Navajo History

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The content of this page was contributed by Dr. Douglas Whalen.


Navajo is the second largest Native American tribe after Cherokee. There are about 240,000 Navajos in the Southwest. The Navajo Nation is about the size of West Virginia. Navajos have been here for at least 800 years; in many cases one family has been in one place for several hundred years.

First settlers

The first Athabaskans traveled to the Southwest approximately 1,000 years ago. It is unclear what route they followed in separating from northern groups of Athabaskans that reside in Canada and Alaska. The other Apachean groups that originally shared Southwest territories with the early Navajo separated at a later date, migrating south "due to famine or other ecological distasters... around A.D. 1300".

Origin of "Navajo"

The name Navajo likely comes from 'Apaches de Nabajó, which is the Spanish term for the Apaches that lived in the Navajó region. The term Nabajó maybe be derived from the Spanish term Nava for 'plain or field', which in turn appears to be a borrowing of the Tewa term with the same meaning. The Navajo call themselves Diné 'people'.

The "Long Walk"

In 1863, after sporadic fighting between the Navajos, Mexican colonists, Ute indians and American colonists, the Navajo tribe was forced to resettle at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Some resisted, hiding in Canyon de Chelly and Navajo Mountain; many of those remained there despite the burning of their crops and livestock and the murder of their families. Those Navajo who did not resist, approximately 6,000 people, were forced to make the journey of several hundred miles to Fort Sumner. 200 died during this journey, due to starvation and cruel treatment. Those who survived endured harsh conditions in a land that had no traditional value to them, and that could not support their traditional way of life. After four years at Sumner, the Peace Commission and the Treaty of 1868 allowed the Navajo to return to their homeland.

Follow the path of the Navajo Data

  1. Get started: Summary of the Navajo conversion
  2. Digitize audio: Audio pages (Classroom)
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  4. Convert characters to Unicode: Conversion page (Classroom)
  5. Align text: Interlinearized glossed text pages (classroom)
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  7. Store text: XML page (Classroom)
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Navajo History
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