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Navajo Nation

Naabeehó Bináhásdzo  (Navajo)
Flag of Navajo Nation Official seal of Navajo Nation
("Dah Naatʼaʼí Sǫʼ bił Sinil" and "Shí naashá"
used for some occasions)
Location of the Navajo Nation.Checkerboard-area in lighter shade (see text)
Location of the Navajo Nation.
Checkerboard-area in lighter shade (see text)
Established June 1, 1868 (Treaty)
Expansions 1878–2016
Chapter system 1922
Tribal Council 1923
Capital Window Rock
 • Body Navajo Nation Council
 • Total 71,000 km2 (27,413 sq mi)
 • Total 173,667
 • Density 2.446/km2 (6.33521/sq mi)
  166,826 Navajo/Nat. Am.
3,249 White
3,594 other, incl. multiple
Time zone MST/MDT
GDP $12.8 billion (2018)

The Navajo Nation (Navajo: Naabeehó Bináhásdzo) is a Native American territory covering about 17,544,500 acres (71,000 km2; 27,413 sq mi), occupying portions of northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico and a smaller portion covering southeastern Utah, in the United States. This is the largest land area retained by a Native American tribe in the United States. By area, the Navajo Nation is larger than ten U.S. states. In 2010, the total population of Navajo tribal members was 332,129 with 173,667 living within the boundaries of the reservation and 158,462 tribal members outside of the reservation. Metropolitan areas accounted for 26 percent of the population, border towns accounted for ten percent, and the remaining 17 percent were living elsewhere in the U.S. The seat of government is located in Window Rock, Arizona.

The United States gained ownership of this territory in 1848 after acquiring it in the Mexican-American War. The reservation was within New Mexico Territory and straddled what became the Arizona-New Mexico border in 1912, when the states were admitted to the union. Unlike many reservations, it has expanded several times since its establishment in 1868 to include most of northeastern Arizona, a sizable portion of northwestern New Mexico, and most of the area south of the San Juan River in southeastern Utah. It is one of a few indigenous nations whose reservation lands overlap its traditional homelands.


In English, the official name for the area was "Navajo Indian Reservation", as outlined in Article II of the 1868 Navajo Treaty. On April 15, 1969, the tribe changed its official name to the Navajo Nation, which is also displayed on the seal. This was a period of Native American activism and assertion of sovereignty. In 1994, the Tribal Council rejected a proposal to change the official designation from "Navajo" to "Diné." It was remarked that the name Diné represented the time of suffering before the Long Walk, and that Navajo is the appropriate designation for the future.

In Navajo, the geographic entity with its legally defined borders is known as "Naabeehó Bináhásdzo". This contrasts with "Diné Bikéyah" and "Naabeehó Bikéyah" for the general idea of "Navajoland".

Neither of these terms should be confused with "Dinétah," the term used for the traditional homeland of the Navajo. It is situated in the area among the four sacred Navajo mountains of Dookʼoʼoosłííd (San Francisco Peaks), Dibé Ntsaa (Hesperus Mountain), Sisnaajiní (Blanca Peak), and Tsoodził (Mount Taylor).


The Navajo people's tradition of governance is rooted in their clans and oral history. The clan system of the Diné is integral to their society, as the rules of behavior found within the system extend to the manner of refined culture that the Navajo people call "to walk in Beauty". This extends from before the Spanish colonial occupation of Dinetah, through to the July 25, 1868, Congressional ratification of the Navajo Treaty with President Andrew Johnson, signed by Barboncito, Armijo, and other chiefs and headmen present at Bosque Redondo.

In modern times, the Navajo people have had to transform their conceptual understandings of government to include the demands placed upon the tribe when it joined the United States at the Treaty of 1868. Though social political historians continue to debate the true nature of the modern Navajo body of politic, the Navajo people have had to evolve to include the systems and economies of the "western world," as James C. Singer argues in 2007's Government Reform Project.

