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Navajo flag
Total population
180,462 as of 2000 census
Regions with significant populations
United States (New Mexico, Utah, Arizona)

English, Navajo


Navajo Way, Christianity, Native American Church (NAC), other

Related ethnic groups

other Southern Athabascan people

Map of the Navajo Nation

The Navajo Nation (Diné Bikéyah in the Navajo language) is a semi-autonomous Native American homeland covering about 26,000 square miles (67,339 square kilometres, 17 million acres), occupying all of northeastern Arizona, the southeastern portion of Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. It is the largest land area assigned primarily to a Native American jurisdiction within the United States.

The Nation encompasses the land, kinship, language, religion, and the right of its people to govern themselves. Members of the Nation are often known as Navajo but traditionally call themselves Diné (sometimes spelled in English as Dineh) which means "The People" in Navajo.

The 2000 census reported 298,215 Navajo people living throughout the United States, of which 173,987 (58.34%) were within the Navajo Nation boundaries. Of these, 131,166 lived in Arizona (17,512 in Maricopa County, which includes the city of Phoenix).

Because the Navajo Nation includes land in three states, its Division of Economic Development compiles census data for the Navajo Nation as a whole. Another group lives on the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation along the Colorado River in California and Arizona.



Canyon de Chelly
Navajo sandpainting

The Diné's traditional homelands (known as the Dinetah) encompass an area much larger than the modern reservation. It is bounded by the four sacred mountains : Hesperus Peak, Blanca Peak, Mount Taylor and the San Francisco Peaks. The modern boundaries of the Nation itself are the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation at the Four Corners Monument and stretch across the Colorado Plateau into Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.

The Nation surrounds the Hopi Indian Reservation; the Hopi tribe is sometimes known as “Navajo Land Island”.

The seat of government is in the city of Window Rock in Apache County, Arizona. There are several adjacent "Navajo Indian Reservations" (Alamo, Ramah and Tohajiilee) in this area, but they generally function as sub-units of the "Big Rez" (Big Reservation) with considerable local autonomy.

Situated within the Navajo Nation are Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Monument Valley, Rainbow Bridge National Monument, the Hopi Indian Reservation, and the Shiprock landmark.

The Navajo Nation is a complex diagram. The eastern portion of the reservation, in New Mexico is popularly called the "Checkerboard" because Navajo lands are mingled with fee lands (owned by both Navajo and non-Navajo people) and federal and state lands under various jurisdictions.

Large non-contiguous sections of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico are:

The land area of the reservation is 24,078.127 square miles (62,362.062 km²), making it by far the largest Indian reservation in the United States. It is almost exactly the same size as the state of West Virginia; it is slightly larger in land area, but slightly smaller if water area is included (24,096.295 sq mi or 62,409.12 km²).



In descending order of total area (land and water) within each county, the reservation is located in parts of these eleven counties:


The Navajo Nation is recognized as the largest tribe in the United States. Its resident population was 180,462 as of the 2000 census.

Other Native tribes are situated in this area, including several Pueblo nations: Congress established a Hopi (Navajo, Oozéí, or Ayahkinii "underground-house-people") reservation within the Navajo Nation's reservation as a historic homeland where Hopi history predates that of Diné in the area.

Adjacent to or near the Navajo Reservation are the Southern Ute of Colorado, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico, both to the north; the Jicarilla Apache to the east, and other tribes to the west and south. A conflict over shared lands emerged in the 1980s, when the Department of the Interior attempted to relocate Diné living in the Navajo/Hopi Joint Use Area. The conflict was resolved, or at least forestalled, by the award of a 75-year lease to Diné who refused to leave the former shared lands.

Population by county

The 2000 Census reported these population figures, in descending order of population within each county of the reservation:

Communities in Navajo Nation and with large tribal member populations


Navajo hunters outside Sam Day's Trading Post in 1887

Prior to the Long Walk of the Navajo, traditional Navajo government was based upon regional communities and extended family leaders who worked together by consensus. (See Navajo people for more about Navajo traditions.) Europeans have tried to overlay their notions of government upon the Navajo for centuries with the Diné sometimes accepting change as needed.

In 1863 and 1864, as the Anglo settlers' demand for land grew, the United States government forced more than 8,500 Navajo men, women and children to march in harsh winter conditions for hundreds of miles to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico (present-day Ft. Sumner) as part of President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act. Some Navajos were able to escape and hide at Navajo Mountain, along the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers, and in the Grand Canyon. As the march went on, the Navajo were forced to leave their elderly and young children behind to die. Five months later, the Navajos arrived at Bosque Redondo. Many Navajos died at the wretched prison camp, due to poor living conditions. The Navajos were imprisoned for about six years, and released in May 1868. Bosque Redondo had been proved as a miserable failure, because of poor planning, disease, crop infestation and generally poor conditions for agriculture.

