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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Native Americans: The Navajo

By Kristy McCaffrey

The Navajo have been located in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest since the 12th century. Primarily hunters and gatherers, they were forced to fight—along with many other Indian tribes—the progression of the white population during the early 1800’s, which eventually led to the Long Walk. This arduous journey, which encompassed well over 50 separate treks led by the U.S. Army to the Bosque Redondo in New Mexico Territory, occurred from 1863 to 1866.

The accounts of death by starvation, sickness, or violence left an indelible trauma on the people. Although they were allowed to return to their land in 1868, they would never forget this painful period of their history.

Navajo lore states that a skinwalker is a man (occasionally a woman) who has gained supernatural powers that allow them to assume an animal form, usually a coyote, wolf, owl, fox, or crow. Such individuals practice evil over good, choosing to curse others rather than heal. It is believed that skinwalkers have the ability to steal the “skin” or body of another person. Because of this, most Navajo avoid the use of bear, coyote, wolf and cougar pelts, instead preferring sheepskin or buckskin.

For illnesses and other maladies, it is customary to consult a Navajo medicine man. A typical ceremony lasts for four days, and involves chants and specific herbs that have been collected for the patient. Sometimes a sand painting is utilized, which is later destroyed. The premise of the work of the medicine man is to restore balance to an individual’s spirit.

Known for their weavings, Navajo textiles are highly regarded and have been traded for over 150 years. Initially, weavings were used for cloaks, saddle blankets, sashes and other similar items, but after the 1880’s the Navajo began making them for tourists. Strong geometric patterns are an earmark of their work.

During World War II, Navajo Code Talkers were employed to confuse the enemy. Navajos were inducted and trained in the U.S. Marine Corp and placed on the front lines. The code was never broken.

Today, the Navajo are the largest federally recognized tribe of the United States.

The traditional Navajo home is a hogan, an 8-sided
dwelling with a doorway always facing east toward
the sunrise.
Don't miss Kristy's historical western romance novel, Into The Land Of Shadows, which features several Navajo characters.

In the land of the Navajo, spirits and desire draw Ethan and Kate close, leading them deeper into the shadows and to each other.

For more info, visit Kristy's website.

Works Cited
Iverson, Peter. Diné: A History of the Navajos. University of New Mexico Press, 2002.

Photo Credits


  1. Kristy, weren't the Navajo a peaceful, agrarian society, weren't they? It just seems wrong that the U.S. Army would place them on the "dangerous savages" list, but I suppose people always fear what they don't understand.

    The last of the Code Talkers died earlier this year. That was an extraordinary bunch of men.

    Thanks for sharing this with us. :-)

    1. Kathleen,
      Yes, the Navajo were relatively peaceful. Actually, there were pockets of them who managed to avoid the Long Walk, mostly in the Canyon de Chelly area. They helped to maintain and rebuild the Navajo culture when what remained of the tribe was allowed to return in 1868. But, as with many other tribes, this treatment greatly fractured them. And the Code Talkers were extraordinary!

      Thanks for stopping by. :-)

  2. Interesting post, Kristy, about the Navajo people. I love how you weave American Indian traditions, customs and the people into your stories.

    1. Thank you, Kirsten, for your kind words. The Native Americans are such a huge part of what the U.S. is today, and while I know I can hardly do justice to their struggles, I keep trying. :-)

  3. This blog about the Navajo was so interesting, Kristy. I especially liked the part about the shin walkers and how they wouldn't wear the pelts of animals that might be skin walkers wanting to take over their bodies. Now that must have been scary. I remember that movie with Nicolas Cage, Wind Talkers, I think it was titled. I liked that movie--so sad in places.
    I am fascinated by American Indians. Great blog.

    1. Sarah,
      Wind Talkers was a great movie. It's always interesting to learn about different beliefs. The skinwalkers is, at its roots, a fear of witchcraft, prevalent in many cultures.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Kristy, I don't know much about the Navajos. This was very interesting. I did know about skinwalkers and Wind Talkers, though. My husband loves the Tony Hillerman books--and his favorite character is Joe Leaphorn. LOL

    I loved the way you worked Navajo lore into your story, Into the Land of Shadows.

    1. Thanks Cheryl!! As you know, I haven't read Tony Hillerman (although he's been on my TBR pile for some time), hence my inadvertant use of 'Joe Leaphorn' as a character. So glad you caught that! LOL My dad loves the books too, but then he's long loved the Navajo which led him to move to the reservation when I was a child. We have no accounting of Navajo in our bloodline, but I wouldn't be surprised if my dad didn't have a smidge, as drawn to them as he's been. I sometimes wonder if what we write isn't so much research as 'remembering'.

    2. Kristy, I can't believe you've never read Tony Hillerman! With all the mysticism you put into your own stories, you ought to really enjoy his. (I agree with you about "remembering." Maybe there's more to "writing what we know" than we realize.)

    3. Yes, I must confess I've not read Hillerman. **hanging head in shame** I've got two of his books on my nightstand, however (along with about 60 TBR books around the house). My husband bought me a kindle to stop this nonsense, but if he only knew how many are on my kindle. **hehehehe** I vow to read at least one Hillerman by year's end. :-)

  5. A good overview of the history. I became more aware after reading the Hillerman books and his daughter is following in his footsteps. Living in the upper part of the four states, the beautiful work is part and parcel to the region, an artists dream. Doris

    1. It really is beautiful in that region, Doris. Maybe not for everyone--it can almost look like an alien environment at times with all the flat mesas and red rock--but it draws people to it.

      Thanks for stopping by!