pueblos and other neighboring tribes such as the Apaches and Utes. Usually these were raiding battles, not all-out wars. The Navajos had different ideas about war than Europeans did. The Europeans considered a direct attack honorable but thought sneaking in and stealing things was cowardly. But to the Navajos, stealthily raiding another tribe's camp was a brave deed because it meant risking their own lives, while attacking the camp openly would be shameful because children and old people were likely to be hurt.

What are Navajo arts and crafts like?
Navajo artists are famous for their colorful woven rugs and turquoise jewelry. They also made Southwestern pottery, coil baskets, and sandpaintings. Here is a good site on the history of Navajo rug weaving.

What kinds of stories do the Navajos tell?
There are lots of traditional Navajo legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Navajo Indian culture. Here is a Navajo story about the trickster Coyote killing a giant. Here's a website where you can read more about Navajo mythology.

What about Navajo religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Navajo life, and many people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Navajo people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Navajo religion or this site about Indian customs and beliefs in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Alice Yazzie's Year, a historical story about a Navajo girl and her family. Younger children may like How the Stars Fell into the Sky, a picture book of a traditional Navajo legend. Songs from the Loom is an illustrated biography of a modern Navajo girl which makes a great introduction to Navajo life today. If you want to know more about Navajo culture and history, two good books are The Navajos and First Americans: The Navajo. Finally, kids with an interest in military history may like to read Code Talker, based on the true story of how Navajo Marines used their language as a secret code to help the United States win World War II. You can also browse through our recommendations of Native American literature in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Navajo Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Navajos

Navajo Indian Tribe
An overview of the Navajo people, their language and history.

Navajo Language Resources
Navajo language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Navajo Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Navajo tribe past and present.

Navajo Words
Navajo Indian vocabulary lists.

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