After the Long Walk, the United States Government's Indian Policy determined the administration of the reservation. Appointed federal individuals (Indian Agents) essentially ruled the reservation, sometimes relying on the counsel of traditional Navajo methods of government. The current tribal government was established and recognized by the federal government in 1923.

The Diné have refused three times to establish a new government under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Members twice rejected constitutional initiatives offered by the federal government in Washington, first in 1935 and again in 1953. A reservation-based initiative in 1963 failed after some members found the process to be too cumbersome and a possible potential threat to their self-determination. A constitution was drafted and adopted by the governing council but never ratified by the members. The earlier efforts were rejected primarily because members did not find enough freedom in the proposed forms of government to develop their livestock industries, in 1935, and their mineral resources, in 1953.

In 2006, a Committee for a Navajo Constitution started to advocate for a Navajo constitutional convention. The committee's goal is to have representation from every chapter on Navajo Nation represented at a constitution convention. The committee proposes that the convention be held in the traditional na'achid/ modern chapter house manner where every member of the nation wishing to participate, may do so through their home chapters. The committee was formed by three former Navajo Leaders; Kelsey Begaye, Peterson Zah, Peter MacDonald, grass roots organizer Ivan Gamble, and other local political activists according to Indian Country Today.[1]

Modern day

Northern Navajo Fair Shiprock, New Mexico (2009)

Wage employment opportunities, public schools, hospitals, and public utilities have brought Navajo people in larger and larger numbers to urban centers such as Shiprock, Tuba City, Ganado, Fort Defiance and Gallup. A strong sense of tribal identity has kept Navajo culture and social cohesiveness intact, despite the many changes of the last century.

The Navajo Nation works to provide new business opportunities and partnerships with individuals, small business owners, and large commercial/industrial and tourism establishments. In order to become more efficient and accessible, the Navajo Nation is working to upgrade and implement its programs to benefit these burgeoning business relationships.

Opportunities for starting or expanding businesses on the Navajo Nation are not limited to members of the tribe. The Navajo Nation is currently recruiting outside private commercial/industrial and tourism development.

In recent years, the Division of Economic Development (DED) completed a range of developments including the completion of Phase I, Karigan Estates. The development plan included housing for middle- to high-income Navajo families, an office building complex, a restaurant, a commercial area and a day care center.

Tribal membership and citizenship

Each tribe establishes its own requirements for being an enrolled tribal member, which is usually based on "blood quantum." The Navajo Nation requires a blood quantum of one-quarter for a person, the equivalent of having one of four Diné clans, to be an enrolled tribal member and to receive a Certificate of Indian Blood (CIB). In comparison, some tribes require a 1/32 blood quantum for issuing a CIB. In 2004, the Navajo Tribal Council voted down a proposal to reduce the blood quantum to one-eighth, which would have effectively doubled the number of individuals qualified to be enrolled Navajo tribal members.

Tribes with lower or no blood quantum requirements sometimes discover individuals who falsely identify themselves as tribal members, commonly to fraudulently attain Federal and Tribal benefits which are provided to registered members of a Federally recognized tribe.[citation needed]


Navajo girl, Canyon de Chelly, 1941. Photo by Ansel Adams

Historically the Navajo Nation resisted compulsory education, including boarding schools, as imposed by General Richard Henry Pratt.[2]

Education, and the retention of students in all school systems, is a significant priority. A major problem faced by the nation is a very high drop-out rate among high school students. Over 150 public, private and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools serve students from kindergarten through high school. Most schools receive funding from the Navajo Nation under the Johnson O’Malley program.

The Nation also runs a local Head Start, the only educational program operated by the Navajo Nation government. Post-secondary education and vocational training are available on and off the reservation.

Since these drop out rates are high among the Navajo Nation, programs such as the Literacy is Empowering Project help combat these problems. It is a non-profit project which promotes literacy and pre-reading skills for Native children to increase standard academic language.

Secondary education

There are six types of secondary establishments, including:

Navajo Preparatory School

Navajo Preparatory School is the only Navajo-sanctioned, college-preparatory school for Native Americans. Its goals are to offer students a challenging, innovative curriculum in science, math, computers, and other traditional academic subjects, as well as help the youth gain a deep appreciation of the Navajo Language, culture, and history.[3]

Located in Farmington, New Mexico, a few miles outside the Navajo reservation, Navajo Preparatory School's mission is: "To educate talented and motivated college-bound Navajo and other Native American youth who have the potential to succeed in higher education and become leaders in their respective communities."

Diné College

The Navajo Nation operates Diné College, a two-year community college which has its main campus in Tsaile in Apache County, as well as seven other campuses on the reservation. Current enrollment is 1,830 students, of which 210 are degree-seeking transfer students for four-year institutions. The college includes the Center for Diné Studies, whose goal is to apply Navajo Sa'ah Naagháí Bik'eh Hózhóón principles to advance quality student learning through Nitsáhákees (thinking), Nahatá (planning), Iiná (living), and Siihasin (assurance) in study of the Diné language, history, and culture in preparation for further studies and employment in a multi-cultural and technological world.

Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education

The Navajo Nation Board of Education is an 11 member board instructed to oversee the operations of schools on the Navajo Nation and exercise regulatory functions and duties over education programs on the Navajo Nation. It was established by the Navajo Nation education code, Title 10 which was enacted in July 2005 by Navajo Nation Council.

The board acts to promote the goals of the Navajo Sovereignty in Education Act of 2005 which include the establishment and management of a Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education, to confirm the commitment of the Navajo Nation to the education of the Navajo People, to repeal obsolete language and to update and reorganize the existing language of Titles 10 and 2 of the Navajo Nation Code.

It is the educational mission of the Navajo Nation to promote and foster lifelong learning for the Navajo people, and to protect the culture integrity and sovereignty of the Navajo Nation. A Navajo Nation Board of Education meeting is scheduled the first Friday of every month.

Rebecca M. Benally held the Board President position until she stepped down in order to maintain the ability to vote on important issue, in which the board president does not have the power to do.

Through a process of Presidential Appointment and ballot election process, the Board realigned their officers in 2009. The new officers are:

  • Jimmie C. Begay - President (School Administrator Representative)
  • Katherine D. Arviso - Vice President
  • Dolly C. Begay - Secretary
  • Vee F. Browne - Member
  • Virgil Kirk, Jr. - Member
  • Rose J. Yazzie - Member
  • Juanita K. Benally - Member
  • Timothy Bitsilly - Member

Other members include elected representatives from Eastern Navajo Agency, Dolly C. Begay: Western Agency, Dr. Dolly Manson; Ft. Defiance Agency, Katherine Arviso; and Shiprock Agency, Virgil Kirk, Jr. Presidential-appointed members are Juanita Benally-Navajo Culture Representative, .

Tommy Lewis Incident

In July 2007, on a vote of 5-2, the Navajo Nation Board of Education voted to release Superintendent of Schools Dr. Tommy Lewis from his job for lack of performance, claiming that Lewis was slow to implement a strategic plan to improve the tribe's education program. Eddie Biakeddy, second-in-command at the time, was appointed acting superintendent. The board then began advertising the job position immediately.[4]

I believe as we move forward for Navajo Nation education systems, as leaders we have to take a stand, Benally said. And I believe that as the Navajo Nation Board of Education we have, because we observed stagnation in a position that should have had a vision to provide a better quality education for our children. That wasn't happening.

Lewis filed a complaint with the Navajo Office of Labor Relations, claiming that his dismissal was an unjust violation of Diné Fundamental Law; the tribe was thus prevented from seeking a permanent replacement while the Lewis case was pending, holding up important issues at his behest.

The Navajo Nation Tribal Council Committee of Education reached a monetary settlement with Lewis in April 2008; however the Navajo Nation Board of Education remained consistent to its earlier decision on terminating Lewis.[5]


Diné government is unique in several ways. The Navajo Nation is divided into five Agencies. These are similar to provincial entities and match the five Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) agencies which support the Nation. The smallest political units are the Chapters, similar to counties. The Navajo Nation Council presently consists of 88 delegates representing the 110 Chapters, elected every four years by registered Navajo voters. As reorganized in 1991, the Nation's government at the capital in Window Rock has a three branch system: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial.

On December 15, 2009, the voters of the Navajo Nation decided to reduce the Council from 88 delegates to just 24 delegates. Navajos did this as an effort to have a more efficient government and to curb rampant tribal government corruption. [6]

The United States still asserts plenary power to require the Navajo Nation to submit all proposed laws to the United States Secretary of the Interior for Secretarial Review, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Most conflicts and controversies between the federal government and the Nation are settled by negotiation and by political agreements. Laws of the Navajo Nation are currently codified in the Navajo Nation Code. The Bureau of Indian Affairs maintains five Indian Agencies within the Navajo Indian Reservation: Chinle, Eastern, Western, Fort Defiance, and Shiprock. The Agencies provide various technical services under direction of the BIA's Navajo Area Office in Gallup, New Mexico.

Local and federal law enforcement agencies that routinely work within the Navajo Nation include the Navajo Division of Public Safety, with the Navajo Nation Police (formerly the "Navajo Tribal Police"), Navajo Nation Resource Enforcement (Navajo Rangers, the BIA Police (Ute Mountain Agency, Hopi Agency, and Division of Drug Enforcement), Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife - Wildlife Law Enforcement and Animal Control Sections, Nation Nation Forestry Law Enforcement Officers, Nation Nation EPA Criminal Enforcement Section, Apache County Sheriff's Office, McKinley County Sheriff's Office, US Marshals and the Federal Bureau of Investigation

The Navajo governing council continues a historical practice of prohibiting alcohol sales within reservation boundaries. Leaders and some member groups actively oppose the sale of alcohol, and have taken several measures to find and offer treatment for those members who are suffering from alcoholism.

There is no private land ownership within the Navajo Nation - all land is owned in common and administered by the Nation's government. Leases are made both to customary land users (for homesites, grazing, and other uses) and to organizations, including the BIA and other federal agencies, churches and other religious organizations, and businesses.