Reservation and expansion

In the mid-19th century, the Navajo were forced from their lands by the US Army following defeat, and marched on the Long Walk to imprisonment in Bosque Redondo. After they were allowed to return, the "Navajo Indian Reservation" was established according to the Treaty of 1868 with the United States. The borders were defined as the 37th parallel in the north; the southern border as a line running through Fort Defiance; the eastern border as a line running through Fort Lyon; and in the west as longitude 109°30′.

As drafted in 1868, the boundaries were defined as

the following district of country, to wit: bounded on the north by the 37th degree of north latitude, south by an east and west line passing through the site of old Fort Defiance, in Canon Bonito, east by the parallel of longitude which, if prolonged south, would pass through old Fort Lyon, or the Ojo-de-oso, Bear Spring, and west by a parallel of longitude about 109' 30" west of Greenwich, provided it embraces the outlet of the Canon-de-Chilly [Canyon de Chelly], which canyon is to be all included in this reservation, shall be, and the same hereby, set apart for the use and occupation of the Navajo tribe of Indians, and for such other friendly tribes or individual Indians as from time to time they may be willing, with the consent of the United States, to admit among them; and the United States agrees that no persons except those herein so authorized to do, and except such officers, soldiers agents, and employees of the Government, or of the Indians, as may be authorized to enter upon Indian reservations in discharge of duties imposed by law, or the orders of the President, shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in, the territory described in this article.

Nn border hist map
Border changes and expansions of the Navajo Reservation from 1868 to 1934

Though the treaty had provided for one hundred square miles in the New Mexico Territory, the size of the territory was 3,328,302 acres (5,200.472 sq mi; 1,346,916 ha)—slightly more than half. This initial piece of land is represented in the design of the Navajo Nation's flag by a dark-brown rectangle.

As no physical boundaries or signposts were set in place, many Navajo ignored these formal boundaries and returned to where they had been living prior to captivity. A significant population of Navajo still resided along the Little Colorado and Colorado rivers, as well as on Naatsisʼáán (Navajo Mountain). They had never lived in the Hwéeldi near (Fort Sumner).

The first expansion of the territory occurred on October 28, 1878, when President Rutherford Hayes signed an executive order pushing the reservation boundary 20 miles to the west. Further additions followed throughout the late 19th and early 20th century (see map). Most of these additions were achieved through executive orders, some of which were confirmed by acts of Congress; for example, President Theodore Roosevelt's executive order to add the region around Aneth, Utah in 1905 was confirmed by Congress in 1933.

The eastern border was shaped primarily as a result of allotments of land to individual households under the Dawes Act of 1887. In an attempt to assimilate Native Americans to the majority culture, the federal government proposed to divide communal lands into plots assignable to heads of household - tribal members, for their subsistence farming, in the pattern of small family farms common among European Americans. The government determined that land "left over" after all members had received allotments was to be considered "surplus" and available for sale to non-Native Americans. At the same time, the tribal government was to be disbanded. The allotment program continued until 1934.

This process was controversial and is widely considered to be a failure, resulting in the breakup and loss of much Native American land holdings, and disrupting and weakening their societies. While the Navajo reservation proper was excluded from the act's provisions, the eastern border became a patchwork of reservation and non-reservation land, known as a "checkerboard" area, through sales of some property to non-Navajo people. In the southeastern area of the reservation, the Navajo Nation has purchased some ranches, which it calls its Nahata Dzil or New Lands. They are leased to Navajo individuals, livestock and grazing associations, and livestock companies.

In 1996, Elouise Cobell (Blackfeet) filed a class action suit against the federal government on behalf of an estimated 250,000-500,000 plaintiffs, Native Americans whose trust accounts did not reflect an accurate accounting of monies owed them under leases or fees on trust lands. The settlement of Cobell v. Salazar in 2009 included a provision for a nearly $2 billion fund for the government to buy fractionated interests and restore land to tribal reservations. Individuals could sell their fractionated land interests on a voluntary basis, at market rates, through this program if their tribe participated.

