Native Tribes of Southwestern North America
Much of the land in this region is desert. Couple that with a very dry climate and you have an area with very little water. These conditions led to there being a limited number of animals and plants in the region. These people relied on their ability to grow crops for survival. However, much of the region is covered with mountains and canyons. These are difficult conditions in which to be successful farmers, but these people mastered the southwestern North American plains. They grow beans, corn, peppers, and squash along with orchards that produce apricots, peaches, and plums.
Like the other Native American tribes, the people of this area also used the environment to construct the shelters they lived in. They used twigs and adobe, which is a mixture of clay and sand, to make adobe bricks. These bricks were used to build cliff dwellings and/or hogans. Native Americans were masters in using their environment to help sustain their lives. In the southwest, the temperatures could be extremely cold and hot throughout the year. The Spanish had brought in sheep to America, and this wool was a staple in the production of clothing by Southwestern Indians. They also used plant fibers, such as cotton, to produce clothes.
NAVAJO Native Tribe
For this region, I have chosen the Navajo tribe as the representative. The Navajo Nation extends for over 27,000 square miles (16 million acres) throughout the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, making it larger than 10 states in America.
This region also constitutes the largest land area assigned to Native Americans within the United States. According to 2004 U.S. Census numbers, there are around 300,000 Navajos residing in North America, with over 175,000 of those living within the borders of the Navajo Nation. Navajo people refer to their selves as dine, which means people in their language. Navajo language uses a great deal of sense of humor in everyday talk. This is intended to help transform difficult daily situations into pleasant ones. The importance of this is evident in the First Laugh Rite, in which a celebration is undertaken for the first time a Navajo child laughs out loud. This language is extremely complex, however, and played a pivotal role in the Allies success during World War II.
The Navajo people have occupied the area of Southwest United States for many years. Although their original induction into the region isn’t exactly known, their ancestors migrated from Northwestern Canada and Alaska over 1,000 years ago. They had to adapt, as their nomadic ways were restricted by this new environment. The Spanish also occupied the region, and Navajos quickly learned from them. Sheep herding became an important part of Navajo life, as well as the growing of certain crops like corn. As Navajo numbers increased significantly, problems soon arose with the neighboring Spanish, Mexicans, and other Native tribes. From 1600 through the mid 1800’s, Navajos battled with the Spanish and Mexicans. Navajos would often raid the livestock of these neighbors, resulting in Spanish and Mexican raids onto Navajo territory. Spanish and Mexican raiders would often take Navajo women and children for slaves. They would also burn down their hogans and crops, and slaughter any livestock found. In 1848, after the Mexican-American War, this area was annexed by the United States. The Navajos hoped that this meant the end of slave-raiding, and that that their relatives living in captivity would soon be released. Unfortunately for the Navajos, the U.S. failed to stop any of this, much less free enslaved relatives. In 1862, U.S. General James H. Carleton and his 300 men began removing the Navajos from the region, determined to rid them from the area. In what became known as The Long Walk, Navajos were marched 300-miles to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Many Navajos died during the march and during their captivity. Finally, the Treaty of 1868 began the movement of Navajos onto their current-day territory. Just like other Native tribes in America, Navajos had suffered many broken promises and treaties with the United States.
Navajos were autonomous people, and had no type of government until the 1920’s. Oil had been discovered on the Navajo Nation lands, and the U.S. government needed an official body of Navajo representatives to approve oil leases. This was an abstract concept to the Navajo people, as they traditionally settled issues through one-on-one meetings. Although their allegiance had always been directed towards family and local groups, a greater tribal government was seen as a way to obtain greater control of their land and lives. Click here to learn more about the Navajo government, the official site of the Navajo Nation.
The Navajo language proved to be the only unbreakable code during WWII. Over 3,000 Navajo soldiers served during the war, and approximately 300 served as code talkers. During WWI, the U.S. had used Native Americans to transmit messages very successfully. The Germans had taken note of this, and before the beginning of WWII had spies posing as anthropologists and writers on many Native American reservations. They hoped to win over the Natives and learn their languages. At the time, only about 30 non-Navajos could speak this complex language of no alphabet or symbols; Navajo language was an unwritten language. One of the few non-Navajos who could speak the language was Phillip Johnston. He had grown up on the Navajo reservation in Arizona as the son of missionaries working with the Navajos. He convinced the Pacific Fleet Commander to recruit the Navajos, and in May of 1942, 29 Navajos were secretly recruited for use within the Pacific theatre of this epic battle. Their code frustrated the Japanese, who were very skilled code breakers. The Allies successfully used the Navajo code in many of the great battles of the Pacific, including Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. Thirteen Navajos gave their lives for their country during WWII. The sacrifices of these men went unnoticed for a quarter-century, until the Pentagon publicly acknowledged their efforts in 1969. In July 2001, President Bush held a ceremony honoring the code talkers and awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal.
Click on the images for more information on Navajos.
Native American Author Joseph Bruchac
Click here for a list of non-recommended AND recommended books about Native Americans.
Learn how to evaluate Native American websites here.
“Indian is a European-derived word and concept. Prior to contact, Native American people were not Indians but were members of their own socio-political and cultural groups. …the concept of Indian as used by the Bureau of the Census does not denote a scientific or biological definition but, rather, is an indication of the race with which a person identifies.”
—Jack Utter, American lndians: Answers to Today’s Questions (Lake Ann, MI: National Woodlands Publishing Company, 1993)