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr. addressed the Navajo Nation Council in the annual State of the Navajo Nation Address on January 24, 2005 and presented his conviction to develop a new governing document for the Navajo Nation. President Shirley, who campaigned to return government to the Diné by government reform, stated that the document must establish the structure and authority of a central government.

Political leadership

Office of President and Vice-President

  • 2007-Present — Navajo Nation President — Joe Shirley Jr.
    • Navajo Nation Vice-President — Ben Shelly
  • 2002-2006 — NN President — Joe Shirley Jr. (D)
    • NN Vice-President — Frank Dayish Jr. (R)
  • 1998-2002 — NN President — Kelsey A. Begaye (D)
  • 1998-1998 — NN President — Milton Bluehouse Sr. (D)(Interim)
  • 1998-1998 — NN President — Thomas Atcitty (D)(Interim)
  • 1994-1998 — NN President — Albert Hale (D)
  • 1991-1994 — NN President — Peterson Zah (D)
    • NN Vice-President — Marshall Plummer
  • 1988-1991 — NN Chairman — Leonard Haskie (Interim)
  • 1987-1988 — NN Chairman — Peter MacDonald (R)
    • NN Vice-Chairman — Johnny R. Thompson (D)
  • 1983-1987 — NN Chairman — Peterson Zah (D)
    • NN Vice-Chairman — Edward T. Begay (D)

2006 elections

Eleven (11) candidates ran in the 2006 Primary Elections:

  • Joe Shirley Jr. (Chinle)
  • Frank Dayish Jr. (Shiprock)
  • Ernest Harry Begay (Rock Point)
  • Lynda Lovejoy (Crownpoint)
  • James Henderson (Ganado)
  • Calvin Tsosie (Yatahey)
  • Wilbur Nelson (?)
  • Harrison Todichinii (Shiprock)
  • Vern Lee (Kirtland)
  • Jennifer Rocha (Crownpoint)

The Primary winners faced off in the General Elections in November 2006:

In 2006, Lynda Lovejoy was the first woman to ever make it to the General elections in modern Navajo Nation History, squaring off against the incumbent. Three days after the primaries Lynda Lovejoy selected Walter Phelps Jr. of Leupp, Arizona as her running mate. Although both candidates were Navajo members, Phelps did live off the reservation prior to running for the Vice-Presidential nomination which in retrospect contributed to the downfall of her campaign.

The following day Joe Shirley selected veteran-Navajo Tribal Councilman Bennie Shelly of Thoreau, New Mexico as his running mate. Both sides of the campaign teams ran strong platforms before the Navajo voters with the Shirley/Shelly campaign over all winning re-election.

21st Navajo Nation Council

The 21st Navajo Nation Council convened immediately after the inauguration of the 6th President of the Navajo Nation, the Honorable Joe Shirley Jr. was once again sworn in as President for a 2nd term, with Vice-President elect Ben Shelly.

Two term Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council, Lawrence T. Morgan ran for a 3rd term as Speaker of the Council, while running against Fort Defiance Council Delegate Harold Wauneka in a run-off. Speaker Morgan captured a 3rd consecutive win, as Speaker of the 21st Navajo Nation Council.

Notable council delegates

  • Omer Begay Jr. (Cornfields, Greasewood, Klagetoh and Wide Ruins Chapters)

Orlanda Smith Hodge (Cornfields, Greasewood, Klagetoh and Wide Ruins Chapters)

Past Speakers of the Navajo Nation Council

  • Nelson Gorman Jr. (Chinle)
  • Kelsey A Begaye (Kaibito)
  • Edward T. Begay (Churchrock)


In April 2006, Navajo Nation Council Speaker Lawrence Morgan faced a charge of criminal battery when he confronted and pushed Council Delegate Mark Maryboy in the council chambers men's restroom. Aneth Chapter members had demanded Morgan issue a public apology, following the bathroom scuffle. Speaker Morgan ignored the Aneth meeting, overall never presenting himself.[7]

Investigators attempted to contact Morgan the following days after the incident. Public safety officials said that they believe Morgan stayed off the reservation to avoid possible arrest.

In an unrelated incident, Morgan was arrested on a warrant after he was pulled over by the Navajo Nation Police Dept. for failure to stop at a stop sign not too far from the council chambers.[7]

Government issues


The Navajo Nation economy includes traditional endeavors such as sheep and cattle herding, fiber production, weaving, jewelry making, and art trading. Newer industries include coal and uranium mining, though the uranium market slowed near the end of the 20th century. The Navajo Nation's extensive mineral resources are among the most valuable held by Native American nations within the United States.

One important business within the reservation is the operation of handmade arts and crafts shops. A 2004 study by the Navajo Division of Economic Development found that at least 60 percent of all families have at least one member working in this line.

The first issue of Rez Biz magazine.