In 2016 under the Tribal Nations Buy-Back Program, individual Navajo members received $104 million for purchase of their interests in land; some 149,524 acres were returned to the Navajo Nation for its territory by the Department of Interior under this program. The program is intended to help tribes restore the land bases of their reservations, and to use the land for tribal welfare. More than 10,000 Navajo citizens were paid for their interests under this program. The tribe intends to use the consolidated lands to "streamline infrastructure projects," such as running power lines.

Clan Governance

In the traditional Navajo culture, local leadership was organized around clans, which are matrilineal kinship groups. Children are considered born into the mother's family and gain their social status from her.

The clan leadership have served as a de facto government on the local level of the Navajo Nation.

Rejection of Indian Reorganization Act

In 1933 during the Great Depression, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) attempted to mitigate environmental damage due to over-grazing on reservations. This created an environment of misunderstanding, as its representatives did not consult sufficiently with the Navajo. BIA Superintendent John Collier's attempt to reduce livestock herd size affected responses to his other efforts to improve conditions for Native Americans, as the herds were central to Navajo culture, and were a source of prestige.

Also during this period, under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934, the federal government was encouraging tribes to revive their governments according to constitutional models shaped after the United States. Because of the outrage and discontent about the herd issues, the Navajo voters did not trust the language of the proposed initial constitution outlined in the legislation. This contributed to their rejection of the first version of a proposed tribal constitution.

In the various attempts since, members found the process to be too cumbersome and a potential threat to tribal self-determination, as the constitution was supposed to be reviewed and approved by BIA. The earliest efforts were rejected primarily because segments of the tribe did not find enough freedom in the proposed forms of government. In 1935 they feared that the proposed government would hinder development and recovery of their livestock industries; in 1953 they worried about restrictions on development of mineral resources.

They continued a government based on traditional models, with hereditary chiefs chosen from certain clans.

Navajo Nation and Federal Government Jurisdictions

Window rock AZ
Tségháhoodzání, the "Window Rock"

The United States still asserts plenary power and thus requires the territory of the Navajo Nation to submit all proposed laws to the United States Secretary of the Interior for Secretarial Review, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

The US Supreme Court in United States v. Kagama (1889) affirmed that the Congress has Plenary power over all Native American tribes within United States borders, saying that "The power of the general government over these remnants of a race once powerful ... is necessary to their protection as well as to the safety of those among whom they dwell". It noted that the tribes did not owe allegiance to the states within which their reservations were located.

Most conflicts and controversies between the federal government and the Nation are settled by negotiations outlined in political agreements. The Navajo Nation Code comprises the rules and laws of the Navajo Nation as currently codified in the latest edition.

Lands within the exterior boundaries of the Navajo Nation are composed of Public, Tribal Trust, Tribal Fee, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Private, State, and BIA Indian Allotment Lands. On the Arizona and Utah portions of the Navajo Nation, there are a few private and BIA Indian Allotments in comparison to New Mexico's portion which consists of a checkerboard pattern of all the aforementioned lands. The Eastern Agency, as it is referred to, consists of primarily Tribal Fee, BIA Indian Allotments, and BLM Lands. Although there are more Tribal Fee Lands in New Mexico, the Navajo Nation government intends to convert most or all Tribal Fee Lands to Tribal Trust.


NavajoNation map en
Map showing populated places on the Navajo Nation
Cañon de Chelly
Navajo. Seven riders on horseback and dog trek against background of canyon cliffs. Edward S. Curtis (1904)

The land area of the Navajo Nation is 24,078.127 square miles (62,362.06 km2), making it the largest Indian reservation in the United States; it is nearly the same size as the state of West Virginia.

