The late 1600’s Spanish conquistadors entered their

The Dine, or the Navajo,
are a southwestern tribe that has thrived on the great plains and in the four
corners area since the 1500’s. Previous to settling in the southwest, The
Navajo people “lived in the western part of Canada”, belonging to a group
called the Athapaskans (“The Navajo Indians”) Eventually, they began their long
migration south, with a handful settling on the Pacific coast. Those on the
coast are now known as the New Coast Indian Tribe. Before finally settling in
what would soon be called ‘Dine Bikeyah’, or ‘Navajo Land’, few settled in
“southern Arizona and New Mexico eventually became the different Apache
tribes” (“The Navajo Indians”).  During
the 1500’s The Navajos’ start in what is now New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and
Colorado was greeted by the Pueblo tribes already living in the area near the
promising land. The Pueblos taught them how weave, make clothing suitable for
the weather, and visual arts that were, and have been a part of Navajo
traditions for a multitude of decades. In the mid to late 1600’s Spanish
conquistadors entered their territory. Offering to trade clothing and food for
Navajo sheep. As Spaniards built towns and settled around Dine Bikeyah, Navajo
creators saw an opportunity in trade and sharing their culture with these
foreigners. Navajo trades men and crafts men set up trading posts in Spanish
towns to barter their handmade good for daily necessities. In the late 1700’s
and early 1800’s, Spaniards and Mexicans “began to take violent action against
the Navajo tribes” (“Navajo Indians”) raids against Navajo camps, a scare
tactic they used to gain more territory, by taking it from the Navajo. This
aggressive form of relocation left the Navajo no choice but to fight back,
retreat, or surrender. While only two thirds surrendered, few escaped to the
mountains and canyons to avoid capture. After years of the Spanish and Mexicans
raiding Navajo camps, an American, General James Carleton, proposed the idea of
relocation. Similar to actions taken towards eastern North American tribes,
General Carleton commissioned a fort; Fort Sumner, to be built and for it to
become a Navajo reservation. Leading to the full relocation of the Navajo
Tribe, General Carleton captured more than 5,000 Navajo, keeping them as
prisoners until the remaining tribes’ men surrendered. Of the Navajo People at
the time, “eventually about 2/3 of them surrendered.” To U.S. military wishes
(“Navajo Indians”).  In March of 1864, the
tribe was forced to walk 300 miles to Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico. This
long and deadly trek is now known as ‘The Long Walk’. In 1868, a treaty between
the Navajo and the American Government permitted the tribe their freedom from Fort
Sumner and territory to call their own. During their four years within the
walls of Fort Sumner, The Navajo remained resilient, and continue to prove so.

            Throughout the journey of the Navajo tribe, their culture
and beliefs are showcased in their ritual ceremonies and handmade arts. Before
being introduced to a visual form of arts by the Pueblos, the Navajo were
hunters and gatherers mostly passing their traditions generation to generation
through stories and ceremonies dedicated to things like corn and rain. Though
previously a verbal form of art was common within the tribe, the earliest found
form of Navajo craftsmanship was pottery. Initially created for ceremonial use,
clay and adobe pottery was painted with melted Pinon pitch, to glaze and
waterproof the piece. The grey and black marking sometimes seen on the surface
of Navajo pottery is called ‘Fire Clouds’ and is caused by direct contact with
the fire during the baking process. Traditionally, this form of pottery was
plain, but in recent years, they are more commonly found with etched and carved
designs on the surface. A more unique form of Navajo art is known as sand
painting. Sand paining is when an artist takes a variety of colored sand such
as red, brown, and white, to tell a story. 
This unique form of temporary art is said to be passed down from the
Holy People, or the first man and woman of Navajo. Sand painting is
traditionally for ceremonies, telling stories, and a visual representation of
sacred songs. While currently some artist use adhesive to make these paintings
permanent and others paint for live audiences, most are made for Navajo
individuals and family only. Along with sand painting, it is said that the Holy
People also passed down the art of weaving. Stories say that the Holy People
gave the instructions to Spider Woman on how to build a loom. With the
instructions gifted to her, she used her thread to make one of the first woven
pieces in a Navajo style. Spider Woman then went on to teach other Navajo women
how to weave, those women then continued to pass the art all they way down to
current generations. With skilled passed from mother to daughter, Navajo rugs
and blankets are known world wide for the stylistic use of thread and patterns.
Another form of weaving passed down from the Holy People is wedding baskets.
These baskets closely resemble shallow bowels and are used for ceremonies;
recently they are also used as décor. Each color showcased by the intricate,
hand woven design represents an event or a spiritual belief. For example, the
lighter outer rim represents the approaching dawn and the black woven into some
pieces darkness and a time to restore bodies and minds.  Though all of these arts represent Navajo
culture, the most iconic display of the Navajo people is the combination of
silversmithing and Turquoise. Near the middle of the nineteenth century,
silversmithing was introduced to the Navajo by the Spanish and Mexicans. To get
sterling silver, craftsmen would melt down American silver dollars and Mexican
pesos to create necklaces and bracelets; left plain or engraved with intricate
designs. In truth, the Navajo did not start working with turquoise until after
the “Long Walk.” Previously, turquoise was only used as a ceremonial item.
While still used as such, turquoise is extremely popular in Navajo jewelry,
still holding its place as a representation of wellbeing in an individual. All
Navajo arts are beautiful representations of Navajo culture. In todays modern
world, these distinct forms of arts are recognized nationally and internationally
as Navajo culture and pride.

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  After the discovery of oil on Navajo land in
1923, a tribal government was established. Years later, the break out of World War
two lead to the use of the Navajo language as code. The Navajo Code Talkers became
a crucial element in the allies’ success in the war. A monument at Window Rock,
a Navajo Nation landmark, marks the code talkers’ success in the war. Currently,
Dine Bikeyah is larger than ten of the fifty states within America. Still occupying
the southwestern part of the United States, the Navajo Nation’s population now surpasses
250,000 and has its own stable economy. As the largest federally recognized Native
American tribe, the Navajo have effectively shared their culture with the United
States, and with the world through their striking history, interesting beliefs,
and through their mastery of traditional arts.  

 

 

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