Navajos work at stores and other businesses on the reservation or in nearby towns, and the Navajo government employs thousands in civil service and administrative jobs.

Until 2004, the Navajo Nation declined to join other Native American nations within the United States in opening a gambling casino. That year, the nation signed a compact with New Mexico to operate a casino at To'hajiilee, near Albuquerque. Navajo leaders were also negotiating with Arizona officials over the opening of casinos near Flagstaff, Lake Powell, Winslow, Sanders (Nahata Dziil Chapter), and Cameron (the Grand Canyon entrance).

Dine Development Corporation was formed in 2004 to promote Navajo business and seek viable business development.[8]

The Black Mesa and Lake Powell railroad serves one of the coal mines in the Diné region, carrying coal to the Navajo Generating Station at Page, Arizona. Another mine in the area, Peabody Energy's Black Mesa coal mine near Kayenta, a controversial strip mine, was shut down on December 31, 2005 for its emission credits. This mine fed the Mohave Power Station at Laughlin, Nevada, via a slurry pipeline that used water from the Black Mesa aquifer.

In early 2008, the Navajo Nation and Boston-based Citizens Energy Corp. reached a deal to build a 500-megawatt wind farm some 50 miles north of Flagstaff, AZ. Known as the Diné Wind Project, it will be the first commercial wind farm in Arizona. However disagreement between the central Navajo government and the local Cameron Chapter have led to confusion as to whether Citizens Energy or another company vetted by the local government will be able to develop on the chapter land.[9]

The unemployment level fluctuates between an overall 40 and 45 percent for the nation of reported taxed income, but in some communities it can go as high as 85 percent or as low as 15 percent.[10]

Navajo Nation tax incentives

At this time, the Navajo Nation does not tax corporate income, inventories, and personal income. Additionally, the Nation does not have property or unemployment tax (although this is subject to change).

In general, taxation on the Navajo Nation is lower in comparison to other places in the United States. This is particularly true for businesses which are newly established or which have expanded their operation onto the Navajo Nation. There are a number of federal and state tax incentives currently in place.

Currently, The Navajo Nation charges a 4.0 % tax on all retail sales, all local business on the Navajo Nation pay this amount.[11]

Daylight Saving Time

The Nation is the only region within the state of Arizona that observes Daylight Saving Time, in view of the fact that parts of the Nation are located within two other states. The remainder of Arizona is the only part of the continental United States that does not change its clocks.[12]

Housing and transportation

Currently, Navajo Housing Authority, the tribally designated housing entity for the Navajo Nation, has begun construction of new homes on the Navajo Nation with new materials which are more cost-effective and less prone to fire damage. Among the six agencies of the Navajo Nation, NHA housing developments exist. There is also the option for many families to build scattered-site homes on their traditional homesite lease.

"Hooghan," means the home for Navajos and it is the center of learning, and the traditional style of home of the Navajo is the hogan. Most modern housing in the Navajo Nation is detached single-family homes and mobile homes. Most homes in the Navajo Nation were built in the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s, although older built homes do exist. Single-family homes are mostly rural-styled homes constructed of wood. Because many homes do not have access to natural gas and electricity, most homes use wood or propane for heat and cooking. Due to the reservation's remote geographic location, many structures do not have telephone or public utility services and lack complete kitchen or plumbing facilities. However, infrastructure development has grown significantly through the years, affording Navajo families the modern conveniences of DSL, satellite television and even wireless access in some communities. The government subsidized phone program has brought even the most remote locations of the reservation in contact with the rest of the Navajo Nation.

Roads within the reservation vary in condition. Most federally operated U.S. highways are in excellent condition year-round and are suitable for vehicles of any size. Roads are generally unpaved in many rural areas and small villages. In the central parts of the Navajo Nation, near the Black Mesa (Arizona), roads are often only poorly maintained, and are sometimes in nearly unusable condition after very heavy rains. In general, except for the most remote regions, road conditions in the Navajo Nation are usually acceptable for routine use.


For a people that historically had almost no cases, currently several types of cancer are in evidence at rates higher than the national average on the Four Corners Navajo Reservation. (Raloff, 2004) Especially high are the rates of reproductive-organ cancers in teenage Navajo girls, averaging seventeen times higher than the average of girls in the United States.

Navajo woman & child

It has been suspected that uranium mines, both active and abandoned, have released dust into the surrounding air and the water supply. Studies done on mice, exposing them to a soluble form of uranium similar to what might enter groundwater from the mines, showed heavy increases in estrogen levels which might explain the increased cancer levels among Navajo girls. The amount of uranium given to the mice was half the level permitted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and one-tenth the level found in some wells on the Navajo reservation.