Adjacent to or near the Navajo Nation are the Southern Ute of Colorado, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico, both along the northern borders; the Jicarilla Apache Tribe to the east; the Zuni and White Mountain Apache to the south, and the Hualapai Bands in the west. The Navajo Nation's territory fully surrounds the Hopi Indian Reservation. In the 1980s, a conflict over shared lands peaked when the Department of the Interior attempted to relocate Navajo residents living in what is still referred to as the "Navajo/Hopi Joint Use Area." The litigious and social conflict between the two tribes and neighboring communities ended with "The Bennett Freeze" Agreement and was completed in July 2009 by President Barack Obama. The agreement lessened the contentious land disagreement with a 75-year lease to Navajos with claims dating to before the US occupation.

Situated within the Navajo Nation are Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Monument Valley, Rainbow Bridge National Monument, the Shiprock monadnock, and the eastern portion of the Grand Canyon. Navajo Territory in New Mexico is popularly referred as the "Checkerboard" area since the Federal Government's attempt to diversify lands with non-native lands. Thus these Navajo lands are intermingled with fee lands, owned by both Navajos and non-Navajos, and federal and state lands under various jurisdictions. Three large non-contiguous sections located in New Mexico are also under Navajo jurisdiction and are the Ramah Navajo Indian Reservation, the Alamo Navajo Indian Reservation, and the Tohajiilee Indian Reservation near Albuquerque.


Much of the Navajo Nation is situated atop the Colorado Plateau.

Daylight Saving Time

To maintain consistent time throughout its territory, the Navajo Nation observes Daylight Saving Time (DST) on its Arizona land as well as on its Utah and New Mexico land, even though the rest of Arizona, including the Hopi Reservation, an enclave within the Arizona portion of the Nation, have opted out of DST.


According to the 2010 census, the Navajo Nation had a population of 173,667 within the reservation, of whom 166,826 (96%) were Navajo or other Native American, 3,249 White, 401 Asian or Pacific Islanders, 208 African American, and the remainder identifying some other group or more than one ancestry. The 2010 census counts 109,963 individuals who report speaking a language at home that is neither Asian nor Indo-European.

The average family size was 4.1, and the average household was home to 3.5 persons. The average household income was $27,389.

Nearly half of enrolled members of the Navajo Nation live off the reservation, and the total population is 300,048, as of July 2011.

Health concerns

Uranium mining and large-scale effects on the Navajo People

Extensive uranium mining took place in areas of the Navajo Nation before environmental laws were passed or enforced on the control of hazardous wastes of such operations, or their fallout.

Studies have proven the unregulated practices created severe environmental consequences for people living nearby. Several types of cancer occur at rates higher than the national average in these locations on the Navajo Nation. (Raloff, 2004) Especially high are the rates of reproductive-organ cancers in teenage Navajo girls, averaging seventeen times higher than the average of girls in the United States.

Navajo woman & child
Navajo woman and child, c.1880-1910


Diabetes mellitus is a major health problem among the Navajo, Hopi and Pima tribes, who are diagnosed at a rate about four times higher than the age-standardized U.S. estimate. Medical researchers believe increased consumption of carbohydrates, coupled with genetic factors, play significant roles in the emergence of this chronic disease among Native Americans.

Severe combined immunodeficiency

One in every 2,500 children in the Navajo population inherits severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), a genetic disorder that results in children with virtually no immune system. In the general population, the genetic disorder is much more rare, affecting one in 100,000 children. The disorder is sometimes known as "bubble boy disease". This condition is a significant cause of illness and death among Navajo children. Research reveals a similar genetic pattern among the related Apache. In a December 2007 Associated Press article, Mortan Cowan, M.D., director of the Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Program at the University of California, San Francisco, noted that, although researchers have identified about a dozen genes that cause SCID, the Navajo/Apache population has the most severe form of the disorder. This is due to the lack of a gene designated "Artemis". Without the gene, children's bodies are unable to repair DNA or develop disease-fighting cells.

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See also

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