Background


To the Diné, place is personal and deeply profound in Dinetah, or Navajoland.

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Traditional Navajo life is inseparable from religion. Diné seek to maintain balance between individuals and the universe and to live in harmony with nature. All living things are considered relatives, each containing their own spirit or inner form. The interrelatedness of the universe is recognized by religious ceremonies and prayer offerings.

Navajo people view the earth as a spiritual mother, with family comprising a network of Holy People and livestock as well as human relatives. Navajo religion is defined by relationships to specific geographical places, such as sacred sites of special religious events.

A Navajo’s relationship to the land where he or she is born begins at birth, through the burial of the umbilical cord on the land and the placenta beneath a young tree. This ensures that the child will be nurtured by a spiritual mother for the rest of his or her life. Such ceremonial offerings to the land continue as a child grows older, strengthening community ties as well as ties to family and land.

Each Navajo family sees their home site as sacred. If one is forced to move away from his or her land, he or she is denied access to sacred places, and therefore cannot practice religion freely. Without being able to perform ceremonies on their homeland, for example, a family cannot protect their ancestors and will lose all familial and historical ties.

Creation Story


Central to Navajo beliefs is the Navajo creation narrative that includes this version:

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Humans emerged from a series of previous worlds, where they existed as insects or animals. The deities, or Holy People, include Holy Supreme Wind, who gave life to all the other Holy People, and Changing Woman, who taught the people how to live.

She married the Sun and her twin sons, Monster Slayer and Born of Water, used lightning bolts to slay the monsters who were killing the new Earth People. Talking God taught the people how to make the first hogan, where the people first met to arrange their world.

They named the four sacred mountains that became the boundaries of their homeland: San Francisco Peaks in the west, Mt. Blanco in the east, Mt. Taylor in the south and Mt. Hesperus in the north.

Then the Holy People put the sun and moon in the sky and were carefully arranging the stars. But Coyote, the Trickster, grew impatient and took the blanket containing the stars and flung the remaining stars into the sky.

The Holy People also created the four original clans, and Changing Woman created four more clans to keep her company when she visited her husband the Sun every evening. They traveled from the west and joined the other clans already living at Dinetah.

Hózhó


The backbone of the Navajo ceremonial system is the Blessingway ceremony, through which a medicine man asks the Holy People to return peace, beauty, harmony and all good things, which the Diné collectively call Hózhó , a complex wellness philosophy and belief system comprised of principles that should guide one's thoughts, actions, behaviors, and speech.

Hózhó teaches that respectful thought, speech, and behavior should be nurtured and relationships in life, including those with the whole of creation in the universe, should be supportive and positive.

Language


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Yá'át'ééh Késhmish!Navajo Nation Council Delegates Wilson Stewart, Nathanial Brown and Amber Kanazbah Crotty join Tséhootsooí Diné Bi'Ólta' students and 1st grade teacher Kathylyn McCray, Principal Audra Platero and grandma Nellie Blackgoat in singing Christmas carols in Navajo in front of the Navajo Nation Legislative Services office in 2019.

The Navajo language, or Diné Bizaad, is a cornerstone of Navajo culture. It is an Apathascan language spoken also by Apaches and Athabaskans in Alaska and Canada. Diné Bizaad is a descriptive language that illustrates the Navajo worldview and relationships.

For example, the word “knowledge” in Navajo is “bik’izh’ních'id" or “when one understands it.”

Retaining knowledge of Diné Bizaad is essential to maintaining our culture and identity. To ensure its survival, spoken and written Diné Bizaad is included within the K-12 curriculum of most schools on the Navajo Nation and is a field of post-secondary study at Diné college.

Until 2105, Navajo law required all top elected officials of the Navajo government to speak Navajo fluently. Council sessions are still conducted in Diné Bizaad. It is just one way we are keeping our launguage alive.

Lifeways


Traditionally, Diné live in dispersed, extended family homesteads across the beautiful but arid Colorado Plateau, hunting, herding, farming, and creating masterful arts and crafts.

Sheep are central to that lifestyle. For a Diné family, sheep are like money in the bank. But sheep are more than a measure of wealth. They are an expression of our unique culture, binding families together from sunup to sundown, from birth to old age.

Sheep put mutton on the table, rugs on the loom and grandmas, or shimas, on top of Navajo hierarchy. Diné families tend to live today like they always have always in multi-generational dwellings. Traditionally, our homes were dome shaped structures called hogans that are made of wooden poles, tree bark and mud. Today, hogans are still ever present but used primarily for special ceremonies.

Today


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Naiomi Glasses shredding in Rock Point Chapter. Photo by Tyler Glasses

Diné culture is dynamic, always affecting and being influenced by popular culture. For example, Navajo weavers and jewelers continue to inspire the worlds of fashion and interiors, their designs frequently appropriated on runways and featured in magazines. As in all rural communities, high school sports are huge, especially basketball and cross-country. Country music and hip-hop can both be heard in the parking lots at Burger Kings and traditional food stalls.

Annual fairs, rodeos, and runs are highlights people look forward to. But what might surprise people who have never visited us is how adeptly Diné people combine traditional and modern lifestyles, giving rise to the next generation of skateboarders, graffiti artists, standup comedians, filmmakers. vlogers and musicians. Look for them at our local internet cafes.