Navajo Indians

The Navajo Indians are a group of Native Americans who refer to themselves as the Diné, meaning "The People." The word Navajo comes from the term, "Tewa Navahu," which derives from the Spanish language and means, "highly cultivated lands."

The Navajo Indians' ancestors probably originally came from parts of Canada and Alaska and traveled south, eventually settling in the southwestern part of the US. By the 1500's they were an established tribe, living in New Mexico and Arizona, as well as parts of Utah and Colorado. The Navajo had close ties to the Pueblo people in the nearby area, learning farming methods and other skills from this group.

The Navajo Indians first had contact with Spaniards around 1540, which they traded with, setting up trading posts to exchange their woven blankets and other textiles, maize, and bison meat for sheep, horses, and raw materials to make weapons and tools. The Navajo often raided Mexican and Spanish settlers living near the Rio Grande, leading to punitive action by the US, Spanish, and Mexican governments. This period of raids and counter-raids is known as the Navajo Wars, and lasted from the early 1800s to about 1865.

By 1864, the United States had gained control of the Southwest, and had begun a series of military actions against the Navajo Indians. Over 9,000 Navajo people were sent on a forced march, known as The Long Walk, to Fort Sumter, New Mexico-a distance of over three hundred miles from their starting point at Fort Defiance. Supplies ran short on this trek, and the Navajo suffered many hardships. Eventually, the US government gave up this effort and allowed these Native Americans to return to their native lands to set up a reservation.

Today, The Navajo Nation is considered to be the largest North American tribe. Their reservation, located primarily in Arizona, is the largest in the US, encompassing 16 million acres and over 140,000 members. Many Navajo Indians still speak their native language today, and still build the sacred, traditional homes, called hogans, which they use for ceremonial purposes.

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