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Navajo Indians

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Navajo Indians, numbering about 20,000, constitute the largest group


of Indians belonging to the Athapaskan, or Dn stock. Other groups of the
same stock are the Apaches (Nd), Lipanes (Lipa Nd), Hupas of California,
and various Dn tribe inhabiting British Columbia and Alaska (see
DNS). This points to a migration of the Navajo, centuries ago, from the
extreme north. They themselves have a vague tradition of the "Din
Nahodoni", i.e., "other Navajos", living far away. According to their myths
they emerged from lower worlds somewhere in the San Juan Mountains in
southwest Colorado. At present they occupy an extensive reservation in the
north-east corner of Arizona and the northwest corner of New Mexico; but
many of them live beyond its borders, especially towards the south.
Formerly their habitat extended somewhat farther to the north-east.
They are first mentioned in the writings of Zarate-Salmern in 1626,
as Apaches de Nabaju. In 1630, a Franciscan, Alonzo Benavides, in his
memorial to the King of Spain, mentions the "Province of
the Apaches of Navajo" and adds that "these of Navajo are very great
farmers, for that is what Navajo signifies great planted fields".
Consequently the word "Navajo" may be derived from
the Spanish word nava meaning "plain, or field". The Navajo call
themselves Din, that is, people. Benavides then mentions the treaty of
peace he concluded between the Navajo and Pueblo Indians at
Santa Clara in 1630. Previous to this date, as Benavides states, and
subsequently, until 1862, an almost continuous
guerrilla war existed between the Navajo and the Pueblo
Indians and Mexicans. The number
of Navajo captives in Mexicanfamilies in 1862 has been estimated between
1500 and 3000. In 1856 Colonel Doniphan made an expedition into Navajo
country, in 1849, Colonel Washington, in 1845 General Sumner. In
1859 war again broke out, and in 1860 the Navajos attacked Fort Defiance.
Colonel Miles and Colonel Bonneville and General Canby made campaigns
against them. When the rebellion broke out and the Texans made their
invasion, all the troops were removed from the Navajo country,
whereupon Navajos rode over the country rough-shod. In 1862 General
Carleton sent Colonel Kit Carson with a force against the Navajos. He

subdued them, and, mainly by killing their stock and destroying their crops,
forced them by starvation to surrender, whereupon about 7300 were
transferred to Fort Sumner in south-eastern New Mexico. About 1500
never surrendered; about 400 fled from Fort Sumner to their old homes.
On 1 June, 1868, General Sherman concluded a treaty with them by which
they were permitted to return.
Ever since they are a peaceful and pastoral people, living by, with, and
off their flocks of sheep and goats. Though the arid character of their
country good for grazing purposes only forces them to lead a
nomadic life, yet most of the families have one abode for their main home,
generally in a well-watered valley, where they raise corn, beans, potatoes,
melons, oats, alfalfa, etc. The Navajo women weave the renown Navajo
blankets, noted for their durability, beauty, and variety of design, and
careful execution, whilst a number of men are clever silversmiths, making
silver necklaces, belts, bracelets, wristlets, rings, buttons, etc., of rare
beauty, out of Mexican silver dollars. They have always been selfsupporting. They have little of the sullen, reticent disposition attributed
to Indians generally, and are cheerful, friendly, hospitable, and industrious.
Their government is democratic; there is no chief over the whole tribe, and
their local chiefs are men of temporary and ill-defined authority, whose
power depends largely upon their personal influence, their eloquence, and
their reputation for wisdom and justice. The tribe is divided into about 58
clans or gentes, grouped under several original
or nuclear clans. Exogamous marriages with Mexicans, Utes, Apaches, but
especially with the neighbouring Pueblo Indians, captured or enslaved and
eventually adopted into the tribe, are responsible for a number of clans. In
consequence there is nothing like a pronounced or a prevailing Navajo type.
Every variety of form and figure can be found among them. Marriage is
contracted early in life. Polygamy and divorce are still prevalent.
Their marriage ceremony is only permissible at the marriage of a virgin.
The vices of abortion, infanticide, race suicide, are practically unknown
among them.
The elaborate system of pagan worship, expressed in chants, sacrifices,
sand painting, dances, ceremonies, some of which last nine days, make
the Navajo appear very religious. Though they have no conception of one
supreme being, their anthropomorphous deities are numerous and
strikingly democratic. The ideas of heaven and hell being unknown to them,
they believe in a hereafter consisting in a life of happiness with the people
of the lower worlds. They are firm believers in witchcraft and charms.
Their pathology is largely mythological. Diseases are attributed
to evil beings, to malign influences of enemies, and to
various occult agencies. Their remedies are largely magical and constitute
an integral part of their religion. The superstitions, ceremonies, and

customs are diligently kept alive by an extraordinarily large number of


medicine men who wield a powerful influence among them.
Though Protestant missionaries have been among the Navajos since the
early eighties, and have at present (1910) eleven different missions,
an hospital, and three small schools, the number of their adherents is very
insignificant.
After the unsuccessful attempt of Fray Benavides in 1630
to Christianize the Navajos, Padre Menchero, in 1746, induced several
hundred to settle at Cebolleta, now a Mexican town north of Laguna; but
the enterprise soon came to an end. In 1749 Padre Menchero made another
attempt, re-establishing the Ceboleta mission and founding another
at Encinal, now a Laguna village; but on 24 June, 1750,
the Indians abandoned them to return to their wilderness. On 13 October,
1897, the Franciscans of Cincinnati, Ohio, accepted the Navajo mission at
the request of Mgr. Stephan, director of the Bureau
of CatholicIndian Missions, and of Mother Drexel. The Missionaries took
charge at St. Michael's, Arizona, on 7 October, 1898. On 3 December, 1902,
an industrial boarding-school for the Navajos, erected by Mother Drexel,
was opened at St. Michael's, and has since been conducted by her
community, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. At present (1910),
the school is attended by 150 Navajo pupils. A branch chapel was
established at Chin Lee, Arizona, in 1905, and a chapel built at
Lukachukai, Arizona. 231 children and adults have been baptized at St.
Michael's and 78 have made their First Holy Communion. The way has
been prepared: the Navajos are well-disposed toward
the Catholic missionaries and give founded hopes for an abundant harvest
of souls.
Much attention has been given by the Franciscans to the study and
construction of the Navajo language. In 1910 they published "An Ethnologic
Dictionary of the Navajo Language" and also "A Navajo English Catechism
of Christian Doctrine for the Use of Navajo Children"; other works are in
preparation.