Published on October 27, 2010 by John
The Navajo Indian Tribe is recognized as the largest Indian tribe in the United States. According to the 1990 Census, almost 80,000 Navajo people live in New Mexico (the Navajo Nation contests the number, believing that the Navajo people were undercounted).
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The Navajo Reservation is also the largest Indian reservation in the United States, covering a total of 17.5 million acres and stretches across northwest New Mexico, northeast Arizona, and southeast Utah. From low, dry desert elevations to mountainous regions, Navajo land is larger than some states.
Modern theory describes the Navajo people as semi-nomadic, having ventured throughout the Southwest before settling in their present location. Navajo belief is that The People emerged into the world, the fourth world, to escape a flood in the lower world.
The Place of Emergence is located in northwest New Mexico, in an area known as Dinetah. This area still carries religious, traditional and cultural significance for the Navajo people. The boundary of the Navajo Nation today roughly follows the traditional boundary set by the Four Sacred Mountains.
The early Navajo people subsisted on herds of sheep and planted large fields of corn. They quickly adapted to the use of horses and other livestock introduced into the region by the Spanish. In the years around 1860, tensions between the Navajo people and non-Indian ranchers and the US Army increased.
In 1864, after a series of skirmishes and battles, a large portion of the Navajo population was forced away from their beloved homelands to the Bosque Redondo, an experimental reservation about 400 miles away on the plains of eastern New Mexico.
The people, under the eye of US Army guards, were forced to march the entire distance. Thousands died along the way, during the four years the people spent at the Bosque Redondo, and during the walk home in 1868.
This episode of tragedy and human survival is known as “The Long Walk”. The leaders of the different clans of the Navajo people signed the Treaty of 1868 at the Bosque Redondo with the United States. The treaty set aside a reservation — a fraction of the Navajo’s original homeland — and in exchange for peace, the US Government promised to provide basic services to the Navajo people.