Diabetes mellitus is a major health problem among the Navajo, Hopi and Pima tribes, about four times higher than the age-standardized U.S. estimate. Medical researchers believe increased consumption of carbohydrates, coupled with genetic factors, play significant roles in the emergence of this chronic disease.[13]

One in every 2,500 children in the Navajo population inherits Severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), a condition that endows the children with virtually no immune system. In the general population the genetic disorder is much more rare, affecting one in 100,000 children. The disorder is sometimes known as "bubble boy disease." This condition is a significant cause of illness and death among Navajo children. Research reveals a similar genetic pattern among the related Apache people. In a December 2007 Associated Press article, Mortan Cowan, M.D., director of the Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Program at the University of California-San Fransciso, noted that although researchers have identified about a dozen genes that cause SCID, the Navajo/Apache population has the most severe form of the disorder. This is due to the lack of a gene designated "Artemis." Without the gene, children's bodies are unable to repair DNA or develop disease-fighting cells. (Fonseca, Salt Lake Tribune, B10)


From 1944 to 1986, 3.9 million tons of uranium ore were chiseled and blasted from the mountains and plains. The mines provided uranium for the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort to develop an atomic bomb, and for the weapons stockpile built up during the arms race with the Soviet Union.[14]

Private companies operated the mines with the U.S. government as the sole customer. The boom lasted through the early 1960s. As the threat of the Cold War gradually diminished over the next two decades, four processing mills and more than 1,000 mines on tribal land shut down, leaving behind radioactive waste piles, open tunnels and pits. Few bothered to fence the properties or post warning signs. Federal inspectors seldom intervened.[14]

Over the decades, Navajos residing in the area inhaled radioactive dust from the waste piles, borne aloft by desert winds. They drank water contaminated from rain filled abandoned pit mines. They watered their herds, then butchered the animals and ate the meat.[15]

Lung cancer

The uranium miners of the West, many of whom were Navajo, had their health compromised by the U.S. nuclear weapons program. According to epidemiologist David Michaels, the Atomic Energy Commission knew that miners on the Colorado Plateau received some of the highest doses of radon (a radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil and rock) ever recorded.[16] Stewart Udall, former Secretary of the Interior, documented the complicity of the AEC and the U.S. Public Health Service in allowing thousands of miners to work in an environment so full of radon that a sizeable proportion of workers would eventually develop lung cancer. The AEC successfully opposed several court cases relating to this issue.[16]

Clean-up efforts

Despite efforts made in cleaning up uranium sites, significant problems stemming from the legacy of uranium development still exist today on the Navajo Nation in the states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Hundreds of abandoned mines have not been cleaned up and present environmental and health risks in many Navajo communities.[14] At the request of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in October 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Indian Health Service (IHS), developed a coordinated Five-Year Plan to address uranium contamination in consultation with Navajo Nation EPA.[17]

In addition, Navajo communities now have to face proposed new uranium solution mining that threatens the only source of drinking water for 10,000 to 15,000 people living in the Eastern Navajo Agency in northwestern New Mexico. The Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) aims to provide the public with information on resource exploitation on the people and their cultures, lands, water, and air of the American Southwest.[18]

Notable Navajo people

General Douglas MacArthur meeting Navajo, Pima, Pawnee and other Native American troops.

Notable Navajo politicians

  • Leonard Tsosie, Navajo Tribal Councilman (Whitehorse/Torreon//Pueblo Pintado) / Fmr. State Senator - District 22, New Mexico Senate
  • Annie Dodge Wauneka, Former Navajo Tribal Councilwoman
  • Edward T. Begaye, Fmr. Navajo Nation Speaker (Churchrock/Baahali)
  • Annie Deschiney, Fmr. Navajo Nation Councilwoman (Churchrock/Baahaali)
  • Peter MacDonald, Former Navajo Tribal Chairman
  • Ernest Nez Sr., Fmr. Navajo Nation Council Delegate (St. Michaels)
  • Albert E. Ross, Jr., Fmr. Navajo Nation Council Delegate, Fmr. Chapter President (St. Michaels)
  • Rapheal Martin, Pinedale Chapter President
  • Kenneth Maryboy (Aneth/Red Mesa/Mexican Water), helped initiate the Navajo Santa Program for poverty stricken Navajo families
  • Joe Shirley, Jr., President of the Navajo Nation
  • Shawnevan Dale, President of Wide Ruins Chapter (2004-2007) Elected at age 24. Fought for rights of Navajos and against Racial Profiling of Navajos by Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Musicians and media artists

  • Klee Benally, documentary filmmaker[19]
  • Kaibah Bennett, Navajo Nation soloist
  • Blackfire, Navajo punk rock group
  • Radmilla Cody, renowned traditional singer
  • William Morgan, Sr., linguist, author of Navajo dictionaries
  • R. Carlos Nakai, Native American flutist
  • Navajo Nation Swingers and the Navajo Song N' Dance Group
  • Dan Jim Nez, Navajo soloist
  • Jay Tavare, actor
  • Malachi Thistle, singer
  • Joe Tohonnie Jr., singer
  • James and Ernie, comic duo
  • Sharon Burch, Singer
  • Reggie Micheal, martial artist

