Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book Review: The Navajo: by Geraldine Woods

The Navajo: by Geraldine Woods, Watts Library, New York, 2002.
This is a very good brief book about the history of the Navajo or Dine which is the Navajo word for the people.  The Navajo represent the largest reservation, and the Native American people with the largest population of over 250,000.  The Navajo had been removed for a time to Bosque Redondo.  Kit Carson and the military lay siege to the Navajo.  They killed many, and destroyed their food supplies, and forced over 10,000 to a reservation in New Mexico.  This is known as the long walk.  During the walk, and the three years of incarceration at Bosque Redondo, over 2000 died.  Barboncito, a leader of the Dine, convinced the government to let them return to their traditional area. 
The Navajo went through a similar period as many other tribes where that attitude was, “Kill the Indian, save the man.”  This resulted in many children being sent to boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their language or practice their traditions. 
The Navajo were traditional a clan organization, with no central leadership.  However when oil was discovered on the reservation, people need to negotiate with someone to lease the land.  The Navajo Nation was born with tribal council and representatives. 
The Navajo have been very good at sheep raising, and weaving of wool for blankets and clothes.  (At one time the tradition women’s clothing was two blankets sewed together.)  However there was a time when the land was over grazed.  The government stepped in a killed many animals by force.  As a result the heards became stronger.  However there was a period of poverty as the livelihood had been taken away. 
A period of great honor for the Navajo people was WWII.  The Navajo code talkers developed a system of communicating, based ontheir native language, which the Japanese could not break. 
Today the Navajo people struggle with the idea of being part of a modern world, while maintaining their traditions.  Much of the reservation is very isolated, with poor electric and phone service. 

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