The Diné people are most commonly referred to as the “Navajo” people. However, the tribe prefers the term “Diné” (pronounced “di-nay” - meaning “the people” in their native language) over “Navajo” (from the Tewa-puebloan word “nava hu” meaning “place of large planted fields”).
The Diné have one of the largest tribal populations and reservations of all the federally recognized Native peoples, with about 300,000 people living on the reservation and 27,000 square miles. They also have an extensive number of designated locations of cultural significance. Their history is muddied with conflict and hardship, but they have emerged today one of the most successful Native peoples.
Attractions & Cultural Centers
This isn’t a complete list of all important Diné/Navajo sites, but some of the most important and popular places and experiences:
- Monument Valley National Tribal Park - This is one of the world’s most recognizable landscapes, with the incredible red rock spires and striking formations.
- Navajo Cultural Center of Kayenta, AZ - Arts and crafts demonstrations, videos, music and literature, and often traditional Native dancing and other performances.
- Canyon de Chelly National Monument - 26 miles filled with Ancestral Puebloan ruins and modern Diné homeland.
- Window Rock Tribal Park & Veterans Memorial - The memorial park honors the Diné that served in the US military, specifically the Navajo Code Talkers, who helped win WWII. The park includes the giant sandstone arch.
- Four Corners Navajo Tribal Park - The only site in the country where four states touch. Visitor center, Navajo arts and crafts, and demonstration center are also available.
- Hubble Trading Post - Established in 1876, and helped the Diné re-establish themselves in their homeland after their return from internment at Fort Sumner.
- Diné College & Hatathli Center - The first tribe-controlled Native college in the US. Features Native exhibits and Navajo arts and crafts.
The Diné own and care for over 27,000 square miles of land, about the size of West Virginia, that spans the Four Corners region. It encompasses Northeastern Arizona, Northwestern New Mexico, and Southeastern Utah.
History & Culture
The Diné/Navajo language is of the Athabascan language family - related to the languages spoken by northern Native peoples, such as the Eskimos of Alaska and Canada. Most archaeologists believe that the Diné (along with some other Native groups, such as the Apache) descend from the people who migrated across the Bering Sea to North America, and further migrated south into the Southwestern United States.
These early migrant ancestors settle the Great Basin area around 10,000 B.C.E., living in small communities comprised mostly of extended family. They were mainly hunter-gatherers who had developed stone, wood, and bone tools and fine basket-making skills.
According to current archaeological evidence, it wasn’t until around 400 A.D. that the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) and Fremont peoples began to emerge in the Great Basin area, and each of these cultures only lasted in the region until approximately 1000-1400 A.D. The Diné ancestors lived in close proximity to these cultures, and archaeological records indicate that between around 1100-1500 A.D. the distinct Diné/Navajo culture emerged.
The Spanish settlers first came and encountered the Diné in the late 1500s, and conflicts with them continued well into the 1800s, resulting in the Spaniards being driven off the land, warring, and in particular to the Diné, the 1805 Massacre at Canyon de Chelly, where more than 100 Diné men, women, and children were murdered after they were found hiding in a cave.
In the 1860s, the conflict with the US government came to a head after the military was ordered to remove the Diné from their land, due to the mining prospects. In 1863, after fighting and rebelling, the tribe surrenders and is forced to march 350 miles east to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. Hundreds of Diné men, women, and children died along the walk. It was only a few years later, in 1868, that the Diné were allowed to return to their homeland, and the Navajo Reservation was created.
During the 1900s, the Diné still encountered conflict with the government, namely with the Indian Reorganization Act (1935), because though it aimed to reduce soil erosion/environmental issues, it ultimately reduced the vital livestock economy that was so important to the Diné.
In the 1940s, during World War II, Navajo Code Talkers were able to successfully communicate without enemy deciphering, helping the United States and Allies.
The later half of the 1900s saw a successful Navajo Tribal Council and government established, the Navajo Nation created on the reservation, the expanse of the reservation, historical museums, national monuments, and the Monument Valley National Tribal Park set up, the Navajo Community College (the first Native-operated college), and a successful economy and Navajo Tourism Department created.
The ancient Diné belief is that their people passed through three worlds before entering the fourth, glittering world. They believe that a Holy People taught them, the Earth People, how to live in harmony with the universe and the earth.
The number four is sacred to the people, and it represents the four sacred mountains and directions; Mt. Blanca in the east (represented with White shell), Mt. Taylor in the south (represented with Turquoise), San Francisco Peak in the west (represented with Yellow Abalone), and Mt. Hesperus in the north (represented with black, often obsidian).
The traditional Navajo hogans, their sacred place of dwelling, are built in the manner of their world. The roof is the likeness of the sky, the walls in the likeness of the trees and mountains, and the floor like the earth. The four sacred colors are often depicted in the hogan.
Today, the Diné hold the Pow-Wows, markets, fairs, including the Navajo Nation Fair, the largest of its kind in the United States. At these events, traditional Navajo songs and dances are performed, with traditional art and crafts showcased.
Canyon de Chelly. “The Navajo Long Walk.” http://www.canyondechelly.net/long_walk.html.
Navajo People Culture & History. “Ancient Navajo and Native Americans Migrations. http://navajopeople.org/blog/ancient-navajo-and-native-americas-migrations/.
“Navajo Nation.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navajo_Nation#Navajo_Tribal_Parks.
Navajo People. “Navajo History.” http://navajopeople.org.
Navajo Nation Government - Official Site of the Navajo Nation. “History.” http://www.navajo-nsn.gov/history.htm.
Discover Navajo. “Navajo Culture.” http://www.discovernavajo.com/navajo-culture.aspx.