Notable Navajo visual artists

Navajo sandpainting, circa 1900

Navajo writers

See also


  1. ^ Lee, Tanya. Navajo group begins process of crafting a constitution Indian Country Today. 19 June 2006 (retrieved 5 Oct 2009)
  2. ^ Removing Classrooms from the Battlefield: Liberty, Paternalism, and the Redemptive Promise of Educational Choice, 2008 BYU Law Review 377 The Navajo and Richard Henry Pratt
  3. ^ a b Navajo Prepatory School
  4. ^ Helms, Kathy. Navajo schools superintendent fired. Gallup Independent. 1 Aug 2007 (retrieved 5 Oct 2009)
  5. ^ Fonseca, Felicia. Navajo Nation settles with former education superintendent . News from Indian Country. (retrieved 5 Oct 2009)
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Johnson, Natasha Kaye. "Push Comes to Shove: Speaker Morgan accused of battery against council delegate Maryboy." Gallup Independent. 22 April 2006 (retrieved 5 Oct 2009)
  8. ^ Diné Development Corporation. (retrieved 5 Oct 2009)
  9. ^ "Rez ready to develop wind power" by Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press, March 28, 2008|150px|
  10. ^ "Navajo Division of Economic Development". Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  11. ^ "Navajo Nation sales tax to rise one percent on July 1." The Navajo Nation: Office of the President and Vice President. 30 March 2007 (retrieved 15 Jan 2009)
  12. ^ Arizona Time Zone
  13. ^ American Indians and Alaska Natives and Diabetes. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse.
  14. ^ a b c Pasternak, Judy. "A peril that dwelt among the Navajos." Los Angeles Times. 19 Nov 2006 (retrieved 5 Oct 2009)
  15. ^ Raloff, Janet. Uranium, the newest 'hormone'. Science News. Vol. 166, #20. 13 Nov 2004 (retrieved 5 Oct 2009)
  16. ^ a b David Michaels (2008). Doubt is Their Product, Oxford University Press, pp. 219-220.
  17. ^ "Summit to address uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation." US Environmental Protection Agency. 13 Aug 2008 (retrieved 5 Oct 2009)
  18. ^ "Environmental Impacts on the Navajo Nation from Uranium Mining." Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College. (retrieved 5 Oct 2009)
  19. ^ Klee Benally

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Explore Navajo museum, Tuba City
Explore Navajo museum, Tuba City

The Navajo Nation [1] occupies a large portion of northeastern Arizona, as well as part of northwestern New Mexico and southern Utah. Its capital is at Window Rock, Arizona.


Covering 27,000 square miles (70,000 square kilometers), the Navajo Nation is the single largest Native American reservation in the United States.

Driving in the Painted Desert
Driving in the Painted Desert

Drive. Navajo Nation is far from major airports, and commuter air service into Farmington and Gallup on the New Mexico side is marginal and leaves you a long way from most of the reservation. Rail service is similarly marginal and distant, although the Amtrak line between Albuquerque and Flagstaff passes through Gallup and along the southern side of the reservation.

Window Rock, administrative center of Navajo Nation, is relatively close to Interstate 40 near the New Mexico-Arizona state line. It and the other major settlements on the reservation (Ganado, Chinle, Kayenta) are reachable by good roads.

Get around

Because this area consists of vast stretches of open land a car is necessary to get around. Be sure to fill up your gas tank when you have the opportunity. Service stations are few and far between in this region.

State line survey marker near Teec Nos Pos, Arizona
State line survey marker near Teec Nos Pos, Arizona
  • The largest fair of the Navajo Nation takes place during the fall in Shiprock, New Mexico [2]. If you are in the area, it can be an interesting stop with a market fair. Not all that is sold at the market fair is Indian art, in fact, you'll find a lot of rap CD's and t-shirts harboring the name of bands loved by those below the age of 20. Nonetheless, there is Indian art to be found in some respect. You'll also find standard rides that should keep the younger entertained. Of more appreciable cultural interest are the rodeos and Indian dances. While not warranting a 2-day detour to the area, it may be worthwhile to take a day, if you are reasonably close, and time your visit with the traditional dance contest and the pow-wow. Both events consist of traditional Navajo dancing and singing. You'll also be able to enjoy Navajo burgers while you're there.


Navajo Weavings

The characteristic folk art of the Navajo is the Navajo rug (or blanket). Each region of the reservation has its own characteristic style of weavings, with a few patterns that can be found reservation-wide. As with other folk art, quality and prices vary wildly; small items for the tourist trade can be had for as little as $20 or so, while a gigantic, museum-quality (but brand-new rather than antique) rug from the prestigious "Two Grey Hills" region sold for $60,000 at a Santa Fe Indian Market a few years ago. The key thing to remember is that the value of a particular weaving is the value you place on it. If you see a piece you like, haggle over price if you wish; if you don't get the price you want, look for another one.

