Navajo shaman

Tenacious, adaptable, enduring, spiritual - words that characterize the largest and most influential Indian tribe in North America, the Navajo Nation. Since the Long Walk in the 1860s, the Navajo Nation decimated to a population of only 8,000. It has increased to a stronghold of more than 210,000. About 60 percent of Navajos are 24 years old or younger.

In its infancy, the Navajo Nation governed itself by a complex language and clan system. The discovery of oil in the early 1920s clarified the need for a more systematic form of government. So, in 1923, the Navajos established a tribal government; thus providing an entity to deal with American oil companies wishing to lease Navajoland for exploration.

Today, the Navajo Tribal Council has grown into the largest and most sophisticated American Indian government in the U.S. It embodies an elected tribal chairman, vice chairman and 88 council delegates representing 109 local units of government throughout the Navajo Nation.

The Navajo Nation continues to forge ahead in its goal to attain economic self-sufficiency. Yet in the midst of it all, the Dineh (or The People) still adhere to their cultural, social and traditional values; the same tenacious values that have made the Navajo Nation unique and fascinating throughout its history. The traditional history of the Navajo Nation, with its strong emphasis on adapting trends with modern day America will continue to perpetuate the enduring Navajo into the future.

Navajo legend tells us that the Dineh had to pass through three different worlds before emerging into the present world-the Fourth World or Glittering World. So, the Holy People put four sacred mountains in four different directions: Mt. Blanca in the east, Mt. Taylor in the south, San Francisco Peaks in the west, and Mt. Hesperus in the north, thus creating the boundaries of Navajoland.

Centuries ago, the Navajo people were taught by the Holy People to live in harmony with Mother Earth and how to conduct their many activities of everyday life. The Dineh believe there are two classes of beings: the Earth People and the Holy People. The Earth People are ordinary mortals, while the Holy People are spiritual beings that cannot be seen. Holy People are believed to have the power to aid or harm Earth People.

When disorder evolves in a Navajo’s life, such as illness; herbs, medicinemen, prayers, songs and ceremonies are used to help cure the ailment. Some tribal members prefer modern day hospitals on the Navajo Reservation; some seek the assistance of a traditional Navajo medicineman, some combine both methods. Navajos believe that a medicineman is a uniquely qualified individual bestowed with supernatural powers to diagnose a person’s problem and to heal or cure illnesses.

The Dineh believe they are sustained as a nation because of their enduring faith in the Great Spirit. And because of their strong spirituality, the Navajo people believe they will continue to survive as an Indian nation forever. Many Navajos continue to wear traditional clothing daily. Others wear their velvet, turquoise and silver only during ceremonial or social gatherings.

The Navajo people are very dynamic and creative people who strongly believe in the power of the mind to think and create; finding expression in the myriad symbolic creations of the Navajo language, art and ritual ceremonies. The Navajo language embodies a high prevalence of humor in day-to-day conversation. Humor transforms difficult and frustrating circumstances into bearable and even pleasant situations.

The strong emphasis and value Navajos place on humor is evidenced in the First Laugh rite. The first time a Navajo child laughs out loud is a time for honor and celebration. Aside from being the mother tongue of the Navajo Nation, the Navajo language also has played a highly significant role in helping the entire nation. During World War 2, the Navajo language was used as a code to confuse the enemy.

Navajo bravery and patriotism is unequalled. Navajos were inducted and trained in the U.S. Marine Corps to become “code talkers” on the frontline. Shrouded in secrecy at the time, these men are known today as the famed Navajo Code Talkers. The Navajo language, scrambled by the Code Talkers, proved to be the only code that could not be broken during World War 2. Although not all tribal members speak the language fluently, most Navajos have a deep respect for it.

The stark and incredible beauty of the Navajo Reservation-spilling over into the states of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah--is an irresistible magnet to film and television producers from all over the world. Outsiders do not perceive Navajoland as the Navajo, as the sacred homeland created for the Dineh. This strong spiritual belief in the land requires that Mother Earth be treated with the deepest respect.