Beware of non-authentic imports from Mexico and overseas carried by unscrupulous "dealers" that have tried to capitalize on the market for Navajo work. Many of the "tourist traps" of the region, particularly those just off the reservation, are plagued with these, but most sources on the reservation itself are entirely aboveboard. Some reliable sources of rugs:

  • Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site [3], in Arizona, is a unit of the United States National Park Service that preserves a historic trading post on the reservation, and is a good starting point for looking at rugs. There is often a weaver on the premises who will be actively working on a rug (and should not be disturbed while at it -- she's likely to speak only Navajo) along with interpretive exhibits. The post also has a reasonable selection of rugs for sale at competitive prices. (They're in a back room that may not be obvious amid the usual tourist paraphernalia; ask.)
  • There are several other trading posts on the reservation that still are "working" posts, in the sense that they function not just as distribution points for goods bound into the reservation, but also places where weavers and other artisans can trade their rugs for goods or put them up for sale on a commission basis. Selections tend to be small, but the quality is usually very good (the trading-post operators don't bother with junk) and prices are better than in the galleries of off-reservation art centers like Santa Fe. Many of the reputable posts are off the beaten path -- sometimes far off it. Three worth visiting are at Two Grey Hills and Crystal in New Mexico, and the extremely remote Shonto in Arizona.
  • For the less adventurous, most of the towns on the reservation have galleries with good reputations for authenticity, although you'll pay more for a given rug there than at the posts. Selections tend to be broader than at the posts. Reputable galleries are in Ganado, Kayenta, Monument Valley and Teec Nos Pos in Arizona, and Bluff in Utah, among others.
  • Possibly the most entertaining way of getting a rug, and one that can offer excellent value for dollar along with a fascinating cultural experience, is at a rug auction. If you're in the area on the second or third Friday of every month (2007 - July 13; August 17; September 14; October 12; November 16; December 14), Crownpoint, a tiny town between Farmington and Grants, hosts the Crownpoint Rug Auction [4]. The Crownpoint Rug Auction gives buyers the unique opportunity to purchase Navajo rugs directly from the weavers themselves, at prices well below retail. Before the actual auction, you can hold rugs in your hands and appreciate them up close. Some sell for $50 or less, and some sell for thousands of dollars. Value for dollar is particularly good during the spring. Weavers come from all over Navajo Nation to sell rugs at Crownpoint. Even if you don't buy anything, you are in for a treat. No two rugs are alike!

Pottery and Jewelry

Most reservation centers that sell weavings also sell pottery and jewelry made in Navajo Nation. Navajo silver work, including concho belts, tends to be of a very high quality. The pottery is quite different from that of the Pueblo Indians to the east, but good Navajo pottery is still an art form and well worth collecting. Two warnings are necessary, however. First, you don't have to get very far out of Navajo Nation to encounter bogus "trading posts" in which the goods are not Navajo at all, but rather cheap imports. This is particularly a problem with jewelry. Second, removal of "prehistoric" pottery from Navajo Nation is strongly discouraged and likely illegal; it is certainly illegal to obtain such work from excavations of archaeological sites, whether acknowledged or not. Settle for the modern stuff; it still qualifies as entirely authentic Navajo arts and crafts.


One of the characteristic food items of the Navajo Nation is "frybread." This is a flat bread about the diameter of a common tortilla, but quite different from a tortilla in that the process of preparing it (via frying rather than baking) causes it to become crisp and develop bubbles and pockets, so that it more closely resembles the sopaipilla of northern New Mexico. Frybread is eaten alone, with powdered sugar or honey as a dessert, or piled high with lettuce, tomato, cheese, ground beef or chili beans; the latter form is commonly called a "Navajo taco," although it has little to do with a conventional taco beyond the fact that it shares many of the same ingredients. Navajo tacos and other frybread dishes can be found at restaurants, and roadside stands, throughout the reservation, many of which also feature distinctive mutton dishes.


Alcohol in any form is prohibited within Navajo Nation. If you simply must have a beer, Flagstaff (Arizona), Farmington (New Mexico), and Gallup (New Mexico) are just outside the borders of the reservation. Don't expect to be welcomed with open arms at bars in the latter two, as bars there have serious problems connected with alcoholism on the reservation. The presence of Northern Arizona University at Flagstaff makes night life in town somewhat more convivial, if still limited.

  • Kayenta has several motels and motor lodges, of which the Best Western Wetherill Inn is notable for the attached gift shop/gallery with a surprisingly good and reasonably-priced selection of Navajo rugs. On US 163, phone (928) 697-3231; rooms from $55.
  • Goulding's Trading Post and Lodge, in Monument Valley, Utah, is in a beautiful location, also offers Navajo rugs on-site, and has a good reputation. Try it and write a review here.
  • The Hopi Indian Reservation is embedded in the western part of Navajo Nation. The Hopi are ethnically distinct from the Navajo; continuing land disputes between the two tribes led to the creation of a curious "reservation within a reservation" now occupied by the Hopi. Hopi pottery is particularly fine, and the collector of folk art may want to make a side trip to Polacca or one of the other Hopi settlements. Photography, sketching, etc., may be restricted; inquire locally.
This is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!


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